How to Remove an Ice Dam Safely (& Prevent One From Forming)
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How to Remove an Ice Dam Safely (And Prevent One From Forming)

If you live in a colder region and have a roof, then ice dams are probably a concern. As it happens, most of the BYB team also live in cold-winter areas and face the same battle against ice- and water-damage each year. We’ve pulled together all the best professional tips, our own experiences, and some helpful tricks for preventing, removing, and avoiding damage from ice dams.

How to Identify an Ice Dam

Identifying an ice dam isn’t always about knowing what an ice dam looks like. If you can locate an ice dam, you’ve missed the telltale signs that would have helped prevent one.

snowy rooftops with varying degrees of insulation look for bald spots to identify poorly uinsulated roof areas
Poorly insulated roofs collect less snow in areas where heat escapes.

Look for Bald Spots

If snowfall tends to not collect on a particular area of your roof, then it’s likely the location of a leak. Locating these areas is the most inportant step in preventing future ice dams; once you know the source of your roof’s hot air escape, you can insulate and patch up and prevent further damage down the road.

Look for Icicles

Icicles of any size and shape on the edges of your roof are the first sign of ice dam presence and can end up being huge spikes of ice if left unattended. If you know your roof has icicles every winter, then you should be on the lookout for long-term damage and practice preventive measures as outlined below.

Look for Water

Ice dams are formed by water dripping down the edges of the roof. Look for water formations on the exterior walls of your home, too, and for dripping gutters, accumulated water on eaves, overhangs, and windowsills or shutters. If you notice any water dripping from the roof’s underside, that can also result in ice dams.

How Ice Dams Are Formed

Ice cycles hanging from a roof

Ice dams result from freezing temperatures and moisture meeting the heat escaping from an improperly insulated attic. If you notice any water dripping from the underside of the roof, you should be worried about ice dams and begin using preventive measures to avoid one.

Snow collecting on your roof will melt because the roof’s temperature is hotter than the exterior temperature. The water runs along your roof to the soffit, freezing again as soon as the temperature allows.

There are plenty of dangers to ice dam formation, especially to the structural integrity of the house. As ice dams are formed, the ice will slowly back up, and with more meltwater freezing once again, this blockage of ice will get bigger and bigger. As this occurs, the roof’s shingles will start to lift. Due to the attic’s heat, all this newly-formed ice will eventually melt, causing the water to seep through the roof.

Getting Rid of an Ice Dam Safely

Sure, an ice dam is technically just some ice. But it’s no picnic to remove an ice dam. Unless you’ve climbed a ladder in the peak of winter to dislodge a tube of ice that’s running over and around your shingles, then you’re probably underestimating the amount of work—and real danger—involved in the process. So leave the ladder in the garage, put the pocket hand warmers back in the drawer. It’s risky, unlikely to work, and fortunately, not necessary.

Ice Melt Socks

Calcium chloride is used to melt ice on sidewalks and driveways, so you’re probably already familiar with it. And that’s great because it means your ice dam prevention plan is already shaping up. No, you don’t have to sprinkle ice melt on the roof, and you don’t even have to fill a pack of tube socks with ice melt (although, in fairness, if you have a large house and a small package of socks, you might).

Fill a sock with calcium chloride, tie up the end to make sure the granules don’t spill out and place the sock vertically over the dam. You can leave it hanging about two inches over the roof’s edge.

This method creates a channel for the water to pour down the roof since the calcium chloride sock will melt the ice/snow underneath it.

If you are ever tempted to use rock salt as a substitute for calcium chloride, you should know that it can damage the shingles underneath it. On the other hand, calcium chloride is safer for the shingles and the vegetation underneath.

Roof Rakes

Because one of the major factors that lead to ice dams is accumulated snow, removing the snow from your roof is a sound preventive measure.

Roof rakes are a tool that can help you with that, and they are a must-have item for a variety of reasons. First of all, know that roof rakes are designed to remove fresh snow from the roof, which means that they should be used before ice dams form. Even so, they might help get rid of already-formed dams in a few particular situations.

A roof rake looks very much like a regular rake, but with a few key differences, it is a tool designed exclusively for roofs. A roof rake usually has an expandable handle so that you can reach up the top of the roof without actually having to climb on a ladder (which is dangerous to do during the winter).

Roof rakes are designed to help you manipulate roof snow from a distance. Some rakes are equipped with wheels to protect the shingles on the roof, so you might want to opt for a model with wheels.

Woman cleans snow with shovel from roof of house, apartment building on clear winter frosty day, St. Petersburg, Russia

Temperature Modulation

Two major things lead to the formation of ice dams: a poorly insulated attic and improper ventilation. Since we already established that the snow on the roof will melt because your attic is leaking heat, a solution would be to prevent the temperature differences between the attic and the roof.

But if, for one reason or another, you can’t insulate your attic in due time for the upcoming winter season and you end up having this ice dam problem again, you can use a box fan to level up the temperature game.

Place a fan in the attic so that it blows on the roof area that’s leaking. The cooler air coming from the fan will cause the water to freeze in its tracks. However, this is a temporary solution that will help you stop a leak, but it doesn’t work indefinitely (it can also stress you out because you have to check for water leaks all the time).

When to Call a Professional Ice Dam Removal Service

Some people like to think professional help is the last resort, but when you lack the right tools, the energy, or the mobility to take care of the problem yourself, it’s always best to call a professional. There are several companies out there offering ice dam removal services. You are also likely to find roof contractors that do it for you because they don’t have as many roofing projects during the winter.

It’s generally best if you don’t wait until the last minute to call a professional, and never hesitate to do so if you feel the removal situation is beyond your control. In case you’re wondering what these guys can do that you can’t, know this: Not only do they have the experience to deal with ice dams, but they are also insured and have the necessary specialized tools to tackle this problem.

For example, professionals may have high-temperature/low-pressure steamers, which you would surely not buy for yourself. With these, they can melt the snow and ice from the roof. This service can indeed rid you of a few hundred bucks, but it beats having to pay thousands of dollars on roof repairs.

roof service techs unloading truck

Average Cost of Ice Dam Removal

The exact cost of having ice dams removed will depend on the company you decide to work with, the area you live in, and the extent of the damage done and ice to remove.

Keep in mind that these services are usually per hour and, depending on the complexity of the removal process, you end up paying up to four hours for the ice dam removal company to fix their problem.

At this point, there is something important that we’d like to point out. When you’re trying to find an ice dam removal company, you might come across firms or contractors that advertise the use of high-pressure power washers for removing ice dams. This is not a recommended solution because these tools can damage the roof’s shingles.

The Ice Dam Bottom Line

It can cost thousands of dollars to repair or replace a roof. It is such a prohibitively expensive repair that homes with roof damage are hard to sell even well under market value. Additionally, a damaged roof creates structural and water damage throughout the home that can destroy your ceilings, walls, and floors, cause mold and mildew issues, aggravate pest infestations, and create unsafe electrical problems as well. Say what you will about trickle-down theory: it does quite literally rain down from above in the case of roof damage.

We can provide you with seasonal, temporary, and preventive fixes for ice dam formation. But the solution is insulating and adequately ventilating the attic to make sure there are no heat leaks that could cause ice dams in the future.

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