The record-breaking snowfall near the end of February brought an old foe back to Central Oregon’s rooftops: ice dams.
“It’s snowmageddon all over again,” said Gretchen Woodruff, co-owner of Northwest Quality Roofing, which often clears ice dams during particularly snowy winters.
So far, Northwest Quality Roofing and other roofers have gotten hundreds of calls over the last few days about ice dams forming on the eaves of roofs across Central Oregon. Woodruff said several calls involved leaks that had already entered homes.
She said the call volume hasn’t matched what the company experienced during the infamous 2016-17 winter, when record snow-depths in January caused roof problems across Central Oregon. At least so far.
“It’s not as bad, but it’s starting to get there,” added Carlos Simpson, president of Deschutes Roofing.
Ice dams form after large amounts of snow collect on rooftops. Heat from inside buildings heats portions of the roof and causes snow atop the roof to melt, said Corky Wray, founder of Central Oregon Disaster Restoration. Wray said the melted snow refreezes when it reaches a colder portion of the room, creating a barrier that causes melting snow to back up and leak into the building.
Wray said ice dams require a lot of snow, along with temperatures that are warm enough to allow the snow to melt, while still being cold enough to freeze it again. The past few days, with temperatures in the 20s and 30s, have fit that definition.
“It takes kind of a perfect storm, and I think we hit it,” he said.
Ultimately, Simpson said ice dams are caused by poor ventilation and insulation, which contribute to heat escaping from structures. Ice dams affect shingle and metal roofs alike, though Simpson said metal roofs are less prone to massive leaks from the hazards.
Wray said raking snow off the roof can help prevent ice dams before they form. However, Wray warned not to chip away ice that forms on the roof, since it can damage tiles.
“Your ice dam is better, but your roof’s got holes,” Wray said.
The roofers agreed that the best way to remove ice dams professionally is using specialized devices that blast low-pressure steam that approaches 300 degrees. Woodruff said roofers remove ice dams in teams of two, with one of the workers standing on the roof while another mans the steam machine. She said a typical ice dam takes between two and four hours to remove.
However, the machines are expensive and difficult to get. Simpson said there are very few manufacturers, and many are back-ordered due to harsh winter conditions across the country this year. Simpson said he’s told customers his steam machine won’t be in until next Friday.
“It’s not something you can just run to Home Depot and buy,” Simpson said.
The recent standard for ice dams in Central Oregon occurred during the winter before last, when snow depths exceeded 30 inches in parts of Central Oregon during January. The continuous snow meant local roofers were deluged with hundreds of calls about ice dams, and roofers from outside the state flocked to Central Oregon.
One such contractor, Minnesota-based Ice Dam Guys, completed more than 300 jobs in Central Oregon during that winter, according to founder Joe Palumbo. Palumbo said the company received a few calls from Central Oregon residents in the last week, but a particularly snowy winter in the upper Midwest is keeping his workers too busy to go to Oregon.
“Obviously, we can’t cross the country for a couple people,” Palumbo said.
Woodruff added that the call volume remains about 10 percent less than it was at its peak two winters ago. Still, all of the contractors said their schedules are quickly filling up.
“Finding someone who’s not booked two weeks out is tricky,” Wray said.
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