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What Causes Ice Dams On Your Roof

How Ice Dams Form And How To Prevent Them

What you should be doing to prevent ice dams forming on your roof

Kelly Bacon is a licensed general contractor with over 40 years of experience in construction, home building and remodeling, and commercial building. He is a member of The Spruce Home Improvement Review Board.

To homeowners in snowy, cold-winter climates, ice dams are a familiar sight. An ice dam is a mass of ice that gathers along the lower edge of a roofline where it overhangs the edge of the home.

Ice dams are more than just an interesting phenomenon. Severe ice dams can weigh many hundreds of pounds, compromising the structure of the roof eaves. More critically, ice dams can cause meltwater to back up under the shingles, where it can flow down and ruin ceiling and wall surfaces. If ignored, ice dams can cause serious damage to your roof, gutters, paint, insulation and interior drywall, and other surfaces.

To the uninitiated, ice dams can be somewhat mysterious, as one house may be burdened with huge blocks of ice thickly covering the roof eaves, while adjacent homes have only a bright cap of snow over the shingles with no signs of ice at all. Why is one house plagued with ice while others remain completely free? The answer can usually be found in the attic.

Upgrading The Insulation In Your Attic

Another way to prevent ice dams from building up is to check the insulation in your attic to make sure its up to code and that its properly insulated. If the insulation in your attic is a lower grade or wasnt installed properly you may be letting heat escape through your attic and into your roof. You should always start your preventative measures by working on the insulation in your attic. This is also a good step to take once youve dealt with an ice dam to prevent a new one from building up on your house.

Stop Heat Migration Into The Attic

If heat is escaping from your house through the roof, youll need to add ceiling insulation or seal air leaks, or do both.

Locate the places where air may be getting through. The most common ones are around the trap door to the attic and the various elements that pass through the insulated ceilings, such as plumbing and ventilation ducts, recessed lighting fixtures, and chimneys.

Buy sealant, weather stripping, expanding foam insulation, etc., according to your needs. These materials are usually inexpensive and easy to apply.

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Negative Consequences Of Ice Dams

Although ice dams may be somewhat difficult for homeowners to spot, they can cause a surprising amount of damage. Roof and structural repairs after an ice dam can potentially cost thousands of dollars, depending on the extent of the damage. The longer the ice dam sits, the more problems it can create. Although much of the immediate risk residents face goes away with winter, the long-term concerns resulting from water damage to the structure may linger for months or years. The potential for structural and physical harm should prompt homeowners to take action as soon as they think an ice dam is forming.

Using High Pressure Water On Your Roof

Ice Dam Prevention

Another method some companies try is using high pressure water to remove the ice. While it can be messy it does get the job done quickly and can be less expensive than using steam to remove the dam. This is typically done using a special machine that can target the ice effectively so it can be removed without damaging your house.

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Video On How To Prevent Ice Dams

Watch the video by This Old House that explains how to prevent ice dams by insulating and ventilating your attic properly. The prevention of ice dams can often be rectified by looking over your attic carefully. Seal up any potential areas where you find drafts.

Make sure you additional insulation where necessary. If you take the proper steps, you can easily minimize your chances of ice dams forming.

Without a doubt having an ice dam is not a pleasant experience. All of the above tips will certainly minimize your chances of getting a problem you dont need!

Damage From Ice Damming

The accumulation of ice can cause a myriad of problems. The most obvious is weight as the ice gets heavier, it can pull off gutters and cause structural damage to the roof edge. But this is not the end of the destruction. If the damage from ice dams forming were isolated to your homes exterior, you would be getting lucky.

As the name suggests, ice dams form into dams along the edge of the room. As the water above continues to melt and flow down, it eventually rises behind the dam to the roofs warmer section.

This standing water will find a way through the shingles, and the roofs underlayers, eventually making its way into the building.

The water from behind the dam can wreak all sorts of havoc inside the home. It can ruin insulation as it saturates the material, causing it to perform no longer. It can also lead to mold growth in your home and eventually cause your paint to peel or blister as the moisture attempts to exit.

The worst part of it is, most of the time, you do not notice the water intrusion until long after the damage has occurred. All you see is a mound of snow on the edge of your roof and beautiful icicles hanging from your iced-over gutters.

While your initial thought might be that the icicles look amazing, getting rid of them should be your number one priority. Unless, of course, you dont mind the idea of having ice dams and potential damage inside and out of your home!

