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Is IDSAFE (Ice Dam Steaming Association for Education) a Scam? What Consumers Must Know about Its “Certification” of Ice Dam Removal Companies

For you to need ice dam removal is bewildering enough.  Your roof is buried under ice, which causes leaking.  You need to find and hire a company that can melt the ice and end the leaks right awaywithout damaging your roof.  It’s expensive and stressful, especially if you pick the wrong company.

These days, it’s getting harder and harder to find the right company.  For most of the 20 years we’ve been removing ice dams, homeowners have needed only to choose between a few credible companies and a few unsafe, inexperienced, unprofessional companies.  But in recent years dishonest companies have multiplied like bacteria.  That has made it increasingly hard for homeowners to identify the kinds of companies they want to find and entrust with the safety of their homes.

The waters turned muddiest a few years ago, when an “organization” called the Ice Dam Steaming Association for Education (IDSAFE) showed up.  Under the guise of “educating” homeowners and “certifying” ice dam removal companies, IDSAFE has functioned instead as a deceptive and illegal (according to FTC guidelines) lead-generation website that benefits mostly (or entirely) its owner.

Is IDSAFE a scam?  The jury’s out.  If educating homeowners was the true aim of IDSAFE, and if the site provided accurate info on ice dam removal (more on that in a moment), I probably wouldn’t have a problem with it.  IDSAFE’s other functions are what create problems for honest ice dam removal companies and for the homeowners who want to identify those honest companies.

Who am I?  My name is Joe Palumbo, and I own Ice Dam Guys LLC, an ice dam removal company that’s been removing ice dams for about 20 years.  We’ve helped establish ice dam removal as an industry, removed ice dams from coast to coast, been interviewed on TV dozens of times, and helped thousands of customers – a fact reflected in our many hundreds of glowing reviews.  If you search for us on Google you can draw your own conclusions about how good we are at what we do, and what makes us good at it.  In any case, the owner and some members of IDSAFE consider our company their biggest competitor.

It seems IDSAFE helps its members only by providing a way to gang up against my company (probably because we’re well-known and much-loved in the ice dam removal space), but I have no quarrel any competitors as long as they don’t mislead customers.

It doesn’t need to be this way.  Under an owner who’s not also a “certified” member, and if run differently after a “reboot,” and if its site were gutted and replaced with factual info on ice dam removal (more on that in a moment), IDSAFE might one day serve its stated purpose of “education” and may do a service to homeowners.

But today IDSAFE appears to serve only its owner’s purposes.  It does so by misleading people, including homeowners, members, and even some impressionable journalists.  There are 5 main problems with IDSAFE:

Problem 1: Self-certification of the IDSAFE owner’s business.

IDSAFE is owned and operated by Jesse Lofgren, who also runs a company that removes ice dams under the name Absolutely Clean Window Washing.  That company is IDSAFE member #15001, according to the IDSAFE website.  That is a clear case of self-certification.

Yet the IDSAFE website claims objectivity, with statements like: “Our mission is to take the headache out of finding good ice dam removal companies that use the proper low pressure steam equipment….We want to make it easy to avoid these companies by looking for our unique clickable logo on the good companies’ websites.”  The IDSAFE website does not disclose its relationship to Lofgren’s company, nor does Absolutely Clean Window Washing in its advertisements disclose the nature of its relationship to IDSAFE.  The relationship is kept under wraps.

That kind of self-serving “certification” is prohibited by law.  Under FTC guidelines, “[e]ndorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser.  Furthermore, an endorsement may not convey any express or implied representation that would be deceptive if made directly by the advertiser.”  16 C.F.R. § 255.1(a).  In this context, “an endorsement means any advertising message (including verbal statements, demonstrations, or depictions of the name, signature, likeness or other identifying personal characteristics of an individual or the name or seal of an organization) that consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings, or experiences of a party other than the sponsoring advertiser, even if the views expressed by that party are identical to those of the sponsoring advertiser.” 16 C.F.R. § 255.0(b) (emphasis added).  Under these guidelines, “the term product includes any product, service, company or industry.”  16 C.F.R. § 255.0(d).  “Advertisers are subject to liability for false or unsubstantiated statements made through endorsements, or for failing to disclose material connections between themselves and their endorsers [see § 255.5].  Endorsers also may be liable for statements made in the course of their endorsements.”  16 C.F.R. § 255.1(d) (emphasis added); see also 16 C.F.R. §§ 255.1(a), 255.5 and 260.6(a).  Just to provide you with a frame of reference, here is an unrelated example of self-certification that the FTC found deceptive.

Problem 2: An IDSAFE “certification” is meaningless.

An IDSAFE “certification” does not guarantee a level of training, experience, competence, or adherence to any established, independent standards in ice dam removal.

One reason is that there is no government body, licensing bureau, or independent watchdog organization that oversees ice dam removal.  It has always been an unregulated field, where consumers have had the ultimate say over who is allowed onto their rooftops, and where those consumers deal with the consequences of their choices.

