Icing on the cake

“You really need to do something about those ice dams,” my neighbor said.

People think I invited the ice dams, that I liken them to pots of flowers in the summer or twinkle lights during the holidays. Ice is Mother Nature’s winter accoutrement and in 2011-12 she spread her icy decoration with the same zeal as a tomcat marking its territory.

Now March isn’t a warm month but the sun is making its way north and each day more rays grace the roof. But stuff started to melt and the ice dams got worse.

The gutter downspouts clogged with ice and slits allowed water to leak and ice to congeal on the deck. Other downspouts are still under crusty, dirty snow and after the guy who laid the gas pipe cut the underground spout in the front, my ice is pretty loyal and didn’t look like it would go anywhere anytime soon.

Many mountain homes suffer from ice dams due to a lack of sunshine from the trees and/or mountain shadow and they form when heavy snow begins to melt under a short reprieve from cold temperatures. One solution is heat tape, a long electrified wire that comes in many sizes and forms. Most common are zig-zag wires that sit just above the gutter and stretch the length of unheated space in a house’s eaves. Other tapes include thick, commercial-grade wires that can be placed on rooftops, inside gutters and in the downspouts. Heat tape isn’t a cheap solution; some heat tape draw 220-watt power and can impact an electrical bill. It’s an expensive solution and other than paying for a metal roof, it’s one of the few ways to keep ice from destroying both gutters, downspouts and in the spaces where the gutters meet the roof. Leakage can destroy drywall and leave rust-colored spots. It’s a pain.

When a small leak started in the mudroom, I had to get some help.

I called my insurance agent hoping to find a roofer I can trust (the guys that put the roof up when I first moved in won’t be invited back … long story) and I contacted him, emailed him pictures of the gutters and spoke to him on the phone. His response was to call him when the ice melted but until then I was on my own.

I contacted Conifer Gutters, a local company specializing in all things gutter-related and over the sound of a crying child I could hear a financial gleam in the “receptionist’s” eye when she quoted me $150 for the first half hour and $50 for every half hour after that. A week later, a nice man came to the door and he checked the gutters, evaluated the iced-over roof and gave me a fairly reasonable quote for new, 5-inch gutters but said it would cost upwards of $800 to remove the ice from the roof.

He pointed out that if I plugged in the heat tape already installed on my roof, the snow would begin to melt. I had been under the impression that none of the three strands of heat tape on the roof were kaput, so I never plugged them in. He tested the tape that zig-zags along the length of the house and pronounced it fit as a fiddle and ready to go. The long, commercial-grade tape that droops lazily on the south part of the house was another matter. He trudged into the back yard and immediately spied why the thick coils of tape weren’t working – the ugly wires hanging from a pipe nailed to the wall weren’t wired into the electrical box. Mystery solved.

Chris, my tree-cutting, magician-electrician friend came over and quickly moved the wires and made it possible to turn on the tape with the flick of a switch. As of the middle of March, the snow is melting, the ice dams are withering under the fierce heat of the tape and soon, no trace of the damaging ice will remain.

All is well.

For now … and until I get my IREA bill.

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