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How Can You Remove Ice Dams

Number one rule, dont try this yourself. If an ice dam forms around the edges of your roof, DO NOT try to remove it yourself. If you chip at it with an axe or hammer, you are likely to punch a hole through your shingles or your gutter. If you try using a chemical ice melt product, again you could cause serious damage to your shingles. And dont even consider getting out a heat gun or torch. You know where that might lead. Even if you consider yourself pretty handy, this is one time when you should really call a professional. You may take a few steps, such as using a snow rake to remove snow from the roof, to prevent ice dams from forming, but once theyre there, its time to call in the professionals.

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Ice Dam Removal: Why They Matter And How To Prevent Them

How to Treat and Prevent Ice Dams | Ask This Old House

September 28, 2021 by Shannon Lindquist

Ice dam removal can be dangerous and expensive. Its important to keep your gutters clear to avoid the build-up of these costly obstructions. Learn everything you need to know about ice dams and how to keep them from damaging your home.

Ice dams in gutters can cause water runoff to seep under your shingles, leading to extensive roof damage. Removing ice from gutters can be a long and expensive process, so its best to prevent ice dams before they form.

There are a few ice prevention products on the market, such asHelmet Heat, that can get the job done for you.

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Using Steam To Remove The Dam

One of the most surefire ways to get rid of an ice dam without causing damage to your home and wrecking your roof is to use steam when removing ice dams. The benefit of steam is that it doesnt damage your roof and it prevents more water from entering your home.

You cant just use any steamer and expect to get good results though. Instead, you should rely on a professional, licensed company that can remove the ice dam properly from your roof. If you attempt to buy and use a steamer on your own you risk damaging both the steamer and your house, costing you more in the long run.

Do You Have An Ice Dam Problem

One of the most obvious signs that you have an ice dam problem is the development of a big chunk of ice on your eave or roofs edge. Icicles, no matter how beautiful they appear, they indicate that you have a problem with your roof. Other signs may be water stains, moisture in your attic, mold on drywall where the ceiling and wall connects, and condensation on the walls in the back of cabinets.

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Why Is There Ice At The Edge Of Your Roof

This phenomenon is known as ice damming, and it happens when two conditions are met:

  • Snow has built up on the roof and
  • The temperature of the roof covering is above 0ºC.

Most often, heat loss from the house is what causes the roof covering to warm up. A spell of warm weather can also be the reason, of course.

If theres snow on the roof and the temperature then dips below freezing, an ice dam can form as follows:

  • The bottom layer of snow or ice on the roof melts because of the heat.
  • The melt water runs down the roof.
  • The water freezes once it reaches the roof overhang, which is colder then the rest of the roof.
  • That ice builds up and forms a dam at the roof edge.
  • Why is an ice dam a problem? Because it traps water above it. That water has nowhere to go, so it seeks another path: under the shingles or tiles. Often it seeps into the attic and outside walls. The diagram below provides a good illustration.

    Once water seeps in, the damage is done. Insulation, wall and ceiling coverings, paint, masonrynothing will be immune to deterioration. Its therefore essential that you act promptly, before the water does its dirty work. Learn what to do in case of water damage.

    Trust Your Roof To The Roof Repair Experts

    Roof Ice Dam Prevention Tips

    Many roof types get ice dams during the winter, so you’re not alone.

    However, you can prevent them from forming on your roof with proper insulation and attic ventilation, and you won’t have to break out your ice picks or snow rakes.

    The best time to prevent ice dams is before the outdoor temperature drops. If you’re dealing with ice dams, our roofers can help set up a prevention plan once the weather breaks.

    If this winter has made you worry that your roof is falling apart or that you have multiple leaks and are going to need to replace your entire roof, you can breathe a sigh of relief. With the amount of snow our area has received this year, ice dams have had homeowners on edge.

    Our roof repair contractors can help you make sure your roof will hold to ice dams with a prevention plan, and we can repair or replace the problem areas and help make sure that your home and your family are protected from all that Ohio’s snowy winters throw at you.

    To get Your Free Estimate with TK Roofing and Gutters, click the button below.

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    Ensure Proper Attic Insulation And Ventilation

    Many people have asked, Do gutters cause ice dams? In reality, its not the gutters but the attic thats the root cause. An attic without proper insulation will quickly melt the snow on your roof, sending excess water down into the gutters. The water freezes again when it hits the gutters because they stay the same temperature as the outside air.

