Business

In the Treasure Valley, ‘dam’ is now a four-letter word

Ice dam removal in Boise

Jake Weber with Icedamremovalguys.com talks about ice dams and how to prevent them from forming and damaging your roof.
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Jake Weber with Icedamremovalguys.com talks about ice dams and how to prevent them from forming and damaging your roof.

Joe Palumbo knows ice dams. He lives in Minnesota, where ice dams are a part of life. He started a company, Ice Dam Guys, to remove them from homes and businesses.

And according to Joe Palumbo, the Boise area is the middle of an ice-dam disaster.

Ice dams are long walls of ice that form along a roof’s edge as snow melts and refreezes. They block drainage from the roof and wreak havoc on that structure, its shingles, gutters, overhangs and anything underneath.

Palumbo started his business 17 years ago. He employs technicians in several states. He sends them out to homes and businesses, where they use a machine to slowly steam-heat the dams until they’re gone.

“I’m on an hour and a half of sleep, and I’m starting to turn into zombie,” Palumbo said Wednesday morning from Minneapolis, where he is taking hundreds of calls a day from people in the Boise area.

Mother Nature is just kicking you in the pants right now.

Joe Palumbo, owner, Ice Dam Guys

The company’s email server overloaded and crashed. At one point, he had a backlog of 106 messages in the company’s Facebook account.

“Our voicemail we use, a digital service through AT&T, that crashed,” he said. “The rep we talked to said we were getting five calls a minute, and it just, you know, the server just can’t handle it.”

Palumbo is dispatching about half his total workforce — 15 people already on the ground and five more en route to Idaho — to jobs in the Treasure Valley. Their job isn’t easy, and it is dangerous. One worker here broke his foot after falling from a roof Tuesday, the first injury in the company’s history.

“We were at a shopping mall for four days melting ice,” he said, though he couldn’t remember which mall. “They finished last night at 2 a.m. We had two steamers going there.”

Q: How did you end up with so much work out here?

A: Every morning there are six TVs with the Weather Channel on [in the office]. We knew it was coming. We just didn’t think it would be this big.

It started about three weeks ago. It was about the 22nd of December. We kind of really started thinking maybe we should head out there, but we didn’t want to send our guys over Christmas. So we postponed it. Then, after Christmas, the phones slowed down.

The weather’s been so strange out there. Every time we check the forecast, it’s different. And we’re just over here going, “Oh, my word, what are we gonna do?”

So, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, right about January 3, the phones just blew up. Maybe 50 calls a day. And then every day since then, more and more.

Q: Do you think it will die down?

A: I don’t know how long it’s gonna last. We thought it might be over today, with another fairly warm day, but now there’s cold weather [forecast].

We thought our weather was strange in Minnesota. We kind of have a joke. We call Idaho “Bizarro World” because we don’t know what’s gonna happen.

These temperatures you guys have been having, it’s the worst for ice dams.

In Minnesota, or most of the northern climates, most of the ice dams form because there is just lack of insulation, lack of ventilation in the attic space, and all this heat from the living space beneath. It escapes from the attic. It warms the underside of the roof and causes the snow to melt. When it hits the overhang, it’s colder and it freezes.

Got an ice dam? You can reach the Ice Dam Guys at (800) ICE-DAMS. You’ll probably have to leave a message.

In Idaho, sure, you have that problem. But worse: The temperatures are causing the snow to melt. During the day, the warmth is melting it slowly, then it’s freezing at night. It’s affecting every house — little house, big house, poorly insulated, great insulation.

Q: Are you sending out an ice-dam army from Minnesota?

A: It just so happens that a lot of our best technicians live out West. So there’s a handful of guys from Wyoming there. There’s a pretty significant amount from Boise. Of course, Minnesota. Our guy from Michigan is gonna arrive today. A couple guys from Texas.

Q: This is your first time doing work in Boise — or Idaho at all. Does anything stick out as different?

A: From all my guys on the ground, they say that the thickness of your ice dams compares to that of what we saw in Boston two years ago, when they had their record-breaking 100-plus inch snowfall year. Idaho, even compared to Boston, is a shocker.

There are 10-inch thick dams. You get a roofline that’s 60 feet long? It’s like parking two Toyota Priuses on the edge of your roof. It’s just an enormous amount of weight. [That is] ripping gutters off and flexing overhangs.

We were a little uncertain if people in that neck of the woods used our terminology, ‘ice dams.’ You guys actually like to call it ‘roof ice.’

Almost every person that we’ve worked for has said, “I’ve never seen this ice dam thing. I’ve lived here for two decades, and I have no idea what this is, but my roof is leaking, and you say you can fix it, so ...”

$475 Hourly fee for ice dam removal by the Ice Dam Guys

3 hours The average time technicians spend on an ice dam, but Palumbo says jobs vary from two hours to two days.

It’s expensive, but what we like to tell people [is] we’re not charging any more working out there than we are right in our back door in Minneapolis. We’re not storm chasers. We’re not price gouging people. There are a few instances that we will charge more [such as a very steep roof or three-hour drive].

There are plenty of jobs we get done in two hours, but there are plenty of jobs that take eight.

You can find some roofing companies that’ll come out there and claim that they will carefully hammer and chisel the ice off your roof for $150 an hour, but I don’t know how you gently hammer or chisel. Our claim to fame was using steam, and everyone followed suit from there.

Q: What if you can’t afford even an hour of Ice Dam Guys removal?

A: One thing, it sounds a little silly: Turn the heat down. Stop pumping heat into your attic. Bump the thermostat down to 65 degrees, and put a sweater on. You’ll still have an ice dam, but maybe it won’t cause a leak in your house. Even a few degrees can help.

[Click here to get more tips and answers from the Ice Dam Guys FAQ.]

Get the snow off your roof. [Using a roof rake], rake as much off your roof as you can. Make sure it’s plastic, has a plastic cutting edge. Or if it’s metal, has little plastic wheels that keep the metal edge off the shingles — if you scrape them, you’re gonna cut 10 years off the life of your roof.

Q: What about using rock salt or ice melt?

A: A lot of people like to throw pucks up there. I can’t say they’re worthless. I only know that probably half of the ice dams we melt, someone tried a DIY trick. Either a pellet or ... people fill, like, a sock or pantyhose with rock salt, and they lay it right on top of the [ice] wall, and lay it down to the shingles. That creates this avenue for water to leach past the ice dam. If it’s your only resort, and you just don’t have the money, heck yeah. But these chemicals are not good on shingles.

Audrey Dutton: 208-377-6448, @IDS_Audrey

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