The other reason an IDSAFE “certification” is an empty guarantee is that the only discernible standard members must meet is that they use (or simply own) a low-pressure steamer.  Furthermore, the definition of a low-pressure steamer is vague at best.  There are no independent third-party industry standards that define “low-pressure” steamers with the intended purpose of ice dam removal.  That’s what allows IDSAFE to promote its choice of steamer as the only “certifiable” one.  That is self-serving and misleading.

From the “Membership Verification” page:

“We take many steps to verify that our members own the correct low pressure high temperature equipment. Each and every IDSAFE member has “pledged” to never use high pressure equipment on roofs.”

 

From the same page:

“As an ice dam steaming association we help you choose quality ice dam removal companies who are using true low pressure high temperature steamers that are safe and designed to be non damaging to roofing materials.”

 

 

From the “Our Mission” page:

“All of our members own true low pressure steamers designed for ice dam removal and ice dam removal only.”

Even a guarantee (especially an empty one) that a given company uses a “proper” ice dam steamer (as defined by a window-washing company) is of little or no benefit to the customer.  Owning the proper ice dam removal equipment does not mean one removes ice dams safely and properly, just as owning a scalpel does not make one a surgeon.

When used incorrectly, low-pressure, high-temperature steam can be every bit as damaging to a roof as improperly used higher-pressure steam can be.  The owner of IDSAFE must know that, but instead steers customers away from critical facts like that one.  That misdirection works to his advantage, because he uses it to tar non-member competitors.

What’s most telling is what’s not said.

  • Not a word on the IDSAFE-“certified” or “approved” companies’ competence, experience, years in business, professionalism, techniques, safety procedures, level of specialization, proof of proper insurance, billing policies, or criminal background checks.
  • Not a word on how IDSAFE determines what happens on customers’ roofs, or what happens to make sure members meet IDSAFE’s vague “standards.”
  • Does IDSAFE follow up on its members after they are certified, to ensure that they have done and continue to do what they’ve “pledged” to do?
  • What happens if a member damages a roof with a “certified” non-damaging low-pressure steamer?

An IDSAFE badge or seal tells you nothing about those reasonable concerns or others.

A customer may only find answers to those other, more-important questions about IDSAFE members once it’s time for him or her to pay the contractor at the door (or to pay for roof repairs in the springtime, or pay the medical bills of the contractor after he falls off your roof).

Problem 3: IDSAFE spreads falsehoods about ice dam removal in general and about non-members in particular.

We don’t know whether it’s because of a lack of knowledge or a lack of ethics (or both), but IDSAFE and some members often make false claims about other companies, including ours.  Many of those claims are found on IDSAFE’s  “How to Choose the Right Ice Dam Removal Equipment” page.  The most common of those claims are (to paraphrase):

A trigger means it’s a pressure washer.

Colored tips are only found on pressure washers.

If it has a gas engine it’s a pressure washer.

Non-IDSAFE members use pressure washers!

Those claims and others like them are false and misleading, for reasons that require in-depth explanation.  The short explanation is that (1) all ice dam steamers share traits with pressure washers, (2) their components and specifications “off the shelf” depend on the manufacturer and vary widely, and (3) their configuration and qualities can vary even more if they’re customized aftermarket, as an experienced ice dam removal company might do.  If you’re interested, you can read a more-detailed explanation here.

By the way, we do NOT suggest using hot-water pressure washers to remove ice dams.  Although they’re not nearly as dangerous as IDSAFE and others might have you believe, they’re inefficient when compared to wet-steam steamers.  As a customer, you’ll pay more, as hot-water pressure washers simply can’t reach steaming temperatures, hence the reason they’re not labeled steamers.  The lower the temperature, the longer it will take to melt ice.  Thus in most cases, using a hot-water pressure washer for ice dam removal is just plain wrong.     

Problem 4: IDSAFE does not provide a public and easy-to-browse list of its members.

As of this writing, nowhere on IDSAFE’s website does it list its members, links to their websites, or their locations and/or contact info.  You must call IDSAFE – or, rather, its owner and inaugural member.  You can dig up a specific company’s profile on IDSAFE’s website if you know what company to look for and how to search in Google for it, but there is no apparent way to research companies on IDSAFE’s site

That may be simply because of poor design, but more likely the lack of a directory is because the owner of IDSAFE, Jesse Lofgren of Absolutely Clean Window Washing, wants unsuspecting leads to contact him first.  On IDSAFE’s “Choosing Ice Dam Steaming Companies” page there is no directory or list, but rather only a note at the bottom of the page that reads, “If you are having trouble locating our members in your area please Contact Us and we will connect you with a good company near you.”

Two calls to IDSAFE confirmed our suspicions.  In the name of discovering what a customer can expect, we ghost-called IDSAFE as a customer.  Both times we called from Minnesota.  The first time, when there were many ice dams here in Minnesota, Lofgren recommended himself.  The second time we called IDSAFE, we knew Lofgren’s company was working out-of-state (in Chicago).  We said we had ice dams here in Minnesota, and purposefully provided an address that neighbors an IDSAFE member’s address (whom we knew was still in Hopkins, MN, seeking work).  Rather than refer us to a “certified” and eager-for-work IDSAFE-approved member, he recommended no company at all.

