Homemade tools reduce ice buildup on the roof and can prevent damage from ice dams.
It's February, and here in New England, that means snow and ice. So far, winter has been quite mild compared with last year's record snows. (We're still bruised from last year and many homes still need roof work because roofers couldn't keep up with the demand. Then there was hail in August, but that's a story for another day.)
In February 2015, I awoke one Friday morning to see stains on the wall above my office computer. Water was coming in, caused by an ice dam on the roof. Here's what the damage looked like before I repaired it.
In 2015, my office wall was stained by incoming water from an ice dam. This year, I take preventative measures and hope the weather will cooperate.
With the stain growing, I found a roofer two blocks away and asked if he would come over and remove the ice dam. He came over that afternoon and did just that. No more water entering the wall and ceiling.
While the roofer was here, he suggested that I get some socks or stockings, fill them with ice-melt pellets, and place them in the rain gutters to prevent further ice build-up from water coming off the roof as the snow melted. Even with an insulation, the roof gets warm enough to melt snow. The water runs down, hits the metal rain gutters, and refreezes into solid ice. As more water comes down, the ice builds and results in an ice dam. The water then makes its way under the roof shingles and into the house.
The roofer placed two socks in the rain gutter, but what would I do when he left? How could I get more ice melt into the rain gutters without a tall ladder?
That's when I created "The Hook," by taping a hook—originally intended to hold up a small plant—to the end of a stick that came from a law sign. The stick, about 2-m long, lets me hang out the bedroom windows and strategically place the socks in the rain gutters. When the snow melts, I'll retrieve the socks before they fall into the downspouts.
A hook on a stick gets ice-melt pellets where they can do some good.
Here's The Hook about to deploy a stocking full of ice melt pellets. I simply drop the stocking in the desired place and roll the hook to release it.
The hook in action, ready to deploy a stocking filled with ice-melt pellets.
The ice melt pellets are now ready to minimize ice buildup from dripping water.
Ice-melt pellets deployed and ready.
While the ice-melt socks helped, the best way to prevent ice dams is to never let them occur. I tried using the other end of the stick to remove snow from the rain gutters, but it was too blunt and too thick. Enter "The Spear," formed by taping a garden trowel to the end of another stick. With the trowel, I could scoop snow out of the rain gutters and break the ice that had already formed. Once broken, the ice can be removed.
Here's The Spear in action, removing snow from the rain gutter.
The trowel is just the right size for getting into a rain gutter and removing snow before it melts and refreezes.
While The Hook and The Spear have surely helped, they aren't without limitations. For one, the trowel has a sharp point. It's tempting to use it to break ice from the roof, but the shingles are made of slate and are quite brittle. Thus, I avoid attacking the ice with the trowel tip. Using the blunt end of the stick is less effective at breaking ice, but it prevents slate damage.
Another limitation to The Hook and The Spear is that to use them, I have to bend myself out the window, which puts strain on my back. Having thrown out my back several times, it's a concern. I could spend all day removing every reachable snowflake, but not at the risk of spending a day in bed while my back recovers.
—Martin Rowe, Senior Technical Editor