Icicles, ice dams can cause roofing issues

SPRING LAKE – Long icicles are forming on the roof edges in West Michigan, and Spring Lake roofer Mike Megna says “we’re in the perfect storm right now” so problems arise.

This storm is the amount of snow on the roofs and the extended cold spell.

Megna said his company, West Michigan Roofing of Spring Lake, is starting to receive calls for help from people who already have leaks or anticipate problems.

Heat escaping from the roofs, mostly from older houses, melts the snow on the roof. This drips down and forms the icicles and ice dams on the roof edge.

Because the ice melts more slowly than the snow, water collects behind the ice dam and eventually leaks under shingles and behind the siding.

The roofer said in a few weeks, the forecast assumes that temperatures will rise above freezing point. The snow will melt and there will be no more room for water because of the ice dams.

“You need to remove snow from the edges of the roof now,” he told the Grand Haven Tribune. “You have to be one step ahead of the problem.”

In areas of the country where heavy snowfall occurs regularly, people are used to taking snow off the roof just like they are shoveling snow from the driveway.

“It’s a normal thing and people think you’re crazy if you don’t,” Megna said.

Megna said his crews saw similar conditions in 2013.

“That was bad,” he said. “We had 700 snow and ice distances.”

The roofer said it wouldn’t do anyone any good to attach a heat tape and place it on your roof.

“Heat tapes are just warm,” he said. “You shouldn’t accept bitter arctic cold.”

Icicles hang from the roof of a house in Spring Lake Township as West Michigan Roofing staff Tony Loftquist and Andrew Belmarez-McMann clear the snow from the roof of the house on Wednesday, February 10.

Megna said heat tapes are used to help in areas of homes with lots of valleys and nooks and crannies, but they need to be turned on before the first snowfall.

He also recommends using a heating tape that is firmly attached to the house so that it has the correct amperage.

“It can be effective, but it’s not a panacea,” Megna said. “People just have to get out there and do the work.”

Megna encourages homeowners to take a look at what’s happening above their homes now.

“When you start seeing 6 to 8 inches of ice dams encasing your gutters, you need to think about opening them,” he said.

If you can’t get the snow off the roof yourself, he recommends calling a licensed professional.

What can you do?

The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) recommends ensuring that your roof is properly insulated and that attics are properly ventilated.

The insulation keeps the heat in the house and in the attic cool – and so the roof stays cool. The ventilation also helps keep the loft area cool.

During the winter, homeowners should check their roofs for ice dams. When ice jam is an urgent problem and requires immediate action, it is advisable to remove snow that has accumulated on the roof to avoid additional water residue.

West Michigan Roofing staff Tony Loftquist (left) and Andrew Belmarez-McMann are clearing snow from the roof of a house in Spring Lake Township on Wednesday, February 10.

Snow removal from roofs should only be attempted if it can be safely carried out from the ground using a roof rake or broom with an extended handle. The NRCA does not recommend the use of ice axes, shovels, or tools with sharp edges that can damage the roofing.

For best results, the NRCA recommends that homeowners consult a professional roofer for snow removal, especially if snow or ice cannot be safely removed from the ground.

For a stopgap measure, “This Old House” recommends bringing a box fan to the attic and aiming it at the bottom of the roof where water is entering. The targeted dose of cool air should freeze the water in its tracks.

One method of defrosting is to fill a discarded pantyhose leg with calcium chloride melted ice. Set up the device so that it runs completely over the ice dam and gutter.

The calcium chloride eventually melts through snow and ice, creating a channel for water to flow from the roof.

Hardware stores also store cellular calcium chloride tablets, but they must be used much like a stocking to create a channel.

Just throwing the occasional puck on the roof can do nothing but create a crater to hold water in.

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