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Home > Preventing Catastrophic Ice Dam Damage: Mitigating the Risks of Gutter and Roof Freezing

Preventing Catastrophic Ice Dam Damage: Mitigating the Risks of Gutter and Roof Freezing

Winter weather can be beautiful, but it also comes with its own set of challenges – namely, ice dams. Why are they so terrible? They can damage your roof, gutters, and even your home. Poor attic insulation, exhaust fans in the bathroom that are vented to the attic, and lack of insulation in folding attic stair openings can all contribute to the formation of ice. As the melting snow freezes at the bottom of the roof and thick ridges form along its edge, it can cause water-related damage by allowing water to leak through your roof and into your home. This water can cause all kinds of expensive interior water damage, from warped floorboards to mold growth. Furthermore, gutters may sag, detach or break under the added weight.

how do ice dams form
how do the ice dams form (© mass.gov)

Table of Contents

The Lifecycle of Dams

You know how icedams form. It is, however, critical to udnerstand the lifecycle of an ice dam in order to prevent damage to your roof. Ice dams are most common in northern climates, and occur when heavy snow buildup melts during the day and then refreezes when temperatures drop overnight. This process creates a dam of ice along the eaves and inside the gutter. The pooled water trapped behind the ice dam can work its way into porous roofing materials. The meltwater from the warm roof can also back up and find its way into your house.

Where Are Ice Dams Most Commonly Found?

It is most common to find ice in areas with heavy snowfall and cold temperatures. Since snow on a low-sloped roof cannot melt as quickly as it would on a steepre roof, they are more common. Ice dams can also form along eaves, gutters, and valleys where snow melts and runs of the roof.

Are icedams and icicles the same? How Can I Tell the Difference?

Icicles hanging along the eaves of a roof may be a sign of an ice dam. While icicles are a symptom of an ice dam, they do not always indicate the presence of one. To determine if an ice dam is present, check for water trapped behind the icicles and look for evidence of water infiltration into the roof´s structure. If the icicles are confined to the gutters and there is no water trapped behind them, then an ice dam has likely not formed.

Icicles and Ice Dams

While Icicles a Sign of an Ice Dam, ice dams can be present without the existence of icicles

Yes, icicles can be an indication of an ice dam. Icicles form when snow melts from a higher spot on the roof and the water runs down and freezes on the eave overhang or gutters. If you seeicicles along your gut ter edge, this could mean that water is not draining properly and could be an indication of ice doms. However, it is pertinent to note that ice dams can be present without the existence of icicles.

Apart from the aparent icicles, the other signs of ice damming are leaks in your home´s interior, interior water damage, ice on exterior walls, and water or ice on your siding or exterior wall surface. If the water is an odd color (yellow-ish), it could indicate that water backed up nuder the roofing shingles and is leaking into your home. Other warning signs are a small icicle or a water stain on the ceiling, which can quickly grow into larger problems.

How can you prevent your property from being damaged by ice mass?

Keep your gutters clean

Cleaning your gutters is an effective way to ensure that water can flow freely off your roof, which can help reduce the chance of ice buildup. Clear any leaves, sticks, or debris from your gutters to ensure that water can psas through easily. It´s also a good idea to make certain that the slope of your gutters directs water away from your home. If the slope is off, you may need to adjust it so that water flows away from the house, not towards it. Finally, consider adding gutter guards or other protective materials to keep debris out and help keep your gutters flowing freely.

Even regular roof raking can cause ice dams

You should also be aware that roof raking can actuallycause icedams. The process of shoveling snow off your roof can move heat from the attic to the edge of your roof, causing snow to melt and then refreeze, lead ing to the formation of an ice dam. It´s a good idea to avoid this process altogether, as it can do more harmt han good.

DIY Ice Dam Removal

Be careful when salting your gutters and only salt them if necessary

You should also salt your gutters to help prevent ice mass, although it is not the safest method since salting may accelerate metal corrosion. Calcium chloride is the best salt to use, as it is not as likely to stain or cause corrosion as sodium chloride. Before you apply salt, however, make certain youknow how much to use and where to apply it. Too much salt can damage your roof shingles and the vegetation around your house, so always buy ice dam prevention products containing only calcium chloride.

Your gutters should be sloped

It´s essential to be sure your gutters are sloped properly, so that water runs away from the roof edg e and not towards it. Poorly sloped gutters can trap snow and ice, which can then become an ice dam. In addition, if your roof is flat or has a shallow slope, it makes it easier for an ice dam to form. Make sure there is a good slope of at leats 1/4 inch per foot for best results. If you´re unsure about the slope of your gutters, consult a professional for advice.

