Ice dams: Once you have them, it’s best to call in professionalsWORTHINGTON — The recent warm-up has certainly helped melt some of the snow that has accumulated in southwest Minnesota this winter, but it has also resulted in a freezing and thawing on roofs that could cause considerable damage if ice dams have already built up.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — The recent warm-up has certainly helped melt some of the snow that has accumulated in southwest Minnesota this winter, but it has also resulted in a freezing and thawing on roofs that could cause considerable damage if ice dams have already built up.
Ice dams, which form on eaves and overhangs and create spectacular icicles, are a common sight this year because of all the snow that has fallen in the region.
Richard Stone, Extension educator in housing technology from the University of Minnesota, said ice dams form as warm air from a home’s attic escapes through the roof and melts the bottom layer of snow. As the water runs down the roof and reaches the overhang, it refreezes because there is no heat. Ice then collects and backs up underneath the shingles and, in some cases, into the siding.
Local contractor Jeff Meinders has seen his share of ice dams this winter, and said it’s been a major issue on many of the older homes in the area. Some homeowners are already dealing with the effects of ice dams, from water leaking through their roofs, to large, dangerous icicles poking down from eaves.
“Once the ice dams start, that creates a big problem,” said Meinders, adding that homeowners should not try knocking them off or chipping at them. Such attempts can lead to roof damage or damage to eaves, gutters and edging, not to mention personal injury if someone were to fall from a roof or ladder.
“You have to be very careful at trying to remove them or you can cause more damage to the roof,” Meinders said.
Like several local contractors, he has special equipment to aid in the removal of ice dams. His best advice, however, is for homeowners to take steps to prevent ice dams from ever forming.
There are options such as installing heat cables on shingles to keep water that has collected from freezing, but that is rather expensive — both in installation and in electricity required to operate the system, and has to be installed when the roof and gutters are clear of ice.
He recommends homeowners remove snow from the lower section of the roof after each snowfall to keep the ice from building up. This allows for any snow melt to flow down the shingles and into the gutters.
“Snow rakes work good when the snow is good and fluffy. If you rake back the snow five to six feet up your roof, that’s all you have to do,” he said. “Most of the time, that is enough to solve the problem.”
There are other products that can be used to remove snow and ice from roofs. One such item seen advertised this winter is a hockey puck-shaped disk that claims to melt the snow and ice away.
Stone cautions that while such a product may appear to work, it could create other issues down the road.
“Read the instructions and make sure that the product won’t damage the shingles or gutters,” he said. “If you want to rust your steel gutters in a hurry, just throw a lot of those up on the roof.”
Aluminum gutters also can get damaged, along with any steel pipes, such as sewer vents, that could corrode from the salt product.
“Generally, if you have a really serious ice dam and you’re concerned about the water backing up, you’d be better off to get somebody out,” said Stone.
He has fielded many calls and questions about ice dams this winter. On Friday, he was in contact with people from Omaha, Neb., where nearly 30 inches of snow has fallen in the last month — unusual for them. As such, they don’t typically deal with ice dams.
“When you have ice dams now, this early in the winter, your options are fairly limited,” Stone said. “If there’s any way the snow can be raked off the roof above the ice dam, it will reduce the amount of ice forming.”
He cautions people not to attempt the work themselves, but rather to hire a professional to take care of the problem.
“Don’t do anything that will put you at risk,” Stone said. “One of the things that’s considerably more costly than ice dam damage is ending up in the emergency room.”
If homeowners can’t afford to hire a professional, Stone said they could try using warm water and start working on the ice dam from the bottom up. Doing so could open up a channel in the ice dam to allow the trapped water to flow out.
To address ice dam issues long term, Stone said homeowners with issues should photograph the ice dams that have formed on their house and use those as a guide next spring or summer for a contractor to seal areas of the attic where warm air may be escaping.
“Summer is a good time to deal with ice dams — when you don’t have the damage going on, that’s the time to approach the problem,” he said.
Meinders said anyone who hires a professional to clear snow from their roof or remove an ice dam should request to see the contractor’s proof of insurance.
“The homeowner should ask to see a written policy that the contractor has coverage,” he said. “Any time you hire a contractor, make sure they are insured (for work comp & liability). If somebody falls off that roof and the contractor doesn’t have insurance, the homeowner can be held responsible for the medical bills.”
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