What to do when your roof has big icicles

Marie Havenga • Jan 3, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Your driveway isn't the only thing you should consider shoveling.

According to local roof experts, the current weather pattern is ripe for roof issues, such as ice dams and other cold-season catastrophes.

Michael Megna, owner of Spring Lake Township-based West Michigan Roofing, said whether you have a brand-new home or a 100-year-old mansion, it's wise to regularly walk around the outside of your home looking for potential problems.

Ice dams have telltale signs, he said. You'll see big icicles hanging down, ice coming out of the overhangs or ice coming down the siding. The ice prevents melting snow on the roof from running off. 

“Everybody should be thinking about removing snow and opening up the edges of their roof,” Megna said. “We're headed down the same path as 2013. In 2013, we had the second-largest snowfall in Grand Haven history. We did 500 or 600 snow and ice removals over the course of the winter.”

Although his company isn't taking on new customers at this time, Megna said the 30 or so inches of snow we've received since Christmas Eve could lead to problems.

“It has absolutely nothing to do with your roof, and everything to do with the weather we're in,” he said. “You need to remove the snow and get it opened up. Even the best of houses build up ice on the edge. Ice grows at an extremely fast rate. It pushes underneath the soffits and the eaves. It pushes and encases siding. It pushes in places water is not meant to go.”

If the temperature rises above freezing, the snow on the roof melts faster than the ice on the edge. The water backs up and leaks into the home.

“People start seeing water coming in their houses where the ceiling meets the wall because there's no place for the water to go,” Megna said. “Everyone is susceptible to some kind of issue of snow and ice backup in this type of weather pattern.”

The Grand Haven area normally averages about 70 inches of snow per season, according to Megna.

“We're almost halfway there and not even close to being halfway through,” he said. “People need to open their eyes and go outside. Most people pull into their garage and stay in the house all night. Be proactive. You can buy a snow rake, or there are companies that do snow and ice removal.”

If you hire someone to clear your roof, make sure they are insured for snow and ice removal. If they're not, find someone else, Megna advises.

“If this guy takes a tumble or has a heart attack, now you have a liability issue,” he explained. “Make sure whoever is going to climb up there, if they do fall, that you're not liable.”

If you're doing it yourself, reach up with a roof rake as far as you can.

“It's not something you do one time and forget about it,” Megna said. “You might have to do it two or three times a week to keep up with it.”

If you're already seeing ice dams, make channels in the ice with calcium chloride or other ice-melting methods. That way, when snow melts from the roof, it will have a place to trickle down.

Should you choose to climb onto your roof to shovel, Megna says you should pay attention to the condition of your ladder and how it is set up. Have someone outside with you so that, in case you fall, you won't lie in the snow for hours.

“There is no more dangerous time to be on a ladder or on your roof than right now,” Megna said. “It's cold, you're tired, you have a bunch of clothes on, you can't climb and you're not flexible. People have to really be thinking about safety.”

Steve Prince, sales manager for Grand Haven-based Werner Roofing, said he's been receiving calls from several local residents who are starting to get leaks in their closets.

“The biggest thing people should be doing is walking around the perimeter of their home to look for ice damming — they're losing warmth into the attic,” he said. “... I just went on an appointment that had huge ice dams. Their heat ducts in the attic were not insulated.”

Prince also suggests examining all of your ceilings, even in closets.

“We have empty-nesters who don't go into their kids' vacant rooms,” he said. “Go into every room and every closet and look for water stains.”

If you see damage, Prince suggests calling a roofing company that specializes in snow and ice removal.

“Make sure they're licensed to do snow and ice removal,” he said. “There's a different insurance than to install a roof because it's a lot more dangerous. Or, you can go get a snow rake and get the snow off the roof so you're taking away the source that's melting and creating the water. If you've got big ice dams, you can get snow pucks or rock salt and try to get a channel open in the ice dam to let the water drain off.”

If you're using a roof rake, be careful not to scrape the shingles.

Prince said there's really no reason to proactively remove snow.

“If you don't have ice buildup, just leave it alone,” he said. “The homes built today are built solid. But, if you see a warm-up coming and you have a huge ice dam, you'll want to get a channel opened up.”

Any ice dam of more than 8-10 inches is a concern, according to Prince. And, if you notice an orange color in the leaks or in the ice, that means there's shingle involvement and the water or ice is picking up oil from them.

If you do go up on the roof to clear snow yourself and you feel yourself slipping, lie down, Prince said.

“Start at the peak,” he said. “If you slip, just lie down. You're not going to displace all that snow. Shovel down to about halfway. Then, a snow rake from the ground should be able to reach halfway up.”

If you only use a snow rake from the ground, you could be causing more damage if the weather turns frigid. If you only remove snow from the bottom portion of the roof with a roof rake, the remaining snow can melt from heat from the home, Prince explained. But, if the temperature is zero or below, the water can freeze on the roof before it reaches the ground, causing an ice dam.

“If you see real cold air coming, either don't shovel any of it, or you've got to shovel all of it,” Prince said.

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