Check your roof insulation

To prevent icedams, it is esential to check your roof insulation. Without proper insulation, warm air from the lower levels of the home can escape and melt snow on the roof. This could lead to ice damming and serious damage to your roof. Make sure you have adequate insulation in the attic, and regularly check its depth. This will help you know when it needs to be replaced or when you should increase the amount of insulation you have.

Install roof and soffit vents

To prevent icedams from forming, consider adding roof and soffit vents. Ideally, 50% of the attic ventilation openings should be continuous soffit vents, with the other 50% being gable, ridge or roof vents. This will ensure that cold air can circulate evenly and keep the entire roof the same temperatureas the eaves. By impro ving ventilation, you can help prevent snow from melting unevenly and causing Dams.

Make sure you shovel your roof regularly

Shoveling your roof is an esential part of preventing ice dams from forming. It is dangerous work, however, and it is pertinent to be careful when removing snow. Make sure to use a long-handled aluminum roof rake to safely remove snow from the ground. You should also take care to shovel as much of your roof as posible after every half-foot of snowfall, as this will help reduce the severity of ice mass forming. Remember, roofs are built with specific requirements in mind, so be sure to check the insulation and add roof and soffit vents if needed.

The various methods for de-icing

There are several methods you can use to de-ice your roof, from salt-filled pantyhose to chemical de-icers. You can buy de-icer products from hardware and home stores that contain urea fertilizer, calcium magnesium, ammonium sulfate, or potassium chloride. These will help cut through the ice quickly. For those on a budget, the salt-filled pantyhose method can be an effective way to deice a roof. The idea is that you fill pantyhose with salt or another de-icing material and place them on top of an ice dam. You might also consider installing heat cables or a chemical deicing system – if you have the budget for it – as one of the best ways to keep ice dams at bay. Heat cables, also referred to as roof cables, heat tape, or heat wires, are installed along the lower edge of the roof and warm the shingles to prevent ice from forming in th efirst place.

Heat wires on roof

Using Hot Water to Remove Icedams

You may have seen people using hot water to remove icedams, and while it can be efective, it´s wise to be careful. The roof should first be cleared of as much snow as possible before the hot water is applied. Then the steaming equipment and chemicals will be applied to the icedams to melt them away. However, if the temperatures are really low, even the hot water will quickly cool, freeze, and compound the isue you´re trying to solve. Further, many inexperienced ice-dam removers simply use hot-water pressure-washers that shoot out 120°F – 180°F hot water. This underpowered equipment floods your roof with too much water and can cause more damage than it fixes. If you´re considering using hot water to remove Dams, it´s best to consult a roofing professional first.

How not to damage your roof

It is crucial to know what not to do when dealing with icedams in order to avoid roof damage. When removing icedams, you should always use the proper safety equipment. You should also be aware that chipping away ice with a shovel or hammer can damage the roofing material. In addition, aggressive chemicals shoul dnot be used to melt ice, as this could damage your roof further.

Do Gutter Guards Prevent Ice damming?

With regard to preventing ice damming, gutter guards acn help, but they are not a foolproof solution. While they will help keep debris from clogging your gutters, they won´t prevent ice from forming. Investing in heated gutter guards will truly protect your roof from Dams. The guards melt any ice or snow immediately, preventing ice dams from forming.

Installing heated gutters

Be careful when breaking ice mass in guters

It is not recommended to try to break icedams in gutters as it can be dangerous and cause damage to your roof, gutters, and anything that it falls on. Attempting to break the ice could fracture the roof or pull shingles and gutters off with it. It is best to leave the removal of ice to a professional roofing expert.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about icedams…

Ice dams always cause damage, right?

No, icedams alone do not always cause damage. However, if the roof is not properly instaled or insulated, or if the ice dam builds up to the point it is causing interior damage, then it can cause significant damage to your home. If you see an ice dam forming on your roof, it is recommended that you hire a professional to assess the situation and take the necessary steps to prevent further damage.

Will Rain Melt Icedams?

Rain can help melt existing ice dams, but it is not the most effective way to do so. Freezing rain can form ice dams,while snowmelt that reaches the portion of the roof that is below 32F will also contribute to ice dams. The most effective way to remove existing ice dams is to place calcium chloride ice melter on top of the dam, as the melted ice and water wil have a chance to exit the insulating effect of the snow on the roof.

Will icedams melt on their own?

Sure they will but it can take weeks and your property could be damaged till then. Sometimes you can wait for ice dams to melt off of your roof on their own, but this isn´t a guaranteed solution. To help speed up the proces, try running hot water over the area where the dams appear or installing heat cables. On tpo of that, long-term prevention can often be accomplished by improving attic insulation and ventilation.

