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A dam problem

For locals and seasonal residents alike, not catching ice dam build-ups on a roof can lead to extensive damage if not taken care of quickly.

Two men stand on top of a roof using a steamer to clear ice and snow.
Keegan Mickelson, left, and Kyle McLain use a steamer to remove ice and snow on a roof. The workers with McLain Brothers LLC were working on a home on the north side of Brainerd Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — This winter season has brought harsh winter storms followed by days of warm weather, creating a troth of beautiful scenery and some headaches the size of an ice dam.

For locals and seasonal residents alike, not catching ice dam build-ups on a roof can lead to extensive damage if not taken care of quickly, said Cory Jay, owner of Advantage Seamless Gutters in Brainerd.

“We've had just like the perfect storm this year,” Jay said. “We had huge snow early on and then we've had a lot of freezing and thawing. So when we have daytime temps that are above freezing, and nighttime temps that are below freezing, that's when they build.”

The Minnesota Commerce Department website states that due to inadequate air sealing, heat from the home's interior gets into the attic and melts the underside of the snow on the roof. The melted snow water flows down the roof surface until reaching a cold spot, such as the eaves or soffit, where it forms a frozen dam, especially with a snow-covered roof in subfreezing temperatures, more ice can build up.

The ice buildup can back up under the shingles, damaging them and allowing water to leak to the ceilings and walls below.

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In business for over 11 years, Jay said after transitioning to seamless gutters, they started receiving calls from customers asking for help with their ice dam problems.

“We started trying to figure out the safest way to remove ice dams,” Jay said, “and that’s what got us into the steaming.”

Jay said that they looked into pressure washers but found they created problems and could cause additional damage to the house. His company does everything they can to use the least amount of water to not add to the problem.

“The problem with a pressure washer is it's too high of water volume and too high of pressure,” Jay said. “The steamers that we run are a low volume, low pressure so they're not going to damage the roof. And It’s high heat so you're actually cutting the ice at like 300 degrees. A hot pressure washer is only at 180 (degrees) and we're using steam to actually cut through the ice. We slice through on each side and then spray steam underneath it so (the ice) just releases from the shingle.”

After noticing an uptick in requests for preemptive maintenance, Jay said they are working on setting up a service to clear roofs after snowfalls as homeowners have become more aware of the problems ice dams can cause.

A worker at Ace Hardware points at snow removal products
Brainerd Ace Hardware manager, Aaron Parker explains the different products he sells to help with snow removal, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

Brainerd Ace Hardware manager Aaron Parker echoed that sentiment, saying a few years ago it was really bad but homeowners are now starting working to preemptively stop ice dams from happening.

“So long as people stay on top of it, any little basic roof rake would work,” Parker said. “A little shovel that will pull the snow down or push it forward works well. On the higher end of the spectrum is the Avalanche (roof rake), which has a tarp the snow slides on.”

Parker said with the recent storms, their supply of products for ice dam prevention has been in high demand, as he pointed to an empty shelf that once had Roof Melt.

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Roof Melt is a pellet, Calcium Chloride, that is thrown on top of your roof to help prevent the formation of ice dams.

Both Parker and Jay recommend not waiting until the ice dam becomes a problem and being safety conscious as a slippery roof can be dangerous.

TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme, call 218-855-5859 or email tim.speier@brainerddispatch.com.

Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2020, covering Public Safety and the Baxter City Council.
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