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Ice Dam Steamers for Ice Dam Removal: 6 Facts on Effective Use

Some ice dam removal companies can’t point to skill, experience, or happy customers, so they try to create myths to make their equipment sound better than other companies’.  Either they’ll try to peg their competitors as users of “pressure washers” rather than ice dam steamers, or they’ll argue that certain features of an ice dam steamer makes it less able to remove ice dams.

If you’ve ever called one of those shrill ice dam companies, no doubt you got an earful of their opinions on other companies’ equipment – maybe including ours.  We’d like to clear the air about a few claims they may have made.

We’ve removed ice dams for 20+ years and for thousands of homeowners across the US, but we hope our explanations stand on their own, so you can decide for yourself what’s a marketing ploy and what makes good sense.

Fact 1: You can retrofit a pressure washer into a superior ice dam steamer.

No sane person would ever pressure-wash a roof, whether it’s got ice and snow on it, or just a little five-o’-clock shadow from moss or lichen.

There was no such thing as an “ice dam steamer” 20 years ago, when some people – especially us! – started taking ice dams seriously. There wasn’t a market for them.  These days you can buy one online for just under $4,000.  But proper steamers didn’t exist in the Stone Age of ice dam removal.

So we had to ponder the most efficient, smartest way to get ice and snow off a roof – without damaging the roof.  The answer we came up with was, of course, gentle steam. To get a machine that would allow us to do that we had to retrofit a pressure into a steamer.

A machine that doesn’t blast liquid H20 anymore isn’t a pressure-washer.  If you make the water cold enough, you’re Mister Freeze and have a cool ice-gun to use against Batman.  If you want to use your power for good, you go in the other direction and find a way to create enough heat that you get a steam-gun.  That’s what we did.

A caterpillar that matures and morphs eventually becomes a butterfly.  If you see a pretty gold thing land on a flower in your garden, you probably don’t say “Oh look, a flying caterpillar.”  It’s not the same critter anymore.

That simple point seems lost on some Johnny-come-lately ice dam companies that haven’t removed ice dams for long enough to know that there’s more than one kind of steamer.  They’ll say that we or other companies “use pressure washers,” which we do not.  We custom-built steamers that they probably couldn’t build, and probably wouldn’t invest in even if they could.

For the past 20 offseasons (each one spanning 8+ months of the year) we have invested time, money, and know-how into R&D and kaizen. We dubbed the resulting ice dam steamer Steamzilla, the advantages of which you can read about here.  Call us greedy, but we don’t sell them to other ice dam removal companies.  We’d rather have our customers benefit from their effectiveness, as relieved homeowners across the country have.

Fact 2: An ice dam steamer with a trigger can be safer than one without. 

A trigger serves as a safety measure on certain types of steamer.

When you’re on an icy roof you need to pause the flow of steam for a moment, and at the drop of a hat.  The more control your ice dam technician has, the better.  Control allows him to make decisions about the best, safest, and fastest way to get snow and ice off your roof.

Off-the-shelf steamers can’t use triggers, because they are closed-loop systems that will go up in smoke if you try to control the flow of steam in that way. Our steamers are open-loop, so we can put triggers on our steamers without risking a meltdown.

By the way, we do have steamers without triggers for the occasional customers who have strong feeling about that sort of thing. We know all about the propaganda spread by inexperienced and dishonest ice dam companies, so we keep trigger-less ice dam steamers in our trucks just in case.  All you need do is ask.  Please just keep in mind that your request may result in a higher bill, because it could increase the number of hours we need to spend on your roof.  (For more info about triggers, see our FAQ.)

Fact 3: Colored tips on the steamer wand don’t mean what you were told they mean.

Dishonest companies may say, “Watch out for anyone who has a colored tip at the end of the steam wand – that colored tip means it’s a pressure washer!”

Again, the goal of their skullduggery is to convince you that colored tips are the domain of pressure washers.

We carry a variety of color-coded tips designed for our custom-built ice dam steamersThe tips allow us to adjust the heat, pressure, and pattern of the steam we use.  Just as you need wrenches and screwdrivers of different shapes and sizes for different jobs, we need the right steam for your ice dam removal job.  Not all ice is the same, nor is every home the same.  We like to have more than one tool in our toolbox.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with an off-the-shelf steamer.  It can just take longer to do the job.  That’s good if you’re an ice dam removal company trying to run up the meter, but not as good if you’re a cost-conscious homeowner.

(More on our colored tips here.) 

Fact 4: There are two types of steam: wet steam and dry steam.

Wet steam is a mixture of steam and water. Water droplets retain heat a little better than steam can, making wet steam the faster, more-surgical option for ice dam removal.  It allows us to deploy our chunk-cutting technique.  By the way, the amount of liquid water in wet steam is not enough to compromise your roof.

Dry steam is pure steam, without any liquid water in the stream. There’s nothing wrong with dry steam.  It will remove an ice dam.  It’ll just take longer, and cost you more money unnecessarily.  That’s why most ice dam companies use it. 

Fact 5: Ice dam steamers must keep running.

When a steamers isn’t in use it’s filled with anti-freeze to prevent it from locking up. One of the first things we do before we start your job is to blast all that anti-freeze into a bucket, so as to clear the steamer before we fill it with fresh water (to create the steam that will undo your ice dam).

Once we do that, we can’t turn the steamers off or stop them. If we do, all the water inside will freeze. Once we start we can’t pause for more than a couple of seconds. 

Fact 6: The operator’s technique and skill matter more than the steamer itself ever will.

If you need major surgery, do you try to find the surgeon with the fanciest scalpel?  No.  You try to find the finest surgeon.

You already know that expertise matters more than tools do, more often than not.

Many people think ice is just ice.  In reality, there are many decisions and calculations we need make when we’re on the roof to remove an ice dam.  We need to determine when it’s better to blast the ice directly or to cut channels into it so we can “chunk it” away.  We have to navigate skylights, a glass roof, solar panels, and other delicate areas.  On multi-day projects we need to determine how much heat to keep in the attic overnight, because that can affect how strongly the ice sticks to your shingles.  We hope we make ice dam removal look simple and easy, but it’s anything but.

Even after having done removed ice dams for 20+ years, we never see exactly the same job twice, and we learn something new every winter.  Mother Nature has a way of humbling the wise.  We’re not experts because we know a lot about ice dams, but because we know how many ins and outs there are to know.

Each of our guys receives vigorous training until he’s an Ice Dam Guy for life.  Each Ice Dam Guy has one job: make your roof safer without costing you a dollar more than is necessary to bring it to safety.

No steamer out there can serve as a replacement for 20 years of dedicated, 5-star service.

If the deciding factor for you is the “state-of-the-art” steamer the ice dam removal company brags about, the chances are good your soon-to-be-rich roofer will find out firsthand what happens when the steamer is better than the operator.

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