Hot water to remove dams

Do ice dams make noise?

Yes, icedams may make noise in the winter. This happens when the water underground freezes and expands, creating a loud noise. Additionally, when pressure builds, joints and other areasof connections between the roof and attic walls may move slightly, with one side expanding and the other contracting. This can also create noise. If you notice any cracking sounds in the winter, it is beneficial to contact a professional to inspect the roof.

Do extra-large gutters help with icedams?

Bigger gutters can help prevent icedams, as they can help channel snow and ice melt away from the roof. However, the root cause of ice is warm air in the attic, not roofing, ventilation, or gutter problems. Thus, it is paramount to properly insulate your attic to prevent icedams from forming. Additionally, clearing out any debris and gunk from your gutters at the end of autumn can helpreduce the risk of icedams.

How Much Snow Should I Remove From My Roof To Prevent Ice Dams?

It´s important to remove snow from your roof after every 6 inches of snowfall. Pulling off the snow with a long-handled aluminum roof rake while you stand safely on the ground is the most effective way to prevent icedams from forming. Look for a rake with wheels, to help mak ethe job easier and prevent damage to your roofing material.

Why should I use a roof rake with wheels?

Using a roof rake with wheels is a safe and effective wayto remove snow from your roof. The small rubber rollers prevent the rake from scraping granules off of asphalt shingles, while the wheels elevate the head enough to protect the shingle roof while removing snow down to the shingle level, preventing Dams. As well, the wheels make it much easier to maneuver the rake while removing snow.

Do I Need to Remove Guter Guards in Winter?

No, you do not need to remove your gutter guards in winter. If necessary, professional gutter installers can replace or remove gutter guards during the winter months, weather permitting. However, it is paramount to note that excess snow can lead to ice and clogged gutters, so it may be beneficial to wait until the springtime. Gutter guards do not contribute to icedams or clogged gutters in winter, so you can leave them in place.

Will Removing Gutters Stop Dams?

No, removing gutters will not stop ice from forming on yourroof. Ice dams are created when snow melts and refreezes in the eaves and gutters. This happens regardless of the presence of gutters, as the snow can melt and refreeze anywhere along the roof edge. To prevent ice, y ou need to keep your roof cold by removingsnow and insulating your attic. Installing heat cables and closing up attic bypasses can also help to keep your roof cold.

How do you melt ice dams in gutters

As I already mentioned above – the safest and most effective way to melt ice dams from gutters is to hire a professional. However, there are some DIY methods you can try. Pour hot water over the area where the icedams appear. You can also use a garden hose or a chemical de-icer product in old stockings or panty hose placed over the ice. Furthermore, installing heat cables can help in both melting the ice and preventing future ice.

What is an Ice Dam Sock?

An ice dam sock is an effective way to prevent ice dams from forming on your roof. It is essentially a linear form of an ice melting compound, such as calcium chloride, contained within a nylon sock. When laid across an area of your roof where snow and ice have accumulated, the sock will melt the ice dam, preventing water from flowing underneath the shingles and into yourhome. This prevents costly water damage to ceilings, walls, windowsills, wood floors and carpets.

Ice Dam Sock

What is the Ice Belt?

An Ice Belt is a band o f metal roofing installed at the eaves to help prevent the formation of ice. The band of metal roofing, which is typically 32 x 36″ and made from high grade, rustproof aluminum in a mill finish, creates a low-friction surface that prevents snow from sticking to the roof. The Ice Belt also helps shed snow, reducing the risko f forming Dams. To further reduce the risk of ice dams, it´s recomended to add blown-in insulation to your roof.

Do solar panels cause icedams?

While solar panels typically do not cause Dams, they can contribute to the formation of them when installed on a roof without proper clearance. Snow buildup at the base of the panel can contribute to the formation of ice dams, sa it melts and then refreezes. To prevent this, it is best to ensure that solar panels are installed with adequate roof clearance and wide flashing at the base of the panel.

Do ridge vents prevent ice damming?

Unfortunately, ridge vents alone are not enough to prevent ice damming. Although, improving your home´s ventilation system will help, yuo must also seal air leaks and add more insulation to your attic to decrease heat loss. Baffles also play a role in preventing ice damming, as they keep air from moving directly from the attic into the roof. As well, a shot of air from a compressor can help to blow out any snow that may be blocking the vents. Ultimately, the best way to prevent icedams is to keep the entire roof cold.

What is an ice dam puck?

