Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

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Ice Dams, Pantyhose, Salt

Ever since I was a teenager working at a hardware store, I've heard of people filling up pantyhose with salt and tossing them on their roof to create drainage channels in ice dams.  After hearing about this so many times and even seeing this method of creating drainage channels in ice dams on the news, I began to believe this actually worked.

Nevertheless, I tend to question everything, and last year I finally got around to testing this method on my own.  Instead of laying the pantyhose perpendicular to the ice dam, I laid them parallel to the ice dam in an attempt to get rid of the ice dam entirely.  As I mentioned in my blog about how to remove ice dams, this didn't work well at all.

Several readers suggested I place the pantyhose the way everyone else does (does everyone else really do this?), perpendicular to the ice dams.  The whole idea of placing them perpendicular to the ice dams is to create drainage channels for water, so water doesn't back up in to your house.

I tried this on a cold January day at my neighbors house (thanks for being a willing participant, Jonathan).  I was also curious as to what magical properties the pantyhose possessed.  How do pantyhose make salt so much more effective than salt alone?   Wouldn't it work a lot faster to just put salt directly on to the ice dam?  As it turns out, yes.  This works way better.

The photos from my little experiment are below.  I filled one of the pantyhose up with "Ice Melt", which contained a blend of calcium chloride and rock salt.  I filled the other pantyhose with an ice melting salt that didn't have the contents labeled - I suspect it was just rock salt.  I also poured the Ice Melt in a perpendicular line along the ice dam, using far less salt than I used in either of the pantyhose.

10:00 AM (Start Time)

Salt Filled Pantyhose 10am Salt On Roof 10am

2:00 PM

Salt Filled Pantyhose 2pm Salt On Roof 2pm

4:00 PM

Salt Filled Pantyhose 4pm Salt On Roof 4pm

Hmm... it looks like we have a winner.  If you're going to put salt on your roof, I don't understand what the purpose of using pantyhose is.  The obvious thing here is that salt applied directly to an ice dam is far more effective than salt in a pantyhose.  So you can run and tell that.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

        

Comment balloon 35 commentsReuben Saltzman • January 11 2011 06:27AM

Comments

Interesting use of pantyhose.  I've read a lot of ice dam blogs lately, but this solution makes for an interesting picture and solution!

Posted by Laura Giannotta, Your Realtor Down the Shore! (Keller Williams Realty - Atlantic Shore ) over 7 years ago

Thank you for the post. I had not heard of using pantyhose  this way.

Posted by Gita Bantwal, REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel (RE/MAX Centre Realtors) over 7 years ago

Holy Cow, how thick is that ice? You all need to move, we don't use pantyhose down here!!

Posted by David O'Doherty, Clayton NC Homes, Raleigh, NC (Raleigh Realty Inc) over 7 years ago

Laura - I was actually surprised at how fast the salt alone worked.

Gita - it's really not that great of a method.  I'm hoping someone will be able to tell me what the benefit the pantyhose are supposed to provide.

David - this was about 6" thick, which really isn't too bad compared to a lot of others out there.  Yeah, I know we need to move...

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

GOOD MORNING REUBEN!  Well - I have no idea about the benefit of the panythose.  But if I lived near snow, icy conditions, this would be a great science project for kids!  Thanks for an interesting post - I'll be checking back to see if someone knows the answer to your question! -- Gab

Posted by Gabrielle Kamahele Rhind, Broker/Owner (KGC Properties LLC, Tucson Property Management & Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Maybe the thought of pantyhose was that if it rains directly on rock salt on ice, the salt for fall to the ground and the pantyhose may hold the rock salt therin longer to continue to melt.

Posted by Joyce Herr, Lancaster County & Beyond (Prudential Lancaster Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Gabrielle - my best guess is that the pantyhose provides a vehicle for the salt; those who aren't inclined to get on a ladder might just sling the pantyhose on to the roof from the ground.  We'll see.

Joyce - that's very possible.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Good Morning Reuben, thanks for sharing the results of your experiment!  The truth is now known!

Posted by Dan Edward Phillips, Realtor and Broker/Owner (Dan Edward Phillips) over 7 years ago

Reuben,

Very good information. This can be a real problem, and your experiment really highlights the correct solution.

