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Ice dams form when heat from the roof melts snow. When the melted water collects in gutters and refreezes, it blocks water from draining correctly. Removing ice dams is essential to maintain a healthy roof and prevent damage from flooding and water infiltration.
Steps to Remove Ice Dams
We outline steps you can take to remove ice dams quickly and safely.
Safely Assess the Situation
Prioritize safety before attempting to remove ice dams from your roof. Carefully examine the areas affected by the ice dams and ensure that no loose or unstable icicles are hanging above. Don’t stand directly beneath these hazardous formations because they can fall unexpectedly and cause injury.
Create Channels for Melting Ice
Create channels through which melting ice can escape. One method involves filling a pair of pantyhose with calcium chloride—a common de-icing agent—and placing it vertically across the dammed area. The calcium chloride will slowly melt the accumulated ice, allowing water to flow freely.
Use Safe Heat Sources
Safe heat sources such as heat cables or heated pads designed for this purpose can eliminate ice dams. These devices are typically installed along the eaves of your roof, generating warmth to prevent melting snow from refreezing into dams.
Remove Snow From Your Roof
Clearing excess snow from your roof helps prevent new ice dams from forming and existing ones from worsening. Use a snow rake or long-handled broom with soft bristles to gently push away any accumulated snow without damaging shingles or gutters.
Apply Warm Water
Apply warm (not boiling) water directly to the ice buildup. This will melt the ice, allowing it to drain off the edge of the roof and preventing further accumulation. While this method provides immediate relief, you need to address the root causes of ice dam formation, such as inadequate insulation and poor roof ventilation, to prevent future occurrences.
What Causes Ice Dams?
Ice dams form when snow on the roof melts and then refreezes along the roof’s edges, creating a barrier that prevents melting snow from draining properly. This is caused by inadequate attic insulation or poor ventilation, which leads to heat escaping from the house and warming the underside of the roof.
The warmth from your home melts snow on the roof, resulting in water trickling down toward gutters and downspouts. Since these areas are colder than other roof parts, the water freezes before it can fully drain. Over time, this cycle repeats and leads to icicle formation and thick ice accumulations known as ice dams.
Ice dams can cause significant damage to roofs, gutters, and even interior structures if left unattended for long periods. They pose potential dangers, such as falling icicles or leaking roofs, that may result in water damage inside your home during thawing periods. Preventing ice dams can help you avoid roof replacement costs and internal damage.
Dangers of Not Removing Ice Dams
Ice dams can pose critical dangers if left unaddressed, such as the following:
- Compromised structural integrity
- Damage to the roof
- Hazardous icicle formation
- Increased energy costs
- Mold and mildew growth
- Water damage
How to Prevent Ice Dams From Forming
Ignoring ice dams can damage your roof and ultimately necessitate roof repairs. We outline tips to prevent the formation of ice dams and protect your roof. By following some or all of these preventive measures, you can maintain a warmer and more energy-efficient home during winter.
- Consider installing a green roof: A green roof, with its layers of vegetation and soil, can prevent ice dams by providing additional insulation, reducing heat loss, and keeping the roof’s surface temperature uniform. This prevents the melting and refreezing cycle that leads to ice dam formation.
- Ensure adequate ventilation: A well-ventilated attic means a cooler roof, reducing the possibility of ice dams. Ridge vents paired with continuous soffit vents circulate cold air under the entire roof.
- Ensure proper attic insulation: Insufficient insulation allows warm air inside your home to escape through the roof, causing the snow on top to melt and refreeze at the eaves. Adequate insulation maintains a consistent temperature throughout your attic space.
- Install drip edge flashing: Drip edge flashing is a metal strip along the edges of your roof that prevents water from seeping into vulnerable areas such as fascia boards. Install this barrier to redirect water away from vulnerable spots and reduce ice dam formation.
- Install heat tape: Install heat tape in a zigzag pattern along your roof’s edge to warm eaves and gutters.
- Keep gutters clear: Regularly remove debris, such as leaves and twigs, from your gutters so melting snow can flow freely without obstruction. Clogged gutters contribute to ice dam development by creating blockages that trap melted water on your roof.
