How does ice hurt your outdoor equipment?

What a winter it’s been… and even in March it’s not over for much of the country. Over a century ago, the largely forgotten writer Charles Dudley Warner said, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” and it’s still true today. All we can do is huddle up and live with it. That includes the effects weather has on our antennas and satellite equipment, especially for those of us who are simply not brave enough to go up on an icy roof and assess firsthand the damage that may be up there. Thank you very much, I’ll wait for spring if it ever comes.

Ice and snow can be very damaging to your outdoor equipment, especially since the simple fact is that most of the stuff we use is not designed for decades of use. The days when people paid a premium price for products that would last for generations are over, and in order to keep prices low certain compromises need to be made. Often this comes in the area of weatherproofing.

Satellite dishes are specifically prone to damage from freezing,thawing and refreezing. (In a way, that makes it good news for those folks who froze back in November and haven’t unfrozen yet.) Water can get into nooks and crannies and start to corrode components, and when that water freezes again it can loosen connections or press against delicate contacts. It’s also worth noting that most satellite equipment simply isn’t rated to work in subzero temperatures and there can be temporary or permanent damage from long stretches of super-cold weather.

The biggest concern with antennas is icicles. Today’s antennas are made of lightweight aluminum and when icicles begin to form, they can start to weigh down antenna elements and eventually bend them. This will create reception problems. There is also an electronic component to modern antennas, a small cartridge that transforms the 300 ohm impedance of the antenna to 75 ohms so the signal can run on a modern coaxial cable. That cartridge is generally pretty waterproof but if it’s gotten old, water can leak in and corrode the contacts within.

Speaking of that modern coaxial cable, the connectors on today’s cables are as waterproof as they can be as long as they’ve been made well. Still, water can leak in and corrode the copper center conductor. Less expensive cables have only a thin skin of copper which can be very affected by corrosion, and anyone who’s ever seen a green penny or looked at the statue of Liberty knows that copper corrodes very easily when exposed to the weather.

Is there anything you can do? Probably not quite yet. Remember you have to be safe, and climbing up on an icy roof just to try to get icicles off the antenna just isn’t safe at all. I suppose that a very long pole with a hairdryer and a very long extension cord could be employed, and it’s been pointed out to me that a drone could somehow be used, but these are schemes more suited to Wile E. Coyote than any serious home theater installer. If you’re not comfortable going up on that icy roof — and you shouldn’t be — don’t do it. It’s not worth it.

When things finally thaw, which does seem like it could be a long time away, take a look at your antenna and your satellite dish carefully. Look at any joints, especially on a yagi-style antenna where the elements meet the spine. Inspect the satellite’s LNB for any cracks to the white feed horn covers and look for corrosion on the surface of the reflector (the dish part of the dish.) Look especially closely at every connector to see if there is any evidence of corrosion on the outside and make sure there is no gap between the connector and the outer sheath of the cable. It’s a good time to look to see if your satellite and antenna are still properly aimed.

I can’t say this enough: STAY SAFE. It is simply not worth risking. A lot of programs are available on the internet or using DIRECTV or DISH’s apps. It may not be ideal to use your phone or tablet for live TV viewing but it’s a lot better than risking your neck on a slippery roof. Because, honestly, watching live TV in the hospital isn’t such great fun either.