Steve Kuhl, owner of the Hopkins-based Ice Dam Company, has been in the home ice removal business since the ‘90s. He knows a lot about homes and ice and what happens when the two combine.
So when he got back from a trip overseas Sunday and took a quick spin through some neighborhoods, naturally his reaction was: “There’s ice everywhere. Holy shit.”
This year, Minnesota roofs are festooned with walls of needle-sharp icicles -- lined up in frozen phalanxes, some measuring two or three feet of solid, tusk-like ice. The effect ranges from enchanting to menacing.
It’s far from the worst icicle season Kuhl has ever seen. That honor goes to the winters 2003, 2010, and 2013. It’s just rare to see such dramatic icicle growth so late in the season.
Icicles require a few conditions in order to form. There should be snow -- plenty of it -- and the air needs to be warm enough for that snow to melt during the day, but still cold enough for it to freeze overnight, about a 0- to 25-degrees Fahrenheit temperature range.
That’s exactly the kind of weather we’ve been having for the past few weeks. And, based on the forecast for the next week and a half, our ice woes could get a lot worse before they get better. Kuhl’s anticipating his crew will be busy.
So you’re probably wondering: Can I knock these babies down, or what? And if you happen to own an ice-encrusted home, you might be asking: Should I knock these babies down, or what?
Short answer: Sure. Just don’t impale yourself.
Death or serious injury by icicle is not unheard of in these parts. A 10-year-old boy was hospitalized just last week after an icicle fell from a Minneapolis skyway and left a gash in his head that required seven staples to close. Moreover,there’s “no real value” to knocking the icicles off of your roof unless you think one is poised to fall on your air conditioner, or, say, an innocent passerby. But if you’re still itching to get rid of them, the process isn’t rocket science, according to the University of Minnesota Extension’s Cold Climate Housing Coordinator, Patrick Huelman.
“Just take a long firm stick or a rake, stand out of the way, and tap on it,” he says. When all else fails, grab a ladder. But remember, in the meantime, ice could still be doing very real damage to your home.
The real culprit in ice-related property damage isn’t icicles, it’s ice dams. These form when heat escaping into your roof melts the snow overhead, which runs off the slope of the roof and freezes once it settles in an unheated area. Over time, this ice accumulates, crawling back up the side of the roof. That’s a big problem for your home, because it allows moisture to seep underneath the shingles and into the inner workings of the house.
Not all icicles indicate you’ve got a burgeoning ice dam, but pretty much all ice dams have icicles. There are a number of signs that might appear if you’ve got a dam: ice coming through the soffit (the underside of an eave or a balcony), for example, or ice or water on the exterior wall. If your icicles are the 30- to 50-inch variety, that might be a bad sign, too.
Ice dams, unlike icicles, cannot be removed with some gumption and a broomstick. Not unless you want to ruin your roof in the process. Kuhl says steaming them is the best way to get rid of them -- and you should really have a professional do it.
The good news, according to Huelman, is you can prevent ice dams altogether -- if you get better insulation in your attic, or remove the snow from your roof before it melts and refreezes. For a lower-budget, lower-maintenance option, Kuhl recommends getting “self-regulating commercial-grade heat cables,” which will keep the snow melt from freezing. You can get them off Amazon or from your local electrical contractor.
If you’re frustrated with winter and you really want to take it out on something, consider instead kicking that excess frozen slush that cakes onto the wheel wells of your car. It's not only useful, but you're much less likely to be stabbed with a stake of ice in the process.