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Here’s the Difference Experience Makes

A lot of ice dam companies will tell you they’re experienced. Heck, even we do it! But what does experience really mean?

It means we’ve had a lot of time to screw up, and we’ve had a lot of time to learn from our mistakes.  It also means we don’t make those mistakes again.

An example of knowledge that only a black-and-blue ice dam removal guy would know:

Often when you have an ice dam, your roof vents are clogged solidly with snow.  With clogged roof vents, your attic space isn’t allowed to rid itself of the warm air in your attic.  The warm air builds up in your attic and begins to warm the surface of your roof from underneath.  This is a recipe for ice dams.  An inexperienced (or dishonest) ice dam company will melt your ice dams, collect a check, and be on their way – leaving your roof vents plugged with snow.  That’s virtually a guarantee that you’ll be calling him back before the winter is over to remove another ice dam.  An honest ice dam removal guy will clean those vents for you if it’s safe to do so, knowing that if he doesn’t, there’s a good chance you’ll have additional ice dams in the near future.  

That’s where experience comes in.  We used to clean those vents out first. It made sense to us to do that because clearing the roof of snow was always the first order of business, so why not remove snow from the roof vents at the same time – right?  It certainly made perfect sense to us. 

Until one night when Ted, my lead technician, was up on a roof.  It was a large job, and it had simply become too dark outside to safely stay up there any longer and finish the job.  Ted had done about half the roof, and he was going to come back the next day to do the other half.  Before he left that night he decided to clean out the roof vents first – they were plugged with heavy wet snow.

When he came back the next day the entire roof was frozen solid, and it took him three times as long to clear the other half of the roof.  The homeowner was furious, because in his mind our guy must have wasted time on Day 2 that he didn’t waste on Day 1.  The homeowner felt that he was being unfairly charged.  We didn’t set out for a longer-than-necessary job, and Ted worked as quickly as he could, but we certainly understood our customer’s frustration.   (We worked it out just fine with him in the end.)

Ted was bummed out, but he also thought about what happened.  He said, “You know, I shouldn’t have cleared those vents.”

“Why not?” I asked.

If I’d thought about it, I’d have known the answer for myself.  The snow clogging the vents kept the roof toasty, so the ice was just popping right off of the shingles. It was keeping all the attic heat trapped in there.  The moment he cleared the vents, the heat escaped from the attic and the ice froze solid to the now much colder shingles.  A warm attic can cause ice dams, but once those ice dams have formed and you’ve got the ice dam guys atop your roof, a warm attic may actually save you money.  (Who’da thunk?)

These days, we make cleaning the roof vent our final step, because it can save our customers so much time and money.  But we had to learn that the hard way.

Someone who isn’t a pro won’t clean the roof vents at all.  Someone who has a professional attitude, but is inexperienced, will clean the roof vents first.  Someone who has learned from the school of hard knocks will cut your time nearly in half by cleaning the roof vents last.

That’s just one example of the difference experience makes.  It has a direct, positive effect on your pocket book.  The next time you hear someone tell you they’re experienced, take a moment to think about all of the other mistakes they’ve made and learned from.  You can also quiz them, like on the question of when to clear roof vents.  Don’t pay for on-the-job training with your ice dam removal company.

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