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The first time you hear the term ‘ice dam,’ it’s probably too late

My first reaction when I saw the wall cavity was to cringe. My second was to cover my nose and mouth with my T-shirt.

Black mold and green mildew clung to the studs, and dirty, icy water coated the recently exposed backside of the exterior wall.

I had no desire to breathe the dank air or even look at the petri dish laid bare by the demolition crew.

So with my chin tucked to my chest I measured the room for new carpet and lit out for the exit like a dart through a blow-gun.

It was the worst ice dam mess I’d ever seen.

As evidenced by the quantity and quality of the mold, this was not a one-and-done disaster.

Rather it was a result of multiple ice dams over the course of several years.

It went unnoticed until that time when it was severe enough to soak the carpet and destroy the drywall. Contractors of every specialty under the sun descended on the house like a team of callous-handed scientists to fix it and, for obvious reasons, the homeowner had to temporarily relocate.

Situations like the one described above are rare and extreme.

But ice dams, which are an accumulated hard-pack ice at the edges of roofs and in rain gutters, are as common to Pittsburghers as the incorrect pronunciation of the word creek (crick).

Sadly, too many of us ignore the warning signs and do little in the way of preventive medicine.

Ice dams when left untreated force snow-melt up the roof, under the shingles and eventually into our ceilings and walls.

Granted, there are plenty of warm season measures one can take to reduce the risk.

But, here in the throes of winter, we are limited in remedy.

Enter the roof rake, a tool used to remove excess snow from the lower portion of the roof thereby minimizing the potential for severe
ice damming.

A roof rake is a wide, flat blade of aluminum attached to a 20-foot-long handle.

The user simply stands on the ground, reaches the blade onto the roof and gently lays it into the accumulated snow.

The rake is then pulled towards and ultimately over the edge of the rain gutter, bringing with it a few inches of fluff.

Layer-by-layer and inch-by-inch, the process is repeated. Eventually, the rake hits pay dirt and, without damage, exposes the shingles.

The rake may be used to remove snow as far up the roof as it can reach.

Depending on how high the roof line is, that can mean several feet of snow which may be safely taken down and subtracted from the equation.

A roof rake is simple, virtually unbreakable, inexpensive and available.

Sure, it may sit in the corner for hundreds of days providing only piece of mind.

But in an instant, it may become the most valuable tool in your collection.

After seeing the destruction ice dams can cause firsthand, I promise you this: one will always be in my garage.

Ed Pfeifer is a Tribune-Review freelance columnist and owner of Pfeifer Hardware Inc. If you have hardware-related questions, call the store at 724-625-9090.