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Ice Dam Laws? Why Bath, Maine Created One

In my 20+ years of removing ice dams, I’ve never seen any state, city, or town create a law pertaining to the removal of ice dams or icicles.  Guess I always figured it wasn’t necessary, given that most homeowners want to protect their homes (and not pay for expensive repairs caused by leaks).

But not too long ago, Bath, Maine became the first.  The Town of Bath requires business owners in the downtown area to rid their buildings of icicles – an early warning sign of ice dams – or face fines.

The reasoning (in this case, correct) is that icicles or ice chunks can fall on people and vehicles, causing all kinds of harm.  Metal roofs are especially dangerous. If a large icicle or ice dam breaks loose (possibly hastened by a clueless customer who reaches up to grab an icicle) a crushing load of snow and ice can slide down in less than a second.

I’m still not sure whether a law is the solution, but as a business owner myself I’d say snow and ice on your roof represents a huge liability issue. If someone gets injured because you didn’t remove the snow & ice (or didn’t want to pay for professional snow & ice dam removal), the courts could very-well find you criminally negligent – to say nothing of what would-be customers might conclude about you and/or your business.

Soon your insurance company will circle overhead. You’ll be required to pay the injured parties.  (How much?  Count it not in dollars, but in how many kids it could put through college.)  Then they’ll raise your premiums or even worse cancel your policy altogether. Without insurance you might not be able to stay in business at all.  Oh, and if you’re sued for more than the maximum amount your policy covers, you may be personally sued for the deficit.

Is that worth the couple grand you might save by leaving potentially life-wrecking snow and ice on the roof?

Anyway, you’d think nobody needs an ordinance, and that the liability laws cover all of this already. What the Bath, Maine law might tell us is that liability laws do not motivate business owners enough to do what they need to do.  We see business owners here in Minnesota take a deadly gamble every winter.  Maybe it’s just because most humans aren’t as motivated by what might happen as by what will happen – which is where the certainty of a heavy fine may motivate deadbeats.

Of course, Gentle Reader, I assume that you are a smart and proactive business owner who just appreciates a friendly reminder that Mother Nature has dumped a big white pile of liability on your roof.

Homeowners may face some liability, too – if not now, then probably in time.  Guests and deliverymen alike can be injured by falling ice and snow.  Granted, few homeowners have those extra-dangerous metal roofs, but tonnage can still slide down any roof, probably with the same results.

Will icicle and ice dam removal ordinances take the country by storm?  Who knows.  It’s probably not the highest priority in most city halls and state houses, but I think the laws of common-sense will mostly take care of it.

I think the moral of this story is really just to keep a close eye on snow and ice that piles up over the entrance to your home or business.  And be especially concerned if icicles form above these entrances.  They make look harmless, but in reality they can severely injure or even kill someone.  Just remain vigilant of the potential threat and common sense will lead you to the right answer. 

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