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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mailboxes and pot holes

Cleaning up after Nemo
If your mailbox looks like this, there's a better way
By Will Collette

During a typical New England winter, snow and ice takes a toll on property. Mega pot holes appear in roadways, just waiting to flatten your tires or worse. Snow plows batter and flatten mailboxes. 

We can all weather the storms because, after all, the weather always changes and the snow and ice always melt. 

But repairing storm damaged vehicles and busted up mailboxes are an expensive aggravations that don’t fix themselves.

You do have some recourse when you suffer pothole damage or a busted-up mailbox. Plus, there’s a long-term fix to the mailbox problem that I can personally recommend to you.


If your vehicle hit a pothole on a state road and suffered damage, you can get up to $300 in compensation. It’s state law. The RI Department of Transportation has a claims procedure on its website – click here

CAUTION: you must file a timely claim – within seven days of incurring the damage.

The RIDOT website tells you what kind of information you must include with your claim to prove that it’s legit.

OK, but you have to lift it up for this to work
The winter before last, my mailbox was trashed several times in one season as it had been in previous seasons. Frustrated, I contacted RIDOT and was told that, yes, they would honor a claim of mailbox damage, pretty much the same way they do it for potholes. They told me they could pay up to $50.

Rather than test this process, I jerry-rigged a fix and replaced the post myself.

But I decided to try to figure out a way to storm-proof my mailbox.

Like many local residents, I tried to armor my mailbox post. I used football-sized rocks found in abundance on our property on the moraine to build up a barrier around the mailbox post.

I’ve seen other residents use cinder blocks, bricks, washtubs filled with cement and in one instance, pieces of steel girders. While it’s possible to add some protection in this fashion, there’s still that exposed beam sticking out and vulnerable to a blast from a passing snow plow.

Simple design , except the mailbox could still get smashed
Plus there’s a legal problem with armoring your mailbox because you are creating a genuine traffic hazard. Your attempts at reinforcing the base of the mailbox post could be very bad news for some passing motorist or for you if that motorist smacks into your mailbox armor.

Cruising the internet, I found that in other states with lots of snow, there are lots of creative solutions. The general concept is that when a snowplow runs past your mailbox, the blade of the plow will sling a very heavy and large load of snow at the box and damage is likely to occur at its weakest point.

This would probably work, but it's too complicated for my taste
That’s usually the post, and that’s why so many of us armor the base of the post, but at the risk of imperiling motorists (and opening yourself up to huge liability).

So the concept I found most attractive was try to design a post that is set back from the road and away from the path of all that heavy snow.

See the illustrations for some of the alternatives I found.

After looking at various designs, I decided that the best type for me would have the upright post set several feet back from the road, up the slight incline as the ground rises from Route One up the moraine. That would put the post out of reach of flying snowplow snow.

Then I wanted the crosspiece to extend from the upright back over to the road surface so our mail carrier could reach the box (if the carrier can’t reach the box, I don’t get any mail).

I wanted to reduce the vulnerability of the mailbox itself. If it’s rigidly attached to the crosspiece, it becomes an easy target for a ton of flying snowplowed snow. In some designs, the inventor accounts for this problem with springs or hinges on the mailbox so it can flex when hit.

I thought that approach was too complicated and opted to have the mailbox hang from the high crosspiece on heavy lengths of chain. Under US Postal Service regulations, your mailbox must be between 41 and 45 inches off the ground.

Mike DiRobbio's custom-built plow-proof mailbox came through Nemo
like a champion
With these general parameters in mind, I talked with Dave DiRobbio who takes care of our snowplowing every season. Dave loved the idea and immediately brought his brother Mike into the conversation. After doing some more research, thinking and pencil sketching, Mike came back to me with the idea of a custom-made mailbox frame.

Since I wanted to hang on to our super-sized Rubbermaid box, Mike reinforced it with steel bars to keep it from tearing as it swung freely from chains mounted to the cross-piece down to the USPS prescribed height off the ground.

Close up view
Then Mike, Dave and his son cleared the brush and planted the mailbox post and frame. You can see for yourself in the photo that their final product combined functionality with beauty. Plus, I was very happy with the price.

The big test was Winter Storm Nemo and you can see how easily my new storm-proof mailbox came through unscathed.

I’ve been encouraging Dave and Mike to market their new-found skill at designing storm-proof mailboxes. I suspect that at least in the beginning, any other mailbox projects they do will be custom jobs – designs tailored to the challenges of the terrain.  

Mike and Dave DiRobbio are both well known around Charlestown for snowplowing, landscaping, septic system and driveway work. And now storm-proof mailboxes.

Mike’s the guy to talk to about the design – he took my general ideas and made them real – so you should call him at (401) 714-5016 or 315-2448.