    When the attic is well insulated, the shingles stay at the same temperature as the air, and the snow doesnt melt. You can then remove the snow with a snow rake or let the sun take care of it as it simultaneously warms the gutters to create a solid stream. Benefits of this solution include:

    • Stopping water runoff before it starts
    • Adding insulation can be a DIY task
    • Increasing energy savings all year long

    How To Identify Ice Dam On Roof

    Identifying an ice dam on your roof is actually very easy.

    Although you may not be able to see the ice dam from the floor where you stand, there is another clear pointer that ice dams have started forming on your roof.

    Icicles, which are large drops of melted snow that have refrozen on their way down, require the same conditions as ice dams before they are formed.

    So if you cannot see the ice dam itself, the icicle formation is a clear sign that the conditions are right for an ice-dam build-up.

    What you can do to get a visual confirmation is to get a ladder and climb up your roof. Take a look into your gutters and eaves to see if the ice dams have begun to form.

    Of course, climbing up an ice-cold ladder and walking around a frozen roof isnt something that Id consider safe. So if you want to inspect your roof for ice dams, then contacting an ice dam removal professional would be your best option.

    They are well trained in roof climbing and have years of experience inspecting roofs and removing ice dams.

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    How Do You Get Rid Of Ice Dams

    You should never turn to using a hammer or chisel when removing ice dams because youre more likely to cause damage to your roof and shingles than to the ice dam. Salt is also ineffective when the snow and ice have built up to the point of creating a dam on your roof. There are steps you can take that should help with the snow and ice build up on your roof causing the ice dam to appear. Here are seven of the most effective ways to combat ice dams on your roof:

    Eliminating Attic Heat Sources Helps Prevent Ice Damming

    As snow melts, ice dams could form on your roof and cause damage

    Creating ventilation is just the first step. You also need to remove all heat sources that would create heat in the attic. There are some areas to check in this regard, including:

    • Attic insulation. The attic floor needs proper insulation to keep the lower floors heat from exiting through the ceiling. The Insulation Institute has an insulation calculator to determine what type of insulation you should use, based on your zip code. Use this calculator and install the suggested insulation. If you are not sure, going with the highest R-value would be the best choice. It is better to be over insulated than under-insulated. This calculator is an awesome tool as it can give you a reasonable estimate of what you need based on a few factors, including your heat source and whether the home is new or not.
    • Recessed ceiling lights. If there are recessed ceiling lights installed into the lower floors roof, they need to be insulated. These lights can produce a surprising amount of heat, all of which can contribute to the ice dam problem.
    • Folding stair openings. The stairs that you pull down to go up into your attic need to be insulated as well. Some excellent options provide an insulated cover that can be put at the base of the top of the stairs opening. Having an insulation cover will protect quite a bit of the heat from entering the attic. This, of course, will also allow you to save on your homes energy bill. A nice side benefit when trying to prevent ice damming!

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    How To Get Rid Of Ice Dams Fast

    You may be tempted to go out and chisel away with a hammer. But you definitely should not do that.

    Put the hammer down.

    Whatever you don’t try to break it up with your hammer. You could smash your gutters , chip a shingle, or create other havoc. It’s also dangerous to you.

    Instead, get your leaf rake and pull down the first several feet of snow. You want to shoot for the first three feet – more if you can safely reach it.

    “Removing the first 3+ feet of snow off the roof gives the melting snow and ice a place to go without having it accumulate right at the gutter line,” says Derek Michalak, Claims Manager for AAA The Auto Club Group.

    They make roof rakes that are specially designed for this. It’s kind of like a reverse shovel only you pull the snow down towards – so be sure to get out of the way.

    Giacalone says the key to preventing ice dams is to remove the snow before it turns to ice and, if you have a multi-story home, you shouldn’t do it yourself.

    “I only recommend homeowners do that on lower-pitched roofs with maybe one story,” he said.

    When in doubt, hire someone to come out and take care of the job. They’re the pros.

    Removing ice dams from your home can save you money for years to come

    As the snow melts away from your roof, it’s likely going to start piling up on the edge of your home. You need to solve that problem fast before it becomes an even bigger one.

    What Causes Ice Dams In Gutters

    The principle for ice dam formation on the roof is basically the same as ice dam formation in gutters.

    Once heat melts the snow on your roof, the slush can flow into your gutters. Remember, the gutters are there to channel roof water away.

    However, the gutters will be too cold to continue the flow and will begin freezing the water instead. The more melted snow that flows into the gutters, the bigger the gutter ice dam becomes.

    This is not good for your gutters, as the weight of the ice dam can pull the hinges off and cause your gutters to fall and get damaged.

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