ALBANY, N.Y. — Leaky roof?
You've got company this winter if you live in the Northeast.
The seemingly endless cycle of storms that have dumped more than four feet of snow over large swaths of the region has been a boon to roofers, even as it exasperates residents. Contractors report a deluge of calls from people with ice dams on their roof, especially after the latest blast of ice and snow this week.
"It's super busy," said Brianne Guynup of Hudson Valley Home Crafters, about 60 miles from New York City in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. "Suddenly people are getting water in, so lots of calls to remove the snow and ice."
The thick layers of accumulated snow that have caused some flat-roofed commercial buildings around the Northeast to collapse this past week also are contributing ice dams on many homes. Problems start like this: The sun or warm air up from attic start to melt snow laying on a pitched roof, but the runoff refreezes before it drips off, often over the cooler lower edge of the roof. The ice forms a barrier, and the pooled water can leak into the home.
Homeowner nightmares can ensue: attic puddles, dripping ceilings, sodden insulation. Or the water can drip down and ruin the wall in your home office, like what happened at Jackie Kunkel's home near Hartford, Conn., where more than six feet of snow has fallen this winter. Icicles from the roof hang down over her window like crystalline curtains.
"Ice in the gutters, it's so thick we can't even chip it away," said Kunkel. "And you've got these icicles that are forming and reforming. It's crazy!"
Roofing contractors around New England and the New York City area — who have been taking dozens of calls from homeowners plagued by ice dams — say the cycle of snowy storms followed by thaws seems to be making the problems worse than previous winters.
It's a small help to the struggling construction industry, which lost an estimated 32,000 jobs in January.
"I haven't seen ice dams like this in years," said Jason Carnes, owner of J. Carnes & Son Roofing of Hampton Falls, N.H. Carnes said the snow is as high as two feet in some areas.
Roofers can carefully shovel or rake the ice off of snow-laden roofs, and they can try to melt channels for the water to flow down. Some crews will use old pantyhose legs stuffed with ice-melting pellets to create a channel. One roofer, Andy Larochelle, owner of Roof Doctor in Warwick, R.I., counsels callers against roof clearing because a contractor could slip and fall or frozen shingles could crack. He suggests homeowners try to mitigate the damage, maybe by channeling the drip into a bucket, and then addressing the leak when the roof is dry.
One roofer said he charges around $250 for roof clearing, a fraction of the thousands of dollars contractors can charge for a replacement roof. But the spate of work is welcome by many contractors in the slow season, especially for those who have seen business lag since the recession. Plus, the leaky roofs are already bringing in potential future customers.
"The phone is ringing for snow removal and people most likely interested after the thaw in having their roof replaced," said Michael Evans, owner of Evans Roofing in Meridan, Conn.
Evans notes that any repairs under the current wintry conditions would be a little difficult.
This is the frustration of Akira Ohiso, who lives with his wife and two children in Liberty, N.Y. and is plagued with a persistently leaky roof. The family's sun room now features a hole in the ceiling that provides a view of the attic and a drip bucket on the rafter above. Ohiso thought a roofer sealed the leak last spring, but the source has proved elusive.
"It's like what do you have to do to find this leak?" Why don't you just tear down the family room and start over?" he said with a chuckle. "It's frustrating."
Ohiso's roofer will try to seal the spot in about two months when it warms up. He also plans to insulate his attic to keep the roof cooler.
In Connecticut, Kunkel's husband found out about the old pantyhose-ice-melting-sausage trick on the web and gave it a shot. It was working so far this week.
They'll address the office wall later.
"We have a little damage that we have to fix," Kunkel said, "after it melts."