Friday, February 11, 2011

Photos of an Ice Dam

Dan from Massachusetts sent me a
couple of photos of ice dams.

Looking at the first photo very carefully,
I notice that there are 3 ice dams. The
first two ice dams are obvious as they
appear as two quite distinct ridges.
The third ice dam is not as obvious as
it is buried in the snow line:

Here's another photo of the same house.
To see the above photo and the below
photo in a higher resolution, click on
the photo. Clicking on each photo lets
you see the three ice dams quite clearly.

In the above photo, you can see
3 ice dams crawling across the
roof of the house. Again, the
ice dam that is highest up is
not as obvious as it is buried
in the leading edge of the
snow that remains.

I wrote to the man who sent me
the above 2 photos asking his
permission to publish these photos
on this blog. Here are his
comments in regards to publishing
the above photos:

Maybe it will stimulate further
discussion. I was really surprised
when the second (and third) dams
appeared - and it seemed like maybe
then it wasn't so good to clear unless
a) you have great insulation, or b) you
clear much higher so there's not much
snow above. We have had temps below
freezing several days with only a bit
of melting on this west exposure.

His experience parallels my experience
precisely. I've also had ice dam ridges
appear on the roof after clearing the
snow at two different levels. In my case,
clearing the snow twice produced 2 different
ice dams.

In my case, I used calcium chloride to
get the water flowing straight down the
roof. Calcium chloride is a type of salt
that effectively melts snow and ice up
to 25 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. I
threw it on my roof much the same way you
might throw rock salt.

All of this has become unnecessary for us
after my first cousin re-insulated our
attic. We do not have ice dams to any
significant degree any longer.

In life, it seems, there is the temporary
fix and there is the permanent solution.
More insulation is the solution that will
probably outlive me.

Ed Abbott

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Where Can I Buy a Snowrake?

Got this email a few days ago:


I loved your article about
snow raking. Problem is, I can't
find a snow rake! Do you know
anyplace that has them for sale
in Western Massachusetts?


Sent from my iPhone

I live in Maine so I would not
know where to buy a snowrake
in Western Massachusetts. Does
anyone know? If so, please
post below. Snow rakes are
in short supply all over the

For example, if you know of a
place selling snowrakes near
Longmeadow, Massachusetts, you
might let everyone know by posting
below. I believe the person who
sent me the above email is from

Likewise, if you are from Connecticut
and are looking for a local snowrake
retailer, you might post below asking
if anyone knows where to buy snowrakes
in your part of the country.

To summarize:

  • Post below if you are looking for
    snowrakes in a specific geographical
  • Post below if you know of snowrakes
    that are being sold at a store in a
    particular town or city

When the snow falls hard and fast, snowrakes
are hard to come by. It's then that
everyone wants one, but no one can find one.

When you need it the most is when it is most

Whether you are looking for a snowrake, or
have found one, please post below.

Ed Abbott

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How Much Snow Should I Rake Off My Roof?

I received this email a week ago:

We're supposed to be getting more
snow on top of the 16-inch-plus
accumulation from the the last
two storms.

I've hired my snow plower to rake
the snow off my roof. He can't
come until Friday, a day after the
next snowfall. He says he's heard
it's best to just remove the first  
3 feet, but will do it all if I want.

My gutter looks like a solid block of
ice and I'm also concerned about
what this might mean for the  roof. So,
is 3 feet enough to rake off the roof?
Could the ice-filled gutter signify other
trouble and, if so, what do you

Hiring your snow plow guy is a good
idea, in my opinion. Since you already
know him, you are less likely to be
taken advantage of. Since he works for
you on a regular basis, he will probably
be fair with you.

One thing that I do not like to do is
hire people who knock on my door after
a snow storm. These people tend to
cruise the neighborhood after a snow
storm looking for work. My experience
is that these people do the worst job,
but charge the most money. When possible,
I hire someone I know rather than a
complete stranger. It makes sense.