- Seal air leaks: Gaps around chimneys, vents, exhaust fans, and light fixtures can allow warm air into the attic. Caulking or weather-stripping these openings helps maintain an even temperature in your attic during winter when heat loss is most prevalent.
Life Cycle of an Ice Dam
An ice dam’s life cycle begins with snow accumulation on a roof. As temperatures fluctuate, the snow melts and then refreezes near the roof’s edges, creating a barrier known as an ice dam. This process typically occurs in areas where freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall occur during winter. Over time, as more snow melts and refreezes, the ice dam grows larger and thicker.
As water from melting snow flows down the roof, it gets trapped behind the ice dam. This pooled water can seep under roof shingles or through openings in the roof, causing leaks and damage to ceilings, walls, insulation, and even electrical systems. The accumulated ice dams’ weight stresses gutters and eaves significantly.
Professional vs. DIY Ice Dam Removal
We advise homeowners to hire professional ice dam removal services. While you may be able to remove small ice dams on your own, professionals have the expertise, tools, and equipment to tackle this issue effectively and safely.
DIY solutions, such as calcium chloride or warm water application, may be effective for small ice dams. Practice ladder safety, as working on your roof in icy and snowy conditions is dangerous. Snow removal with a roof rake is an important step you can take yourself to prevent large ice dams from accumulating.
Professional ice dam removal companies understand that chipping away at the ice can damage your roof and shingles or cause injury. They have special equipment to remove large ice dams. Professional services often use steam-based methods for removing ice dams. This technique involves using hot water vapor that gently melts the ice without harming your roofing materials. Steam-based removal is considered one of the safest and most effective approaches.
DIY solutions may be effective for small ice dams, but larger dams often require professionals to use steam-based methods. Improper ice dam removal can lead to structural issues, water leaks, damaged gutters, or even electrical hazards.
By relying on experienced professionals with a track record of successful ice dam remediation projects, you can proactively safeguard your home against potential damage caused by these icy formations. Investing in experts helps ensure a thorough assessment of your situation and tailored solutions to prevent future occurrences.
How We Chose the Top Gutter Guard Providers
We researched and analyzed dozens of gutter guards and gutter guard companies to create an in-depth review methodology. We formulated a rating system based on the factors homeowners find most important. We evaluated each provider’s gutter guard design and aesthetics, service offerings, customer service and communication, quote process, warranties, and financing options.
We created a separate rating system for DIY-installed gutter guards sold on retailer sites. We evaluated these guards based on their quality of materials, aesthetics, communication, warranty, customer reviews, and cost.
We evaluated each provider’s reputation using independent, third-party sites such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Google My Business pages. For products, we analyzed the customer reviews on whichever online retailer primarily hosts the product.
How to Get Rid of Ice Dams FAQ
How do you get rid of an ice dam fast?
To get rid of an ice dam fast, fill a nylon stocking with calcium chloride ice melt and place it across the ice dam to create a water flow channel. Note that this temporary solution does not address the underlying issues causing the ice dam. We recommend consulting a professional for thorough and safe removal.
What products can you use to remove ice dams?
You can use several products to remove ice dams, such as ice melt (calcium chloride in a nylon stocking) and heated cables. Service providers often use professional-grade steam machines for larger or stubborn dams.
What is the best way to remove ice dams from your roof?
The safest and most effective way to remove ice dams from your roof is to hire professionals specializing in this service. They can use low-pressure, high-temperature steam machines to prevent damage. To avoid recurrence, these professionals can also identify and provide solutions for underlying issues, such as poor attic insulation or an insufficient ventilation system.
Can you remove ice dams yourself?
You can remove some ice dams yourself. DIY solutions include applying calcium chloride ice melt in a nylon stocking or installing heated cables. However, you risk potential roof damage and personal injury. Climbing onto a snowy or icy roof is dangerous. We recommend hiring a professional ice dam removal service, especially for severe or hard-to-reach ice dams.
How do you permanently fix an ice dam?
To address the root cause of ice dams, improve attic insulation, seal air leaks, and ensure proper attic ventilation. This maintains an even roof temperature to prevent snowmelt and ice dam formation. We recommend hiring a professional to assess and implement these solutions.