Brian

Posted by Brian Madigan, LL.B., Broker (RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage (Toronto)) over 7 years ago

I am not sure I ever suggest excepting the first offer out right. Even if it is only a small change in price, terms or contribution to the buyers closing costs, needs to be some small negotiation. If you are really desperate to sell that of course it would be a very minor point that you are changing, but I still include one. The reason being, that if you accept an offer straight out that the buyers may start wondering if they could have gotten a better deal out of your sellers.

Posted by Jacquie Cliff, - Real Estate and Short Sale Expert (Champions Real Estate Services - Lynnwood, WA) over 7 years ago

What are pantyhose manufacturers going to do?  Women won't wear 'em in the summer.  Home inspectors won't recommend them for breaking up ice dams in the winter!  

We have snow forecasted for later today ... actually it is supposed to start in about 20 minutes... and we are cold, cold, cold.  We had such horrible ice dams last year... and the year before I believe. Have not yet this year.    I am feeling a Re-Blog coming on later today. 

Confused by comment #10  are you selling pantyhose? Ice salt?

Posted by Maureen McCabe, Columbus Ohio Real Estate (HER Realtors) over 7 years ago

I would say they use pantyhose so they can throw them up on the roof instead of getting a ladder out there.  That's what I would do if I had ever heard of it, which I haven't!  Ladders on icy or wet decks are not a good idea.

Posted by Peggy Chirico, REALTOR® 860-748-8900, Hartford & Tolland County Real Estate (Prudential CT Realty) over 7 years ago

Reuben the Science Guy!  Could you tell if that salt had melted a small canal in the gutter UNDER the ice, thus eliminating the melted ice down the downspout?

I'm hoping the ice melted down the water spout, unlike the itsy, bitsy spider.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

If you could get someone with warm legs to sit on the roof with pantyhose on, you could save the salt for your potatoes, or just move south.

Posted by Glenn Roberts (Retired) over 7 years ago

Reuben, all I want to know is where are you getting all these panty hose?  Does your wife know you're taking them, or are you buying new in the store?  :D

Fun with salt and chemical reactions!

Posted by Jeremy Wrenn, President, Wrenn Home Improvements (Wrenn Home Improvements) over 7 years ago

Hey Reuben,

We know all about salt here but nobody put it on their roofs although we have the same problems.

Salt can do damage to the roofing materials themselves.

That may be why the practice was to use them in panty hose. The panty hose would keep excess salt out of unnecessary contact with the roofing but melt any snow/ice it was in contact with.

Picking the panty hose up later would also be a convenient way to clean up. Loose salt has to be flushed away with water, so not as convenient or easy to do. Spring rains may not be soon enough to not let the salt damage occur.

There is one other method for ice removal and channel cutting that I don't recall any earlier discussion about: water.

Anybody else know this one? Gotta run but I'll come back to this.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) over 7 years ago

Dan - I wonder why it took this long.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Brian - this certainly works better than a salt filled pantyhose, but it's nowhere as fast as steam.

Jacquie - I agree wholeheartedly.  Your comment was one of the funniest I've received here on AR.

Maureen - my grandpa used to use pantyhose on trees and shrubs to get 'em to grow straight.  Maybe they could start marketing that.  As for comment #10, I have to assume she thought this was a different post.

Peggy - agreed, that would be my best guess.\

Jay - no, the ice hadn't melted under the gutter - the water just dripped off the front of the ice dam.  Still, it's better than leaking in to the home.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Glenn - I'll see if I can talk my wife in to doing that next time.

Jeremy - I got the pantyhose at Walgreens, but not without first explaining myself to the cashier.  She really didn't seem to care one way or the other.

Robert - I've heard other people say that salt can cause damage to roofs, but really, how much damage will it do?  I know another home inspector who serves on some type of 'roof-council-advisory-board' or something, and he told me not to worry about it.  

I've tried picking up the pantyhose after the snow has melted, and the pantyhose just disintegrated, leaving a messing pile of salt on the roof.

As for water, it will just create a ridiculous mess.  Steam is the way to go.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Ok Here goes the story on water.

There are two ways to go. Both are done only after the loose snow and ice have been removed.

The first requires a mild day, preferably sunny. We all know that a water line will not freeze it there is a constant trickle running in it. So this is what we are using here. The garden hose (kept indoors over night to warm it up) is brought out , connected to the spigot and looped over the roof to where you want a channel cut in the ice dam. You run the water just fast enough to keep it from freezing. You can chip a channel for it to run in. Start it on top of the dam just enough to not pond up behind it.

