Don't flip, homeowners, just let the water drip

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When water is dripping down your walls and pooling on the floor, you don't want to hear someone say: "Do nothing."

Yet, that's probably the best advice roofers and insurance agents have for the thousands of homeowners affected this week by ice dams.

If you are one of them, your best hope for relief is that temperatures go up or down -- soon.

"Every house has tons of icicles hanging from gutters. It's very picturesque but it's bad news for homeowners and for us," said David Thomas of Thomas & McMenamin, an Upper St. Clair insurance agency.

Mr. Thomas, a part owner, has heard from nearly two dozen homeowners complaining of interior leaking over the last two weeks. And he's expecting a lot more.

As long as temperatures stay around freezing, snow and ice will continue to thaw and refreeze on the roof, where ice at the edge holds back water behind it. That water works its way through the shingles -- even climbing up a pitched roof -- and drips down inside the walls, damaging wallboard, trim, insulation and sometimes flooring.

So what can you do? Nothing, except catch or mop up the water you can see and maybe poke a hole in the wall or ceiling to drain what you can't see.

Sam W. Gregg, 79, of Peters, said that about four days ago, he and his wife noticed water dripping down a window in the dining room of their 50-year-old home. Then, the same thing happened in their living room and two bedrooms.

"Since it was a little warmer today, it's getting heavier," he said Thursday. "I'm worried that it will get worse."

The Greggs replace soaked towels on the windowsills every six hours or so. They haven't filed a homeowners claim yet but figured they should let Mr. Thomas know.

Mr. Thomas said most water damage claims will be covered. And since large insurance carriers have designated this a catastrophe loss, homeowners' rates generally won't be affected.

However, that doesn't mean insurance companies will replace your roof, or pay to make sure this doesn't happen again. For that, you'll have to wait until the ice and snow are gone.

Installing loops of heat tape -- electrical wire or tape that can be plugged into an outlet -- will create gaps in the ice at the eaves to allow water to run off. An even better solution is to have a roofer install an ice and water shield beneath the bottom 3 or 4 feet of shingles. This adhesive rubber membrane will prevent water trapped behind an ice dam from getting through.

But no one -- roofers included -- should be working up there now. Even if you could safely work on an icy, pitched roof, removing snow or chipping away ice won't help and might just make it worse.

So for now, experts say, mop up, stay off the roof and pray that temperatures drop into the 20s and stay there. As long as it's ice, it can't drip into your house.

Then hope temperatures gradually reach the 40s, and that ice in the gutters finally melts.

Kevin Kirkland: or 412-263-1978. First Published February 19, 2010 5:00 AM


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