Your snow plower's advice about not
removing all the snow on the roof
sounds good to me. This is another
reason why he is probably a good person
to hire. It sounds like he is honest.

A few years back, my brother was sick
with cancer and I was his primary care-giver.
I was too busy caring for my brother to
bother with the roof myself. Under these
circumstances, I hired a roofing contractor
unknown to me to shovel snow off the roof.

He shoveled a huge pile of snow on to
our walkway after we had agreed on a
price. This huge pile of snow totally
blocked access to our oil tank. The
fill pipe for the oil tank was behind
the pile of snow and the pile of snow
was right next to the house.

I had to talk him into agreeing
that clearing a narrow walkway through
this pile of snow, which was about eight
feet high, was part of the job. The
price we had agreed on for the total job
was a hefty one.

For his hefty price, he only did
about 1/4 of the surface area of
the roof. He shoveled to the
shingles and in the spring, after
the snow had melted, I found a fair
amount of shingle material on the ground.

In many ways, he was a nice guy. The
bottom line, though, was you had to
think of everything yourself and ask
for everything yourself. If you didn't
think of it, he did not do it and it
was not part of the job. I do not like
to hire people who act like that.

I've had other disappointing experiences
when hiring people off the street. I've
come to believe that many of these people
do as little work as possible for as much
money as possible. It is to the point
now where anytime someone knocks on our
door asking for work, the answer is always,

I've noticed an interesting thing: So
often, the best people spend the least
amount of time looking for work. Of
course this is not always true. However,
I've often found that when someone is
really good, they have more work than
they can handle, and are unable to take
on more.

I'm taking the long way around to answer
your question. It sounds like the guy
who does work for you does good work. It
would probably be easier for him to
shovel right to the shingles in that it
requires less thought and care on his part.

However, ice and snow tends to adhere to
shingles. If you shovel all the way to
the shingles, you can't help but remove
some of the shingling material. That's
just the way it is.

You mention that you have an ice-filled
gutter. In my experience, this could
signal the potential for ice dams, depending
on how much ice there is and how far back up
the roof the ice goes.

I write about gutters and ice dams here:

Preventing Ice Dams

Note that I'm really not an expert on roofs
or ice dams. I'm just a regular guy who
takes care of his own roof and does the best
he can.

Ed Abbott

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How to Remove Snow and Ice From Your Eaves Trough

Just received the following email

Hi Ed

Is there a particular way to remove
snow from the roof when you have
eaves trough on your house ?



Eaves trough. I had never heard this
term before this morning. Here's a
web page that says an eaves trough is
a gutter:

The Word Eavestrough

Most people in the United States say
gutter while many people in
Canada say an eaves trough to
mean the same thing. Apparently the
word eaves trough can also be
spelled as one word, eavestrough.

The writer of the above email has a
Canadian email address. I assume he
is from Canada.

I've written about gutters (eaves trough)

How to Rake Snow Off Your Roof

I'm still not sure whether eaves
is singular or plural. Maybe
it is is both.

In any case, I'll play it safe and
use the the word gutters instead.
That's how most people in the United
States refer to the things that
collect rain and funnel it to the

Looking around my neighborhood, I don't
see any houses that still have gutters.
I guess we were the last hold-out when
we removed our gutters a few years ago.

In a cold weather climate, I'd say the
easiest thing to do is to not have gutters.
They tend to collect snow and ice in the
winter and leaves in the fall.

However, when we did have gutters, I still
used to snowrake the roof. I would pull the
snow up and over the gutters. I'd try to
get the snow out of the gutters and
down to the ground. That's about all you
can do.

Of course, the gutters are going to collect
ice and snow regardless of whether you
snowrake or not. However, snowraking can
help eliminate the source of ice which is
the roof that sits just above the gutters.

If the roof above the gutters has less snow,
that means that less ice will collect in the
gutters. Less ice means less icicles.

It is characteristic of houses that are prone
to ice dams that they tend to have huge
icicles hanging off of the gutters. In many
ways, huge icicles hanging off of the gutters
and ice dams are the two faces of the same problem.

