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For Roofers, Snow Is The Gift That Keeps Giving02:02
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One roofer clears out an ice dam that has formed atop a home in Acton. (David Boeri/WBUR)
One roofer clears out an ice dam that has formed atop a home in Acton. (David Boeri/WBUR)

For roofs of homeowners across the region, it's been a winter that keeps on giving. As snow storms come and go, the deep blanket of snow atop many homes has melted and frozen at the edge of the roof. Resulting leaks into the house have been a common nightmare.

Up went a ladder to the roof of a two-story home growing icicles on Olde Surrey Road in Acton, a lovely street with an ugly problem: ice dams.

"It's a real pain having all this snow on the roofs. I'm not at work because of this," said Doug MacArthur.

"It's a royal pain in the... butt," is what MacArthur actually said to the boys from Three Sons Remodeling. They're boots on the ground and on the housetops of beleaguered homeowners here.

As snow storms come and go, the deep blanket of snow atop many homes has melted and frozen at the edge of the roof. Resulting leaks into the house have been a common nightmare.

Water seeped in on one ceiling behind the shingles, and it started to turn brown from the tar in the asphalt. Not good, but not as bad as roofer Rob Nutile has seen elsewhere.

"Really bad. Looked like a faucet been turned on inside on one woman there a couple weeks ago," Nutile said.

Walking the pitched roof with shovels, Rob and two co-workers scraped, pushed and heaved the snow over the side.

The key to understanding ice dams is the damn ice, Nutile said.

"It's the snow being stuck on your roof, it comes down and when it starts to melt it goes down to the end and creates a dam."

The snow melts from underneath, often from heat escaping from a poorly insulated house.

"When it gets colder out, it re-freezes and that dam gets bigger and bigger," he said. "Eventually, when all the snow is still on your roof and it starts to melt big time, it's just going to back up. It's going to be like a reservoir caught behind a dam. And then your roof starts leaking."

Three Sons Remodeling crew, from left: Peter Nutile, Craig Cunningham, Rob Nutile. (David Boeri/WBUR)
Three Sons Remodeling crew, from left: Peter Nutile, Craig Cunningham, Rob Nutile. (David Boeri/WBUR)

So Three Sons (actually a son, an uncle and a friend) hit Olde Surrey Road big. And people came out of their houses to throw money at them, typically $400 to $600 a roof.

Jim Horgan said this is only the second time he's had to deal with ice dams.

"First time was that '95-'96 time and was able to do it myself," Horgan said. "This time, nope, I didn't even want to think about it."

Unwilling to climb the roof, he did try throwing a couple of nylons stuffed with salt up onto the dam. Rob's uncle, Peter Nutile, found them and turned to fellow roofer Craig Cunningham.

"Don't be taking your panty hose off on the roof. I've told you about that," he said, laughing.

Getting rid of the snow works. Short of that, electrical heating wires can melt the dam, or more directly, an assault by claw hammers.

It's like busting rocks to make a trench, like The Fall Troy song "You know A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama," once the canal is cut through the ice, the reservoir runs over the roof. For $400 to $600, the Three Sons are saving ceilings and walls from stains of tar-paper brown. And Olde Surrey Road can't get enough of them.

"So what do you prefer, working on roofs in the summer or the winter?" I ask the crew.

"Neither." They laughed and laughed.

This program aired on February 4, 2011.

David Boeri Twitter Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.

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