Preventing and Removing Ice Dams From Gutters and Roof

The roof is one of the most vulnerable parts of your home due to its continual exposure to mother nature. During the winter, ice dams can be especially troublesome to your roofing structure. Ice dams can damage the roof, gutters and foundation, and they present risks to people walking alongside your house. To say that removing ice dams is important is to state the obvious.

What is an Ice Dam?

The definition of an ice dam offered by the University Of Minnesota Extension is clear enough:

An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms at the edge of a roof and prevents melting snow (water) from draining off the roof.

If you look at at your roof from street level and see a ridge of ice that has formed at the edge, you are looking at an ice dam. That ridge of ice needs to be removed sooner rather than later. Otherwise, it can lead to serious problems.

The Causes of Ice Dams

Ice dam formation is the result of the interaction between interior temperatures, exterior temperatures, and accumulated snow and ice. In order for one to develop, upper portions of the roof must remain at temperatures in excess of 32 degrees while temperatures lower down the roof remain below freezing.

Melting snow and ice located higher on the roof create water that slowly drips down your roof to the gutters. The water begins to freeze as it reaches the colder edge, thus accumulating in a ridge that often embeds itself in the gutter below. The longer the temperature variation continues, the larger the ice dams will grow.

The Dangers of Ice Dams

Ice Dams on Roofs

Removing ice dams is critical due to the dangers they present. Damage begins on the roof itself. As water makes its way to the edge of the ice dam, it’s forced underneath asphalt shingles – where it will freeze. The water will expand as it freezes, lifting up shingles and allowing more water to enter underneath. A growing ice dam can lift up and tear off entire sections of asphalt shingles.

Ice Dams on Gutters

Ice dams also endanger gutters by burdening them with excess weight. An ice dam is more than capable of tearing a gutter right off the side of a house and sending it crashing to the ground below. This obviously presents risks to people as well. Anyone standing underneath a falling sheet of ice is at serious risk of injury or death.

Water Damage From Ice Dams

One last thing to consider is damage done by water that makes its way under the shingles and into the house. That moisture is likely to promote mold and mildew growth that will create a musty smell, at bare minimum. Mold and mildew can also lead to health problems as well.

Ice Dam Prevention

The best time to take action for ice dam prevention is before winter sets in. Knowing how to prevent ice dams requires an understanding of what leads to the temperature variations necessary for ice dams to form. The biggest culprit here is interior heat.

1. Controlling Heat

When warm air inside a house is allowed to rise to the roof, areas around the peak can warm to temperatures above freezing and then remain there for long periods of time. This suggests that controlling heat loss is the best way to prevent ice damming.

2. Insulation and Ventilation 

A layer of insulation covering the floor of attic space will reduce heat loss from the rooms below. The underside of the roof can be insulated as well, just as long as space is left to allow air to flow between the insulation and the timbers. Ventilating the roof in key areas also helps maintain consistent roof temperatures.

3. Snow Removal

Once winter weather arrives, removing snow from the roof will reduce the risk of ice dam formation. This can be done from the ground using a plastic snow rake with a long handle. Keeping snow off the edges of the roof prevents any melting water from collecting at the edge and forming a ridge.

Removing Ice Dams in the Winter

Removing ice dams from gutters and roof edges after they have formed is not an easy task. If you must do it yourself, please make sure to check out the how-to guide on properly clearing your roof. You can try breaking off the ice in chunks using a rubber mallet – but be careful about where you position yourself. Another option for removing ice dams is to use a calcium chloride ice melt product. Do not use rock salt as it can damage shingles, gutters, and exterior walls.

Professional Ice Dam Removal

If you don’t know how to remove ice dams safely and effectively, your best option is to hire a professional service. Professional ice dam removal insures the job will be done the right way, without risking further damage to your roofing system. The job will be done by experienced professionals with the knowledge and skillset many homeowners do not possess.

Ice dams are a big problem in cold weather states. If your house is affected, don’t delay in dealing with the problem. For your own safety and the protection of your home, get those ice dams removed from your roof and gutters as soon as you can!


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