Both problems come from the same source which
is ice forming on the eaves after melting snow
re-freezes. However, it is easier to see icicles
forming than it is to see an ice dam forming.

Our house still has icicles but they are small
compared to what they used to be. This is for
two reasons:

  1. We have removed the gutters
    on our house
  2. We have added insulation to
    the attic

If I were to choose between removing
gutters and adding insulation to the
attic, I'd definitely add more insulation
to the attic. On the side of the house
where we never had gutters, we still used
to get huge icicles. In some cases, these
icicles would reach all the way to the

The icicles that used to form on our
house when I was a child always used to
fascinate me. As a child, it would never
have occurred me that the icicles would
go away, or become much smaller, if we added
more ceiling insulation.

This is exactly what has happened. Now
that our attic is well insulated, we
have almost no icicles on our house.The
icicles that do form are tiny and tend
to fall off in a few days.

The icicles that we used to have were
so beautiful. The sun would shine through
them and they looked like big long diamonds.
They would sparkle and shine and each icicle
had a different shape.

Life has its compensations. We've been
compensated for the lack of beautiful icicles
with lower heating bills and with no water running
down the inside of our big picture windows on
a warm spring day. I'd say this is more than

By the way: I'm really not an expert on gutters,
icicles, or roofs. I'm just a regular guy who
snowrakes his own roof and likes to write about

Ed Abbott

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Threw Away Garelick Roof Rake Parts

Received this email yesterday:


I have a metal Garelick roof rake.  
I threw away the box that had the
parts listed on it.  

The nut/bolt/screw that connects
the brace to the rake blade came
off while raking.  I need to replace.  

Need to know what to ask for at the
hardware store.  Is there a place
that would tell me what I am missing?  

The company is not answering the
phone because of the storm.


Looks like this might be the roof rake
you are talking about:

Garelick Roof Rake

If all you need to do is replace
a bolt, you might disassemble the
rake and bring with you to the
hardware store only that part of
the rake that has a missing bolt.

Once there, a salesperson can probably
find something for you that could act as
a temporary fix. Of course, the more
permanent fix is to order the parts
you need from the manufacturer.

Having a part fall off into the snow
is a problem that I've experienced more
than once. These days, I check that the
parts are securely screwed on at regular

In fact, I've replaced some of my bolts
with extra-long bolts so that I can visually
see the rake coming apart before it actually

Years ago, I replaced the bolt that ties the
head of the rake to the pole as I found it
particularly irksome having the head of the
rake fall off and be left high on the roof.

One disadvantage of extra long bolts is that
they can dig into your clothes if you are not
careful which side of the rake the long side of
the bolt goes. As I think back on my decision
to use long bolts, I realize that I probably
would have been smarter to use some kind of
lock-nut rather than an extra-long bolt.

Ed Abbott

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Preventing Ice Dams

I received an email asking about
ice dams yesterday:

We have had our first ice dam,
causing some ceiling damage. We
have a snow rake on order; any
other ideas re: preventing another  
ice dam?

P.S. I am an old lady

We too have had ice dams at our
house. A temporary fix is to have
someone go up on a ladder and shovel
the show off the eaves and then throw
various ice melt products, such as
rock salt, on to the ice. This will
fix the problem temporarily so that
the roof no longer leaks for a day
or so. At least, that's my experience.

Of course, calcium chloride, another
form of salt, works much better than
rock salt. However, late in winter,
it becomes harder and harder to purchase
calcium chloride as the stores run out
of it. Also, it is much more expensive.

All of the above is a temporary fix.

For a more permanent fix, we hired my
first cousin, a building contractor,
to re-insulate our attic. This has
worked flawlessly and our heating bill
has gone down. This was done 2 or 3
years ago.

My cousin has 3 sons who help him work
on houses. Together, the father and
the 3 boys, put about a foot of insulation
in our attic. My cousin explored several
options and decided that blown-in insulation
would work best.

