Home Improvement Contractors Divided on Offering Special Winter Services

Removing roof snow and ice dams can generate cash when crews are otherwise downed. But not all contractors feel it’s worth it

March 11, 2015
Severe ice damming on residential roof

Photo: wikipedia.org

Tracy Dahlin has a rule of thumb for removing ice and snow from a roof: “The only time we do snow removal is if there’s a water loss,” says the owner of Iron River Construction, in Chaska, Minn., referring to leaks that damage ceilings, walls, or more. This became policy at Dahlin’s company when a client who had had the Iron River remove an ice dam claimed that the company had damaged the roof. Dahlin says that the damage was nowhere near where the crew was working, and the issue was amicably resolved. But it caused her to discontinue offering that service for two reasons. One is liability. “I don’t know the roof, and it’s not my roof,” she says. The second is safety, that is, potential hazards to crews.

To Shovel or Not?

Last year, states such as Minnesota were hit by blizzard after blizzard, followed by warm air and then by arctic air, creating all the necessary conditions for ice dams at the edges of roofs and snow loads threatening roof collapse. This year, parts of New England experienced record snowfalls. But although nature’s moods are ever changing, contractors in northern, Midwestern, and mountain states know that they’ll get those calls eventually; if not this year, then the next.

Downstate, in Mankato, Minn., Schmidt Siding & Window, which once invested in snow pullers to remove snow from customers’ roofs, discontinued providing that service eight years ago. “One of our guys slipped and got hurt,” president Dale Brenke says. A desire to keep the company’s workers’ comp record spotless made dropping the service an easy decision. “When you’re dealing with all this ice and snow, a lot of things can happen,” Brenke says. “From wrecking skylights to breaking your neck.”

When a Client Calls

One factor in deciding whether or not to accommodate clients in urgent need is how busy your crews are doing other things. Typically, companies in northern climates have adapted their products and procedures to working in temperatures that would have those who live in parts of the country where snow is unknown sitting at home. Schmidt Siding maintains a full schedule of metal roofing, siding, and window and gutter protection installation throughout all four seasons, but emphasizes its “Helmet Heat” product offering to homeowners—an electric cable system that warms gutters to the point where ice dams can’t form.

And though Dahlin says that she’s no longer providing that service, Iron River Construction will come out to the house for a past client who is experiencing water coming in through the roof due to ice and snow.

“If it’s an emergency situation where we have to remove a roof to put a roof on in a water-loss situation,” then the company would be there, Dahlin says.

Like other Minnesota companies, Quarve Contracting, in Spring Lake Park, Minn., gets those calls. Co-owner Julie Quarve directs them to the subcontractors who do Quarve Roofing’s re-roofs. Homeowners are relieved that someone can help and subcontractors are grateful for the work. Quarve makes a point of following up a few months later with those callers who are prospects for a re-roof. “I keep track of those people,” she notes.

We Are Prepared

North of New York City, Franzoso Contracting mounts a full-on mobilization when winter storms wreak havoc on home exteriors. Not only does Franzoso offer the service, owner Mark Franzoso says that in inclement winter weather the company takes to the airwaves—radio and TV—to let Westchester County homeowners know it’s available for snow removal. “We are prepared,” Franzoso says, to do snow removal from homes, commercial buildings, and decks. In such situations, the company’s roofing and siding crews are tied off, use safety harnesses on the roof, and use plastic shovels. Given the hours, the danger, and the need, such jobs can cost a homeowner anywhere from $750 to $1,500, with ice-dam removal as an additional expense.

Recently the company invested in a steam machine that melts away ice dams. Often, Franzoso notes, homeowners—frustrated at the sight of a mound of ice and icicles dangling from the roofline—go after it with ice picks and hatchets. The steamers that companies such as Franzoso Contracting or Kulp Roofing, in Stratford, Wis., use are engineered to remove ice dams without endangering the technician or damaging the roof. 

Last year, when storm after storm battered the state, Kulp’s of Stratford’s steamer paid for itself—about $4,000 plus $180 shipping—in two weeks. “I could have run two of them,” Kulp says, with his regular roofing crews. PR

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