how to get rid of ice dams

Ice Dams: How to Destroy Them

Have you ever seen a lump of ice form at the edge of the roof, typically along the gutters? That ice, sometimes complete with icicles, is called an ice dam. They’re all too common for homes in upstate New York.

Ice dams are an extremely dangerous nuisance, so once you see them beginning to form along the edge of your roof, address the problem as soon as possible.

How to Temporarily Get Rid of Ice Dams

The best way to eliminate an ice dam is to use a soft mallet and chip away at the ice. You don’t want to use a sharper tool like an ax or chisel, since they can damage the materials on the roof. As you begin clearing away chunks of ice, you might notice some of the roofing materials and shingles come loose with the ice. Just another reason to take care of the problem sooner than later. Keep breaking up the ice until the downspouts and gutters are free.

You can try melting the ice with a calcium chloride ice melter. We don’t recommend using road salt since that eats through metal, paint, and other materials that you don’t want to damage. You can take a narrow strip of cloth the length of your gutter, fill it with calcium chloride, and lay it on the edge of the roof in line with the gutters. You’ll see the calcium chloride melt away the ice dam and free the water trapped below.

How to Prevent Ice Dams

Obviously, you don’t want to wait for ice dams to form; take initiative and make sure they can’t form on your roof in the first place.

After each snowfall, make a habit of taking a snow scraper or a house broom to the roof (obviously be careful when you’re on the roof or a ladder). Cold, yes, but this simple task can save you a lot of money in future repairs.

A more permanent method to prevent ice dams, albeit more expensive, is to purchase a metal roof instead of shingles. You could also install a wide, metal drip edge on your roof to replace the last 3-4 ft of shingles, although ice dams can still form if your roof isn’t very steep. All roofing needs to have membrane beneath it to repel water.

Installing a proper roof will save you countless dollars in repairs and maintenance. A properly insulated roof will also decrease your heating bills.

How to Ensure Ice Dams Don’t Return – Ever

If you want to completely get rid of any chance of ice dams forming on your roof (of course, that’s the goal), then you’ll first need to understand how they form.  

As snow piles onto your roof, the warmth from the top floor actually melts the bottom layer of snow, causing the water to dribble down the side of the roof. The runoff water collects in the eaves, which stay frozen since they jut out from the side of the house. The runoff water re-refreezes and slowly forms a growing chunk of ice – the ice dam. Sometimes the melting snow collects in the gutters and then freezes, allowing more snow and ice to accumulate.

As you can imagine, these ice dams can cause quite a lot of damage to your roof. The steeper the roof, the better, since it’ll be harder for the ice to grip the eaves. But if you have a flatter roof, the snow can trap the water so that it seeps between the shingles and damages the layers of insulation underneath. In extreme cases, it can even damage ceilings and sheet rock inside the house.

If the ice dam breaks free from the roof, it can seriously injure anyone passing by down below. It can also take shingles, gutters, and downspouts with it as it falls.

Ice dams form because of poor insulation under your roof. With proper venting and materials, the warmth from the house would stay trapped indoors and wouldn’t escape through the roof to melt the under layer of snow. So to prevent ice dams, you need to:

  • Hire a professional to make sure all edges and seams along your roof are sealed appropriately
  • Insulate the ceiling so the rising hot air can’t escape through the roof
  • Install a good ventilation system with soffits and fascia so that any heat that leaks out dissipates quickly

Once you’ve made the necessary repairs or installations, you shouldn’t ever see ice dams on your roof again. If you’re still unsure how you need to go about destroying ice dams, contact us for more information and we’d be happy to help.

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