It has worked flawlessly! The house holds
heat very well now and there is no longer
enough heat rising from the house to the
roof to melt snow.

More insulation, in my view, is really and
truly the ideal solution. Over time, it is
a solution that pays for itself in lower heating
costs. It's ideal in another way too. It greatly
decreases the difference in temperature that would
naturally exist between the roof eaves and the
roof itself.

The ultimate cause of ice dams is heat rising
up from a heated home and melting snow on the
roof. If we did not heat our homes, we would
not have ice dams. Of course, no one is going
to stop heating their home.

Since no one wants to live in a cold house in
winter, the best alternative to a cold house is
to keep the attic well insulated. Attic insulation
is ceiling insulation. If you insulate your attic,
you are insulating your ceiling.

When you have adequate attic insulation, the
attic stays cold all winter and the snow above
the attic does not melt. Therefore, water does
not run down the roof at temperatures below 32
degrees Fahrenheit.

Keeping snow from melting at temperatures below
32 degrees Fahrenheit is the key to preventing
ice dams. If you allow water to run down the
roof at temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit,
it tends to refreeze when it hits the eaves of
the house.

The eaves, by definition, have no ceiling underneath
them. The eaves are the part of the roof that
hangs out beyond the walls of the house. With
no ceiling to heat them, the eaves tend to refreeze
water that tries to run down the roof and fall off
the house. Instead of falling off the house, the water
freezes again and becomes an ice dam on top of the eaves.

I'll summarize ice dams this way:

  1. It is heat rising from the house
    that causes snow to melt at cold
  2. If is is cold enough, the melting
    snow will refreeze when it hits the
    eaves of the house
  3. If enough ice forms on the eaves,
    the ice creates an ice dam
  4. If an ice dam becomes serious
    enough, it causes water to back up
    on your roof and your roof leaks in
    the middle of the winter

There's a lesson in all this: An
ounce of prevention is worth a pound
of cure. Another lesson is to take
care of a small problem before it becomes
a big problem.

Inadequate ceiling insulation is a small
problem that can become a big problem
if this problem turns into an ice dam.

I realize that some contractors will
suggest that you ventilate your attic
better to get rid of the heat. We
had a contractor suggest this to us.

We already have passive ventilation
in our attic. This particular contractor
suggested active ventilation. He wanted
to poke a hole in the roof and run an
electric fan.

I found this solution annoying. If we
did this, it would mean we were pumping
heat out of the house at a much greater
rate. I felt that this would inevitably
lead to slightly higher heating costs.
There had to be a better solution.

It was then that I talked to my cousin
and we decided to hire him. I'm so grateful
to my first cousin for the wonderful work
he did on our house.

There's another lesson in this: Some people
do much better work than other people. It
pays to seek out the best to get the best.

The older your house, the more likely it is
that it has inadequate ceiling insulation.
Our house was built in the early 1950s when
fiber-glass insulation was a new idea. Our
original attic insulation was only R-8, which
is totally inadequate by today's standards.

Another life lesson is that there is always
a better way to do things.

Ed Abbott

Monday, January 31, 2011

Preventing Ice Dams With a Snow Rake

I received the following email
a couple of days ago:

Hi Ed,

Roof snow question: Why remove snow
from only the first 4-6 feet of roof?
Why not remove the snow all the way
up to the ridge?


Hi Bob,

I think I made an error of emphasis
in my original article on snow raking:

How to
Rake Snow Off Your Roof

In the original article, I emphasized
raking snow off the roof to prevent the
roof from collapsing. For me, this has
been of primary concern as the pitch on
our roof is too gradual for the State of
Maine. Our house was built in the 1950s
and there was a trend in our neighborhood,
at the time, of building houses to
specifications that would work well in the
deep south. Maine is not the deep south.

My error of emphasis was emphasizing roof
collapse rather than ice dams.