Once you have it going you leave it letting the relatively warm moving water cut a channel in the ice. Admittedly this is not a professional solution and will take time. If not monitored it could make a mess and the hose has to be removed, drained, and brough it as well as all plumbing lines and valves closed and drained when finished for the day. Results will depend on the weather and water temperature. It's touch and go.

The second is simple. Just pour boiling water right out of a kettle to cut a channel. It works and if you are lucky you won't scald yourself. I saw one home owner plug his ekectric kettle into an extension cord and sit down to wait for it to boil. He was sitting for a long time.

Technically this second way is the same as using steam, just a smaller scale.

I don't recommend either.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) over 7 years ago

You are like some kind of mad scientist with these ice dam experiments :) It's hard to argue with those results.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 7 years ago

I don't have to deal wiith snow but if I ever do I will remember this post...great idea!

Posted by Sidney Kutchuk - Realty Works Temecula Kutchuk - Realty Works Temecula, Realty Works Temecula (Realty Works Temecula) over 7 years ago

Who told you to cut the pantyhose? Once cut they are just hose!

The reason you use panty hose, is so you don't have to carry a bag of salt to the roof and pour it while trying to keep your balance and not fall off the roof!

Margaret

 

Posted by Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland, Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome ( HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400) over 7 years ago

I didn't know they still made those panty hose thingy's. We don't have snow and ice that builds like that here in The Texas Hill Country.

Posted by Carl Winters over 7 years ago

Robert - thanks for the detailed info.  Now lets see some photos ;)

James - I just want to be one of the Mythbusters.

Jane - you're lucky.

Margaret - no kidding?  I'll have to re-titled my post: "Ice Dams, Hose, Salt"

Carl & Ceil - they still make 'em, but they're not easy to come by. 

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

I can tell you that I'm not going up a ladder with one hand, and hot tea kettle in the other to pour over an ice dam.  Since most of us winterize out outside spigots to avoid burst pipes, we wouldn't hook up the hose until the spring thaw. 

As for balmy day, WE ARE IN MINNESOTA AND WON'T HAVE A BALMY DAY UNTIL JUNE!  Winter came early, we've had record snowfall and I'm beginning that we will never see green grass again.   I don't think I'll ever see my roof again either. 

Posted by Mary Jo Quay (Remax Results) over 7 years ago

I can tell you that I'm not going up a ladder with one hand, and hot tea kettle in the other to pour over an ice dam.  Since most of us winterize out outside spigots to avoid burst pipes, we wouldn't hook up the hose until the spring thaw. 

As for balmy day, WE ARE IN MINNESOTA AND WON'T HAVE A BALMY DAY UNTIL JUNE!  Winter came early, we've had record snowfall and I'm beginning that we will never see green grass again.   I don't think I'll ever see my roof again either. 

Posted by Mary Jo Quay (Remax Results) over 7 years ago

Mary Jo - you can say that again.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Thanks for your timely demonstration. We have a snowy and very cold day in Maryland.

 Life is good!

 

Posted by Roy Kelley, Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs (Realty Group Referrals) over 7 years ago

Thanks for stopping by, Roy.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Hi Reuben, a great experiment with good results.  Now, the next concern is the long term effect of salt application on asphalt shingles.  That sounds like a 15 to 20 year project.  Keep up the great posts!

Posted by Dale Ganfield over 7 years ago

I just was sent over to this post - I wrote my own on it - we tried the panty hose, did not do anything over 4 days.   We hired a guy to come in this tiny warm spell we had and take all of the snow and ice off of all of our roofs - now we are free of the problems.......

Posted by Dagny Eason, Fairfield County CT, CDPE Homes For Sale and Condo (Dagny's Real Estate) over 7 years ago

Dale - Ha!  If I take that project on, I'll be sure to share my results, but I wouldn't wait around for them.

Dagny - I checked out your post; looks like a big mess.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Reuben,

Your experiment makes perfect sense to me. Since you need the surface contact of the salt to create the ion exchange (melting effect). This could be a fun chemistry project, next you try side by side of Salt (Sodium Chloride) vs Calcium Chloride vs Calcium chloride and Calcium magnesium acetate mix.

Salt is hard on vegetation, calcium chloride is the quickest at melting ice, Calcium Magnesium Acetate  is the  safest for concrete & vegetation.

I think many "Ice melts" use a combo of Potassium chloride and sodium chloride

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Donald - great idea.  I'll have to make all of those tests at different temperatures as well.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

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