Living in a colder climate where snow and ice are common in winter may result in having an ice dam form on your roof. What is an ice dam? An ice dam occurs when water freezes into ice. The ice forms outside of your home right at the edge of your roof. This ice ridge or ice dam stops snow and other ice that is melting from draining the right way off of your roof. As a result of the snow and ice being unable to run off the roof, it backs up under the roof. From there, the ice can be pushed into ceilings, walls, insulation, and other areas of the interior of your home, causing significant damage. The good news is that there are ways to prevent ice dams from occurring in the first place.
Preventing Ice Dams
Here are several steps that you can take to ensure that ice dams do not occur:
Clean Gutters: If your gutters are filled with leaves and dirt, it prevents water from draining down and away from your house. Cleaning your gutters at least once a year will help prevent ice dams from happening.
Gutter Covers: Gutter covers are another way to keep your gutters free from debris, allowing water to move away from your home. These are installed over your gutters keeping them clean and free for water to flow, even when it melts.
Insulation: Add insulation throughout your attic. Cold air entering through your attic or cold areas in the attic are perfect places for water to freeze and ice to form. Do some research to make sure that you have the right type and the appropriate amount of insulation for your house. Adding insulation will help to prevent ice dams from forming and will also save you on your energy bill by keeping your house warm.
Attic Adjustments: While you are checking on the insulation in your attic, also check to see if the bypasses in your attic are open. Look for things such as cracks around lighting fixtures in the ceiling, gaps in and between drywall, and areas around such things as chimneys, pipes, etc. where air is seeping through. You want to fix and close up these areas.
Vents: Preventing ice dams involve keeping both your attic and your roof cool. A cool attic and roof prevents water from melting then re-freezing. Ventilating your attic is key in ice dam prevention. You may need assistance from a building professional to determine if your attic is vented properly.
All of the above actions should be taken before winter sets in, during warmer weather.
Fixing an Ice Dam
What if you already have an ice dam? Fixing an ice dam issue can be a dangerous undertaking. It involves going onto your roof that, if you do not know how to do this safely, can result in an accident.
One suggested method to temporarily fix an ice dam is to do the following:
- If snow is involved, having a snow rake on hand can be very useful. Snow rakes have a very long handle so that you can reach the roof and draw or pull off snow. Most are priced between $50 and $100 so are very reasonable and good to have on hand if you have a significant snow fall. Removing snow can aid in stopping or lessening ice dam creation.
- Using a rubber mallet, slowly and purposefully tap at the ice forming the ice dam to break up the ice, making it fall away to the ground. It is not recommended that you use a sharp object such as an ax as you may end up damaging roof shingles. Again, if you are not comfortable with doing this work, hire a professional.
- Remove the ice and any debris found in gutters. You may need to be up on a ladder to do this part of the job and you may need to hire a professional to do this safely. Both your gutters and your downspouts will need to be cleared.
- If the ice is too thick to chip off, use calcium chloride to melt the ice. To melt ice in a gutter or downspout, tie one end of an old pant leg or strong pantyhose and fill it with calcium chloride and then tie the other end. Lay the tube of calcium chloride in the gutter or downspout. This will melt the ice.
Do NOT use rock salt in the tube instead of calcium chloride. Rock salt will mix with melted ice and as the ice melts, the water may damage the gutters, downspouts as well as paint and plants that it comes in contact with as it is essentially salt water at that point.
Prevention is the Solution
If you continuously have ice dams appear year-after-year, you may need to look into a more permanent solution than those provided above. Higher end ice dam solutions may be more expensive initially, however may save you a lot of money and headache down the road.
Companies do offer products that prevent ice dam formation. These products can include installing electrical systems that melt ice before it even forms. De-icing systems can be added to your roof, under the eaves, near downspouts, etc. Panels that can be installed on your roof are also an option as are upgrading to a complete ice melting system.
Do-it-yourself ice melting systems can be as little as $100 to more commercial grade systems that can cost several thousands of dollars. Installing heat cables on your roof, near your gutters will melt ice and snow, but do not necessarily prevent ice dams from forming. Ice melting panels are more effective in preventing ice dams and melting ice and snow, though are a more expensive option. Easier to install when adding a new roof to your house ice melting panels can also be installed with your current roof.
Higher end ice melting systems are self-regulating. Temperature sensors trigger the system to turn on when the weather is prime for producing ice and snow. In this case, you do not need to be concerned about an ice dam starting since the system melts any ice and snow immediately and keeps it melted. Such systems are almost 100% fool proof and typically come with a 10+year warranty. Depending upon your situation, investing in a comprehensive ice melting system may be the ultimate solution.