For most people, the primary concern is
ice dams. We've had this problem too.
I'm in the house I grew up in and my father
found it very disturbing when ice would
start pouring down the inside of our
picture windows in late February on a warm

The answer to your question is that people
rake the eaves of the roof, plus a little
bit more, if they are concerned primarily
with ice dams. However, if the concern is
a collapsed roof, the tendency may be to
get more weight off the roof by raking
a little further than this.

Either way is probably sufficient. Most
roofs do not collapse. Taking even a
little bit of snow off the roof can make
a big difference and stop a roof from

However, each situation is a little bit
different. Some people prefer the additional
assurance of taking all the snow off.

I try to avoid taking all the snow off as
doing this tends to damage the shingles.
Since we do not currently have a problem
with ice dams, I have the luxury of leaving
a layer of snow on the roof. Not everyone

I suppose it all comes down to knowing
yourself and knowing your situation. You
can't necessarily do things the way someone
else would because your situation may be
entirely different than their situation.

Ed Abbott

What's the Best Snowrake?

I received the following email
a few days ago:

I’m a new homeowner and we've had
in excess of 50 inches of snow this month
in Connecticut, the worst ever …

I have read your step-by-step
instructions on how to rake a
roof, but what type of snow rake
would you recommend?

Thank you for your assistance.    

This is a common question I really
don't have an answer to. I, myself,
bought a snowrake from the local
hardware store and have no idea
what brand it was. I purchased my
snowrake, which is an aluminum pole
with a plastic rake head, years ago.

Three things you may wish to

  1. How far do you need to reach
    to get to the snow? The pole has
    to at least be that long
  2. Can the size of the pole be
    adjusted? My snowrake is adjustable
    by adding or taking away a pole.
  3. Is the head of the rake metal or
    some other material? While a metal roof
    rake head is rugged, it can damage your
    shingles somewhat if you are not careful.

By the way: My roof rake is actually constructed
of two roof rake kits. This is because our
roof is so far from the ground, in some places,
that I need to extend the length of the rake
to 3 poles rather than use the 1 or 2 poles that
came with the original roof rake kit.

Back to the original question: Do I know
what is the best roof rake? Do I know if
one roof rake is better than the other?
I don't know. I'm just a guy who rakes his
own roof.

If anyone has a snowrake recommendation,
would you post it below?

Thanks! It a wonderful thing, extending
my knowledge of roof rakes, by asking
people who know more than I do. Much

Ed Abbott

Monday, January 24, 2011

Finding the Snork Snowrake

Got the following email just now:

Hello Ed,

I read your info about snow on a roof.
I am trying to purchase a snow rake
called "Snorke Snowrake" which is made
by Unlimited Visions in New Hampshire.

I have checked more than a few places
in the Boston area and nobody has ever
heard of them. Their website is but there is no way
to contact them to ask where to purchase
their products.

If you have any information on contacting
them --- phone, street address, etc --- could
you respond.

Thank you.

I will respond to this person by sending
them the domain name registration information
for the above domain name that goes with
this website:

Snork Snowrakes by Unlimited Visions

I will not be publishing this information

Ed Abbott

Roof Raking From a Second Story Window

I received the following email

I am looking for a rake that I
can push snow off the roof from
my 2nd floor window.  

Cannot seem to find one anywhere.  
Is there such an animal???

The only thing I can think of is
to use a push broom. How big is
the roof? Is it a large area or
a small area?

If a small area, a push broom might
work on newly fallen snow. However,
it will not work if you let the snow
sit for any length of time. Also, it
will not work if the roof area is too

I offer my suggestion in the hope
that someone out there will think of
something much much better. Comment
below if you have a better idea.

Ed Abbott

Raking Snow Off a Flat Roof

I received the following email a
few days ago:

I read your page on removing
snow from a roof. I have a garage
with a flat roof, and i don't think
the traditional rakes will allow me
to get the snow from the ground.

At 63, I'm unwilling to get up on a
ladder. Do you know of a rake that
has a bend in it so its usable from
the ground on a flat roof? Thanks
so much.

