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Safe Ice Dam Removal: 15 Principles to Ensure Your Ice Dam Is Removed Safely

We mean “safe” ice dam removal in two respects: safe for everyone in your home, and safe for your home.  Even ice dam removal companies that complete most jobs safely do so despite themselves.  In their rush to make a buck (by entering an industry they know little about or by ripping through your job so they can get to the next job), they cut corners or simply don’t know what they’re doing.

Based on my 20+ years in ice dam removal, I’ve put together some principles you can follow to make sure your ice dams are removed safely, properly, and only once:

1. Don’t try to remove your ice dams yourself. Even if you know what you’re doing and know what to do if the situation gets hairy (big “ifs”), there’s just no way you have the proper equipment to get it done safely. Your life and health and home are worth more than whatever you’d pay ice dam removal professionals to get it done right and safely.

2. Use a company that uses steamers – preferably customized and fully adjustable ice dam steamers. None of the “alternatives” to steamers will work. Even many units sold as ice dam steamers aren’t up to the job.  Often the pressure, temperature, and pattern of the steam aren’t adjustable.  Also, the ice dam removal company may brag about how hot its steam is, but doesn’t mention that the steam they’re bragging about cools off in the tubing before it leaves the end of the steamer nozzle.  Companies that use those one-size-fits-all steamers try to distract you from that fact by claiming that everybody else uses “pressure washers.”  So ask them what kind of steamers they use.  If they describe what’s adjustable about their steamers, they may be one of the extremely few companies that use steamers adaptable to your ice dam situation, which is good.  If they say simply, “We just use low-pressure ice dam steamers – what else do you want to know?” you should keep looking.

3. Make sure the technicians are paid well enough to want to do a good job. To do that you need to use a reputable company, not the lowest bidder. If they give you a quote over the phone, or if the quote makes you think “That’s not too bad!” rather than “Ouch,” or if they promise to have your job done in a specific amount of time, then the ice dam removal company skips or skimps on something.  Usually, it’s a combination of (a) inadequate equipment, (b) using inexperienced seasonal laborers, and (c) lack of proper insurance for ice dam removal.  You probably won’t even know what’s wrong until after you’re in the soup.

4. Get your ice dam removed before it leaks, if possible. It’s nice to avoid interior water damage, risk of fire, and a huge repair bill.  If you miss the window, and you’ve already noticed water or moisture entering your home, consider your situation an emergency and act swiftly.

5. Make sure everyone knows that an ice dam removal company will show up. Whether that means you need to tell only your significant other, or the rest of your family of 7, or your renters (if you’re a landlord), you’ll prevent a lot of confusion and clunking of heads.

6. Make sure water doesn’t flow to your irrigation system, if you have one. If when we turn on the water at spigot we also fill your irrigation pipes, your pipes may freeze and crack in a New York minute. So call your irrigation company ahead of time and make sure you know how to provide us with water without filling up your underground irrigation pipes.  Ice dam removal companies are not irrigation companies, so be sure to debrief your ice dam technician on your irrigation and water supply situation.

7. Don’t try to remove icicles stuck to your house. It’s tempting because it’s fun, but ripping off an icicle can set off an at-home ice avalanche, and it can damage or tear off shingles

8. Tell your tech whether you’ve got any leaking, and how bad any leaking is. If your ice dam tech knows that a certain part of your roof has given way to a leak, he may alter his flight path or timing.

9. Tell your tech if you know your gutters contain a significant amount of ice. Ice-filled gutters are heavy, and can detach from your house if they get much heavier or are provoked otherwise. They also can get in the way of steaming your overhang, which usually is where most of the ice dam action is.  That means your ice dam removal professional may want or need to clear the gutters early on.  So it’s a good idea to mention early whatever you know about your gutter situation.  A true ice dam removal professional will discover ice-filled gutters sooner or later anyway, but an early warning is always helpful.

10. Tell your tech what’s on the roof (e.g. skylight, solar panels, vents, etc.) and what areas might require extra care. Most ice dam technicians assume your roof consists mostly or entirely of shingles, and they haven’t seen what your roof looks like without the blanket of snow and ice.  Sure, we’re always as careful as possible, and on the lookout for any roof penetrations or protrusions, but an early warning is helpful and conducive to a safer and easier job.

11. Tell your tech what’s below – next to your house, in your yard, on your patio, etc. Whether it’s a gas grill, a patio table, lawn furniture, an A/C unit, or your favorite berry bush, it’s probably under feet of snow and not known to your ice dam pro. We use a chunk-cutting technique to remove ice dams efficiently, a piece at a time, so we want to know where not to drop the chunks, or if something needs to be located and moved.  Even if you use a company that uses the slow and costly non-chunk-cutting “just melt everything” ice dam steaming method, you still may want them not to pile snow and ice on certain parts of your property.

12. Try not to talk to your tech while he’s on your roof. He may be a friendly guy, and probably would like to talk with you, if only he could do so and remove your ice dam safely at the same time. But that’s not possible.  He can’t hear you too well, he needs to keep his eyes on the roof, and an ice dam steamer can freeze solid if you stop running it even for 60 seconds on a cold day.

13. Don’t hurry your ice dam removal tech. You don’t want him to forget or skip or rush a step because you’re counting the minutes and want him to know it’s now a hair past a freckle. We understand the urge, and we know ice dam removal can get expensive, but impatience never makes the job easier or faster.  A true ice dam removal pro isn’t rattled, and will put safety above all else, no matter what.  If you want to save time on the meter, try helping with the prep.  If you have specific concerns (as opposed to “Why does it take so long?”), mention them to your ice dam removal tech after he’s brought you both to safety, or give him a call on his cell (he’ll pick up if it’s safe to do so).

14. Get ALL the ice removed (and all the snow, preferably). There’s a chance that everything will melt soon, in which case partial or sloppy ice dam removal may be all you need to avoid roof leaks. Or maybe not.  There’s no way to know.  More likely is you’ll just need to call the ice dam removal company again, and will end up paying for two expensive jobs rather than for one expensive job.  One large job is always less expensive than two smaller jobs.

15. Make sure snow doesn’t cover your exhaust vent or pipes. If snow plugs those up and your home won’t ventilate properly, your home may fill with deadly carbon monoxide. Check those spots before, during, and after any ice dam removal work.  Tell your ice dam removal pro where those vents are located, because even a light cover of snow can make them invisible or hard to see.

Ice Dam Guys® technicians are consummate pros, in part because although we’re on autopilot enough to go through the whole safety checklist, we also stay frosty enough to notice the details of your specific situation and to adapt as needed.  Regardless of whether you work with us, everyone’s better off if you know what goes into a safe ice dam removal project.

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