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Ice dams are a curse this year

Up on the roof is where Mark Nelson and his son, Tanner, can often be found during ice dam season. Brian Basham/Tribune

Ice dams. Unfortunately many homeowners in Minnesota have experienced them, and even more unfortunately, some have experienced the damage they can do.

“I know there are so many people getting damage in their homes and I don’t think they know it,” Mark Nelson said.

Mark Nelson and his son, Tanner, have the business North Country Weatherization Technologies out of Fargo and are spending days in the Detroit Lakes trying to rid people of damage from ice dams.

Different products

Products at local stores have been flying off the shelves as well. Bob Wickline of Beug’s Ace Hardware in Detroit Lakes said their product, Roof Melt, has been selling by the buckets.

“We have people coming in saying they’ve never had this problem before and now they do,” he said of ice dams. “I think it’s the weather conditions we’ve been having.”

He said it’s not the snow that’s been causing the ice buildup but rather the varying temperatures.

How homeowners choose to remove the ice dams varies.

Mark Nelson has been doing this for more than 20 years. The secret to his success is a product called Ice Be Gone. It’s contained in a thaw-sock he lays on the roof, and it melts trenches in the ice dams, allowing water to drain onto the ground rather than back up under the shingles.

He said he can also remove the ice dams with steam, “but that gets pretty costly.”

Wickline said that the hardware store’s product is similar to hockey pucks that people can toss up on the roof.

He said homeowners should remove as much snow as possible “and then throw these up there and it melts channels.”

Todd Boit of Boit Snowplowing, Snow Removal and Sanding said he has had some calls in the past to remove ice dams from houses and what he does is “chisel some of it free.” Then he recommends homeowners put salt on their roofs to remove more ice.He said that he hasn’t done a lot of the ice dams because he tries to avoid that line of work though.

Wes Pare of Lakes Area Landscaping has also taken care of some ice dams for customers.

“Beat the ice dams down, but you don’t want to damage your roof either. That’s the tricky part,” he said.

He said a chisel and a rubber mallet are what he uses.

What causes dams

“Ninety percent of the time it’s a ventilation issue, not an insulation issue,” Nelson said.         

The attic of a house should be the same temperature as the rest of the house. When there gets to be so much snow, like there is this year, the snow covers vents in the roofs and it’s not drawing in cold air from the soffits.

With the wet snow and humidity, the snow lands on the roof, and with the melting done underneath the snow that has now formed an insulated blanket on the roof, water runs down to the soffit where it’s not heated and the ice begins to form.

“It (the cold overhang) slows it down and then it hits the gutter and starts building this ice dam.”

Pare agreed that there are issues with the attic and insulation if houses have bad ice dams. He said the loss of heat is causing the snow to melt and therefore causing the ice dams and potential leaking in houses.

Those ice dams build up and water gets pushed back under the shingles, causing it to leak into the attic and eventually down the walls and ceilings inside the house.

Evidence can be seen both from the outside of the house along the siding, and inside on soft and leaking drywall.

Nelson worked with colleges and a company out of New York years ago to get the thaw-sock he uses perfected.

He said he’s seen plenty of other attempts to get rid of ice dams like pucks, electrical tape and nylons filled with salt, but believes his system does the best job with the least damage.

“Everything we use is 100 percent biodegradable,” he said. “It is actually stimulated by the cold and will melt down through the ice dam to the shingles, trenching that water off.”

He said the socks only have to be laid here and there on the roof — in valleys especially — to get the water running in the right direction.

It will melt 3-4 inches in a day, so if homeowners can get to the problem quickly enough, Nelson said the socks can be reused.

“Once they get to 10-12 inches though, until it gets all the way down, the sock is almost dissolved.”

Preventing dams

To prevent ice dams in the future, Nelson said to try to keep snow off the roof — but not the entire roof.

He said the bottom several feet is best to keep clear. Especially when it’s the heavy, wet snow, it’s best to clear it off.

“You shouldn’t go up on your roof and shovel. It’s really hard walking on your shingles. They are so brittle and cold and when you’re walking around up there, shoveling, you’re taking a lot of that aggregate off. It’s really bad for it.”

So if possible, clean the snow off with a snow rake instead of climbing up there.

“A good indicator is if you have snow on your roof, you don’t have heat loss. So that’s actually a good sign, believe it or not,” Nelson said.

People think they need extra insulation in the attic as well, he said, so they have extra insulation blown up there.

“They don’t have shoots and they end up blocking (the vents). When you’re up in your attic, you should be able to look right on down outside through your soffits.”

Too much insulation put in improperly is the worst thing homeowners can do, he said.While working on the ice dams, Nelson said he examines the attic free of charge to let people know what needs to be done to remedy the situation.

“A lot of it is an easy fix though — keeping the vents open, making sure everything is insulated up in the attic and then again making sure they have vented soffit.”

Pare recommends to homeowners with ice dam problems to get a contractor out to the house and “fix the problem, not just beat the ice down.”

He added that it could reduce the heating bill too if the attic is properly insulated.

Nelson said it doesn’t matter if homes are old or brand new, they can all have ice dams. Roofs with lots of rooflines and valleys can see lots of problems, too.

He said new construction now requires an ice and water shield that runs from the gutters up the roof in three-foot sections.

“Then even if you do have an ice dam building up, you still have that protection under the shingles.”

Nelson said he will be spending more time around the lakes in the next couple weeks so people with ice problems can give him a call and set up a time for him to come over.

He can be reached at

Pippi Mayfield, dl-online

 Special socks filled with ice-removal product are strategically placed by Mark Nelson to aid in water flow from dammed-up roofs.

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