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Editorial: Use caution when fixing ice issues on roof

In today's paper we have a story about issues with ice resulting from this recent "heat wave."

We want to remind people to be careful if they will be working on their own roof or around their home. Many of us have unexpectedly slipped and fallen while walking on ice. It's not fun. We don't want someone falling off the roof either.

It might be necessary to clean off the roof to stop leaks into the attic or to prevent wrecked shingles.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce, Office of Energy Security reminds consumers that ice dams can lead to expensive repairs and hazards - and are frequently preventable. Ice dams are caused by the presence of warm air in the attic, combined with snow on the roof and the right weather conditions.

Ice dams occur when heat leaks into the attic and melts the underside of the snow on the roof. The melted snow then flows down the roof surface until it reaches a cold spot (such as the eaves or soffit) where it forms a frozen dam, behind which more snowmelt and ice pile up. The ice build-up can back up under the shingles, damaging them and allowing water to leak to the ceilings and walls below.

To avoid these types of problems and eliminate most ice dams, attic air leaks must be sealed with caulking or expanding spray foam.

• Sealing attic air leaks saves energy and is key to preventing ice dams.

• An energy audit with an infrared scan can pinpoint trouble spots.

• If snow and ice must be removed, hiring licensed roofing contractors that use steamers is strongly recommended.

There are several things a person shouldn't do, however, including:

• Installing heating cables will shorten the life of your roof and cost you money to operate.

• Removing ice with shovels, chippers, chemicals, or heat can damage shingles, gutters, and other building components - and can be very dangerous.

• Adding roof vents - including powered vents - will not eliminate ice dams, and often makes the problems worse.

• Additional insulation - especially on the top plate of exterior walls - can reduce heat transfer to the roof deck, but insulation alone is insufficient. Typical attic insulation will not stop air leaks or prevent ice dams.

Most importantly, be careful. It is safer to hire someone who has cleaned roofs before.

For more information, visit the website to view and download energy-related documents or to sign up for alerts through e-mail and twitter.