The leaves have fallen and the gutters have all been cleaned. Just when you think you don’t have to worry about your gutters again until spring the temperature drops and the first snow falls. You watch as snow and ice builds up on your roof and ice dams begin to form along the edge of your roof and on your gutters. These ice dams form as snow and ice melt on your roof because the heat from you house raises through your attic and warms the roof. The water runs down the roof and refreezes as it hits the edge of your roof where there is no heat radiating from underneath the eaves. The ice builds as the water from the melting snow and ice continues to collect and refreeze along the edge of your roof. As these ice dams grow water begins to build up behind the dam eventually working its way under the shingles. Once under the shingles the water can leak into your house causing major damage. Damage can also occur to your roof when ice dams break loose. They can pull shingles from the roof and gutters away from the house as the ice falls from the roof, not to mention the damage the falling ice can cause to anything on the ground as it crashes down from the roof.
You realize that if something isn’t done you could be facing thousands of dollars in repair costs to fix the water damage to your home. So what can you do to resolve the problem or to prevent it from happening in the first place? Once the ice dams have formed it’s too late to prevent so you must decide how you are going to deal with it.
How to Remove Ice Dams
There is not an easy way to remove an ice dam once it has formed but there are some things that can be done. Depending on the severity of the ice dam you should take different approaches. If the ice has built up to the point where it has become dangerous you should contact a professional to tackle the problem. A profession will use low pressure steam to remove the snow and ice buildup. It won’t be cheap but the results will be quick and you can rest assured that you won’t have any damage as long as you didn’t wait too long to hire someone.
If you want to remove the ice dam yourself you have a few options:
- • Buy a roof snow rake. A roof snow rake is used to pull snow off your roof. You should purchase a roof rake that extends out far enough to reach as much as your roof as possible. If you have a one story house a 21 ft rake will typically reach about half way up your roof. Of course this depends on a number of things such as the pitch of your roof and the terrain around your house. You will need to stand back for enough so the rake will rest on the roof when extended. For a two story house a 21 ft rake will typically only reach to the gutters. You will need at least a 30 ft rake to remove snow part way up your roof. Again, you must account for the pitch of your roof and the terrain around your house. You can purchase a telescoping roof rake that extends to the length you need depending on your home. Use the roof snow rake to remove as much snow from the roof as you can. You should remove at least 4 to 6 feet of snow behind the ice dam. You will need to clear this much to stop the melting snow from feeding the ice dam. Never pull at the ice dam with the roof rake. The ice is stuck to the shingles on your roof and you can tear or damage the shingles if you try to pull the ice dam from the roof. Also, for obvious safety reasons you should never stand on a ladder to use your roof rake. To view roof rakes or to purchase one click here.
- • Once you have cleared as much snow as you can behind the ice dam you can place calcium chloride tablets or pellets on the ice to begin the melting process. The calcium chloride will tunnel through the ice dam creating channels for the water to flow through. This will eventually melt the ice and break up the dam. Never use rock salt on your roof as it can cause damage. You should use a product that is roof safe, pet safe and landscape safe. The last thing you want to do is to cause more damage by using a product that is not meant for the job. You can also fill stockings with calcium chloride pellets and lay them across the ice dam. This will accelerate the melting process. Keep in mind you will need to use a ladder to place the calcium chloride on the roof. It is much more dangerous to use a ladder when there is snow and ice around and you should use extreme caution when doing so. You can purchase calcium chloride and other safe snow melting materials by clicking here.
- • Another way of dealing with an ice dam is to use a heated roof de-icing cable on the roof to melt the ice. However, heated cables don’t always work on ice dams. In fact many of the available brands don’t even claim to remove ice dams. They are designed to create a small channel or tunnel under the ice so water that is trapped behind the dam can flow off the roof. They won’t do you much good to place on top of the ice because they only melt a very small area around the cable and this water will more than likely refreeze. These cables really should be used as a preventative measure. If you are going to use them you should place them on your roof before the ice builds up. It is very important to follow the instructions that come with the cables. They should be placed in a serpentine layout on the roof so they can create the channels (tunnels) I mentioned above when the snow and ice begin to pile up. Another thing to keep in mind is that heated cables are almost worthless when the temperature drops below 20 degrees. To view or purchase heated cables click here.
How to Prevent Ice Dams from Forming
The best way to keep ice dams from forming on your roof is to keep your roof cool so that snow doesn’t melt and refreeze as it flows to the edge of the roof. You should take the following steps to insure heat doesn’t rise up through your attic to warm your roof.
- • Close off or block all areas where heat can escape into your attic. Heat loss is caused by cracks around light fixtures, plumbing pipes, chimneys, gaps in drywall, etc. These leaks can be very hard to find and will require you to pull back the insulation in your attic and stop the leaks with caulk, foam insulation or some other method of sealing the openings.
- • Check your attic insulation. Make sure you have enough insulation throughout the attic (12 to 14 inches of fiberglass or cellulose).
- • Make sure you have proper ventilation in your attic. If the ventilation is working properly it will pull in colder air to cool the attic and roof and push out the warmer air. You may need to bring in a professional to insure you have adequate ventilation in your attic.
Keep in mind that taking these measures will give you added benefits on top of minimizing ice dams on your roof. This will save you energy and will reduce both your heating and cooling bills.
The last thing you should do is to remember what spring and summer are like. Just keep telling yourself “Spring will be here soon and I won’t have to deal with ice dams”. Then, before you know it spring will be here and it will be time to worry about cleaning your gutters again. It’s a viscous circle that requires continuous maintenance but that’s the thrill of being a home owner.
I hope you found this article helpful. Please feel free to leave a comment below.