Dark side of thaw: Ice dams, water main breaks

February 14, 2014 (CHICAGO)

Ice dams that have formed on roofs because of continuous cycles of snow and cold are now melting-- causing a big, expensive mess for many homeowners.

Water main breaks are another big problem. And there is criticism that the city has been slow to respond, leaving residents without water for days.

Until about an hour ago, the owner of a home in the Englewood neighborhood had been without water for more than two weeks. She says she called 311 every one of those days. And then she called Eyewitness News.

On Thursday night, a sink full of dirty dishes was the least of Stephanie Clifford's worries.

"15 days. Still no water," said Clifford.

All because of a possibly frozen supply line, requiring a fix from the city's water department.

"I'm so tired of eating fast food. I just want to eat me a home-cooked meal, but I don't have a lot of water," said Clifford.

The water Clifford does have is bottled, which she's been drinking or heating up for bathing. To flush her toilet, she's been melting snow.

She showed us the record numbers from her near-daily 311 calls.

"I understand this is a bad winter and everything, but 15 days with no water? 15 days??" said Clifford.

On the Northwest Side, another frozen supply line has building owner Cathy Pavlatos also frustrated.

She says these three storefronts and two residential units in the back have had no water since Monday.

"Bathing out of a bucket for five days I'm sure hasn't been a picnic for anybody. Trying to run a beauty salon when you don't have water facilities is a problem," said Pavlatos.

"You call, and I've been civil in every phone call, but nobody has answers. Just one day, no water, and there's no answers," said Derrick McKinney, a tenant with no water.

A spokesperson for the water department says crews have been working around the clock for weeks.

Just last night they were busy in the North Center neighborhood, repairing a water valve that shut down service in a five-block area.

Back in Englewood, crews arrived at Stephanie Clifford's house around 8 p.m. after Eyewitness News called the city. And after about an hour, her 15-day ordeal was over.

The fix apparently required thawing that supply line with electrical equipment here in front of Clifford's house, which took about 30 minutes. The crew then left, apparently headed to another job. Building owner Cathy Pavlatos said the water dept. called her manager late Thursday night, and a crew will be out in the morning.

Ice dams on roofs lead to water damage inside homes

Large amounts of snow followed by freezing cold can cause ice dams on top of a roof, and water damage below.

Sheila Blockson first noticed some cracks in her walls. Then on her floors. Next, the wood started warping and buckling, so she called a plumber to see if it was a water leak.

"I didn't need a plumber. He said there was nothing wrong," Blockson said.

The roof of Blockson's home has a thick layer of ice that's acting as a dam. That's keeping the snow from falling off the roof, and causing lots of problems.

"The moisture is just coming. I've never seen anything like it," Blockson said.

"It stops freezing, it pools. And once it pools, it's going to go through the shingles, through the tar paper and into the home and start damaging things inside the house," Mike Hilborn, Roof to Deck Restoration, said.

Roofs are generally not designed to be waterproof, but instead to shed the water to the gutter. An ice dam stops it. Hilborn's company removes the ice, which allows the water to fall off the roof the way it was designed.

The ice dam caused thousands of dollars in damage at Blockson's home. She will have to replace large sections of the floor and her boiler.

According to Hilborn, most homeowners are discovering the problem after they've already had damage. His company has moved equipment from other parts of the U.S. to Chicago to keep up with demand.

"The recipe for ice dams is a large amount of snow, followed by extremely cold temperatures. That's how you make ice dams," Hilborn said.

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