I do not know of a rake with a bend
in it. Even if I did know of such
a rake, I'm not sure whether it would
work well or not.

A big problem when raking snow is being
able to see. If you cannot see what
you are doing, it is very hard to do
a good job.

Perhaps someone who knows better than
I will post a comment below that will
help you with your problem.

Ed Abbott

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Why Not Use a Hose
to Melt Snow on Your Roof?

I'm way behind on answering email.
I got the following email message
from someone in January:

I have a tall 2-story house. In order
to use a roof rake, I would need a 30
ft pole.

I could very feasibly take a hose to my
attic and spray hot water on the gutters
and lower portion of the roof and melt
the snow. However, at one online site, it
said not to use water. Why not? Any ideas?

I don't have an expert answer for this
person. However, the obvious answer might
be ice dams. You don't want to create
more ice than you already have if the outside
temperature is below 32 degrees.

Ed Abbott

Sunday, February 7, 2010

How to Rake Snow Off Your Roof

I wrote an article about raking
snow off your roof here:

How to
Rake Snow Off Your Roof

Once in a while, someone writes
to me and asks a question.Here's
a question I got via email today:


I just had old steel gutters
replaced with aluminum ones
because the originals collected
ice and fell off the house.

Will raking my roof harm the new
gutters (cause more snow and
ice to build up inside)?

Sent from my iPhone

I'm not an expert on roof raking.
I'm just a regular guy who rakes
his own roof.

We had the same problem with ice
build-up on our gutters. So we
got rid of the gutters and no longer
have them.

I would think that raking the snow
would help with ice buildup in the
gutters. Generally speaking, the
source of the ice is snow that is
melting and flowing into the gutters
and then freezing.

That's my experience. It is the
heat from the house that causes
the snow to melt but then it
re-freezes when it hits the gutters.

This is because the gutters are not
influenced by the heat coming from
the house to the same degree to which
the snow directly above the house is
influenced by the heat rising up from

In other words, snow melts faster
directly above the house than it does
in the gutters. Therefore, it is when
the temperature falls below 32 degrees
Fahrenheit that melting snow is a problem.
It's really the same ice dam problem
all over again but with gutters there
to make the problem even worse.

This past spring, my first cousin, who
is a general contractor, worked on our
house to help fix our problems.He and his
three sons blew lots of extra insulation
into our attic. He did this to keep the
heat from rising and melting the snow on
the roof. Also, the insulation helps to
keep our heating bills down.

So far, it seems to have worked. The
icicles on the side of the roof are much
smaller this year.

I realize I did not really answer your
question. Should you rake your roof if
you have gutters? Will snow raking
fill your gutters with ice and snow?

I don't have enough expertise to answer
your question accurately. However, a good
general answer might be that it cannot hurt
to rake the top layer of snow off your roof
if you have a lot of snow up there.

If you choose to rake your roof all the way
down to the shingles, be aware that this does
take some of the shingle material off as well.
That's my experience.

For this reason, I don't like to rake the first
layer of snow off the roof. I like to leave at
least one snow-storm layer up there.

If as winter rolls on, the snow builds up, I
only remove the top layers. I do it this way
to avoid damaging the roof by raking the
shingles directly.

When we did have gutters, I used to rake
the snow into the gutters and then out
of the gutters, if you know what I mean.

However, the real problem with gutters is not
snow raking but just the fact that snow turns
to water which turns to ice which accumulates
in your gutters. The only solution to this
problem I know of is to not have gutters.

To summarize, snow raking, in general, does
not cause ice and snow to build up in gutters.
Rather, it helps alleviate the problem.

Yes, you get a little snow in your gutters
when you rake the roof. However, the gutters
are not going to be free of snow and ice if
you do not rake your roof.

It's wintertime. Snow and ice accumulate in
your gutters regardless of whether you rake
the snow in there or not.

Hope this helps.

Ed Abbott