IDSAFE’s badges of “certification” also seem to tilt customers away from members.  By members’ displaying the IDSAFE badge on their websites, a customer may click on the badge and decide to call Lofgren, rather than stay on a member’s website and contact that company.

In those ways, Lofgren has created a first-dibs setup for himself.  Perhaps other members get the customers he cannot or does not want to service when he’s not in a specific area, or has more work than he can handle himself.  In any case, IDSAFE provides no apparent way for visitors to choose or compare “certified” members.  For a website with a stated “mission” of “tak[ing] the headache out of finding good ice dam removal companies,” in reality it makes finding any company (other than the owner’s) oddly difficult.  That’s a disservice to anyone gullible enough to join IDSAFE, but it’s even more of a disservice to customers.

Problem 5: What else is IDSAFE capable of?

Apparently IDSAFE was not created to help homeowners or ice dam removal professionals. It functions as a lead-generation mechanism for the owner.  The mechanics of it are simple: Under the guise of consumer-advocacy the IDSAFE website gets links from its members and occasionally from naïve journalists and bloggers.  That helps IDSAFE’s rankings in Google, and that visibility produces both paying members and leads.  The owner (Lofgren) can cherry-pick the leads and stay in business for long enough to remain a member in good standing of his own “organization.”

How should IDSAFE (or the authorities) fix the problems?

We feel a little pity for IDSAFE members who get half-eaten leads in return for trumpeting and linking to a competitor-owned site.  Of course, we also don’t appreciate the barely-muffled potshots IDSAFE has taken at our company in particular.

But our real concern is how an organization like IDSAFE can deceive and hurt trusting homeowners, and smear non-member ice dam removal companies.  Picking an ice dam removal company should require less skepticism than (say) buying a used car, calling a locksmith, or choosing a funeral home.  Ice dams are a serious challenge, and customers don’t need the added challenge of hiring the kinds of companies that market themselves by masquerading as independent organizations.

Is it possible in theory to hire an IDSAFE-approved company and have the job go OK?  Yes, it’s possible.  Or it may be a disaster.  There’s no way to know, because IDSAFE appears to have no standards other than a member uses (or just owns) their vague definition of a what a proper low-pressure steamer is deemed to be.

Is it possible you can hire another company and not have a 5-star experience?  Of course.  Even my company, Ice Dam Guys® isn’t all things to all people, despite our best-in-industry reviews and unequaled reputation.  But at least we didn’t create an “organization” to certify ourselves and dupe members into boosting the rankings of a self-serving lead-generation site.

What do we propose?  For now, a few things:

1. The owner of IDSAFE, Jesse Lofgren of Absolutely Clean Window Washing, must un-certify his own business, and he must stop referring people who contact IDSAFE to his business.

2. The IDSAFE website must stop spreading misinformation about ice dam removal.  That requires it to correct itself in at least two ways.  First, IDSAFE must explain in detail that low-pressure steamers in the hands of an inexperienced or unskilled operator can damage roofs, and consequently that IDSAFE’s stated preference for low-pressure steamers is not based on an objective third-party safety assessment.  Second, IDSAFE must stop falsely defining triggers, colored tips, and gas engines as characteristics specific to pressure washers.

3. The IDSAFE website must stop characterizing non-members’ equipment as “bad” or “dangerous” or “damaging” or with similar false claims.  That is especially dishonest when one considers that IDSAFE apparently has no objective way to see or assess a non-member’s equipment or operators.

4. IDSAFE must state clearly and concisely the exact standards a company must meet to become a member and how those exact standards are assessed for membership..  How can IDSAFE claim its members meet certain standards if IDSAFE has no clear standards of admission?   A group without firm admission policies is a Mickey Mouse club.  Even more troubling is an “organization” with no apparent way to verify whether members continue to meet (or ever meet) the “standards” of admission.  (Many IDSAFE members are not located in Minnesota, so how does the Minnesota-based owner determine whether a member uses “compliant” equipment?)  A mere one-time on-your-honor “promise” without ongoing independent verification isn’t sufficient.  Even if IDSAFE was not created as a lead-generation scheme, the owner’s inability or unwillingness to verify mushy membership standards would be an effective way to attack certain competitors and sell customers a false bill of goods.

5. IDSAFE must provide a free, complete, public, visible, and easy-to-use directory of members – including those members’ contact info, a link to their website, locations, and service areas.

Otherwise, we think the best outcome for the general public is for IDSAFE to dissolve, or for the authorities to take action.

In the meantime, if you are a homeowner or business owner who needs ice dam removal, we hope you will pick out an ice dam removal company for the right reasons: their reputation, their transparency, and your gut feeling.  Don’t let a “badge” or “seal” give you a false sense of comfort.

Anyone can create a badge, seal, or logo

Whipping up a badge is easy.  Below are a few passable logos we’d use if we wanted to cook up a “professional organization.”  So you don’t try to mail us a check with your membership dues, we think you should know the organizations below are fictitious.

Just as anyone can make a badge, anyone can make an organization.  It’s up to you to peek behind the badge.

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