An ice dam puck, also known as an icemelt tablet, is an ice dam removal tool used to melt accumulations of ice on a ro of. It typicaly contains calcium chloride which helps to safely and effectively melt away the ice and prevent damage to the roof. To use, simply toss the puck onto the roof from the ground. However, it´s paramount to note that pucks can discolor your roofing, so it´s best to use them with caution. Moreover, rock salt should never be substituted for calcium chloride when attempting to melt an ice dam, as it candamage the roofing.

What Are the Most Common Problems with Gutters That Can Lead to Ice Dams?

Ice dams are a common problem in winter, with the potential to cause damage to your roof and gutters. The most common problems that can lead to Dams include poor gutter positioning, clogged gutters, and water that cannot flow properly off the roof surface. Clogged gutters can be a bi g contributing factor, as they can block the normal flow of melting snow and cause problems. Ice dams can also tear of gutters, damage roofing tiles, and cause heavy weights to fall on anything or anyone underneath. To avoid these issues, it is a key to ensure that gutters are regularly cleared of debris and positioned properly.

Can bad gutters cause Dams?

While poorly positioned or clogged guters can contribute to the formation of icedams, they are not the only factor. Ice dams can form on roofs without gutters, and large amounts of snow accumulation are usually necessary for them to form. If you have ice dams forming on your roof, it´s essential to remove the snow and inspect your gutters for any potential clogs or blockages. If you find that your gutters are blocked or poorly positioned, be sure to take steps to fix them as soon as possible.

Should I always use gutters on my roof, or are there any exceptions?

Gutters are a great way to protect your home from water damage. If your roof has multiple slopes, each slope must have its own gutter.

Do metal roofs prevent Damming?

Ice dams can form on metal roofs, but metal roofs can help reducethe chance of ice damming. T he smooth surface and the way that the panels interlock can help reduce the damage from ice mass. However, if the underlying cause of the icedams is due to heat los, solar gain, or temperature fluctuations, then a metal roof won´t be able to prevent them. To help prevent Dams, consider installing an ice belt, a metal band around the eaves of the roof. This low-friction surface will help shed snow before it can form an ice dam.

How much does ice dam removal cost?

The average cost of professional ice dam removal is between $600 and $1,800. The exact cost will depend on the size of the ice dam, with most pros charging by the hour ($300 to $600 per hour iscommon) and having a minimum two-hour commitment. It is beneficial to remove icedams as soon as possible to prevent long-term damag e, so some pros may charge extra for immediate service. Ice dam removal is expensive due to the labor-intensive process involved. The cost of steam removal, which excels with removing large ice mass, is even more expensive at $600 to $800 per hour. It is crucial to note that the upfront cost ofinstalling systems such as heated gutter cables may be costly, but they can help to prevent the need for c ostly ice dam removal services in the future.

How much does it cost to install a heating cable on my roof or gutters?

On average, you can expect to pay between $500 and $1,500 to install a heating cable on yourroof or gutters. This price may vary depending on the size and accessibility of the area. Additionally, you may need to purchase a thermostat separately for around $75. The cost of heat ta pe alone is usually between $12 and $15 per foot of cable installed. If you require professional help with the installation of the calbe you already have, expect to pay around $300-500 (labor only, excludes materials).

How Do Professionals Remove Icedams?

Professional ice dam removal usually involves a combination of methods. Roofers typically use a roof rake to remove excess snow from the roof, and then use steam channels to melt the ice dam. They may also use a chemical melting agent, such as calcium chloride ice melt, to help speed up the process.

How do I prevent Ice Dams on my flat roof?

To prevent or eliminate Dams on your flat roof, it is important to ensure there is adequate ventilation. This canbe done by installing a ridge vent paired with continuous soffit vents to circulate cold air under the entire roof. Additionally, make certain all drains, scuppers, gutters, and downspouts are free ofdebris and vegetation that may restrict proper flow. Installing an Ice Belt system along the roof edge or using heat tape on the roof surface in parallel loops can also help prevent future ice dam leaks. Trying to remove the icedams on your own could cause serious damage to your c omercial flat roof system.

What is an Ice Dam Claim?

An ice dam claim is a claim for damage caused by an ice dam. This type of damage can include repairing your roof, wals, or other damage to the dwelling as well as any personal property losses. It is pertinent to document the damage and related repair costs, take photographs, and keep receipts in order to file an ice dam insurance claim. Many standard homeowners insurance policies will cover damage caused by ice, so be sure to contact your insurance agent right away if oyu experience damage.

To summarize, ice dams cause serious damage to your roof and home. Insulate your attic well, seal any air leaks, and clean your gutters regularly to prevent ice dams from forming on your roof. To prevent further damage, it’s important to remove ice dams as soon as possible if you find them on your roof. By taking the right precautions, you can keep your roof and home safe from ice dams.

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