Winter Weather: How To Remove Ice Dams

What Is an Ice Dam?


Ice damming occurs when frozen water accumulates along the roof’s edge post-snowfall. In heated attics, warmth seeps through the roof, melting snow layers, and causing water droplets to trickle down. Upon reaching the eaves without attic warmth, these droplets freeze, contributing to an expanding ice layer. Subsequent melting, trickling, and refreezing create a literal barrier—ice dams—that obstruct proper roof water runoff. Though the resulting icicles may give a house a gingerbread-like appearance, they pose a hazard. Neglecting to remove icicles is one of the critical mistakes homeowners make during winter.


Why Are Ice Dams Bad?


Dams have the potential to rip off gutters, dislodge shingles, and lead to water backup, seeping into your home. The aftermath isn’t pleasant: paint peeling, floors warping, and ceilings staining and sagging. Additionally, attic insulation becomes damp, losing its effectiveness (R-value) and inviting mold and mildew growth.


Curious about ice dam solutions for your roof? Here’s how you can either prevent them entirely or eliminate them if they’ve already developed.


How To Remove Ice Dams


  • Rake Snowfall Off The Roof

Opt for a lightweight roof rake, preferably with a long extension, allowing you to remain securely on the ground. Act swiftly, clearing the snow from your roof’s eaves while still soft—typically, right after significant snowfall before it solidifies into ice. This proactive approach minimizes the risk of ice accumulation.


Additionally, make a habit of keeping your eaves free from leaves and branches before snowfall. Ensure your gutters are debris-free to facilitate proper water drainage away from the roof, preventing it from pooling and potentially freezing into troublesome ice dams.


  • Break Up Ice Dams With A Mallet

You can manually remove excess snow and ice from your roof by gently chipping away at the ice using a roof-safe mallet. This technique widens runoff channels, enhancing drainage. However, avoid using tools like axes, hatchets, or sharp or heavy implements that could damage the roof or shingles.


Given the risk of snow and ice sliding off the roof, exercise caution and perform this task from a higher vantage point, likely on the roof itself. It’s important to note the potential danger of climbing onto a frozen roof; if uncomfortable or concerned about safety hazards to individuals or surroundings below, it might be wise to entrust this job to professionals.


  • Calcium Chloride

Calcium chloride, commonly used for de-icing driveways and walkways, proves effective in eliminating ice dams. While it’s safe for both shingles and plants, avoid directly scattering it on the ice dam. Instead, fill tube socks or pantyhose legs with the granules, sealing their ends with string. Place these socks vertically over the ice dam, ensuring the sock’s end remains an inch or two away from the roof’s edge. As the calcium chloride melts the ice, it forms a channel, enabling safe runoff for the melted water.


Important: Never substitute calcium chloride with rock salt for this purpose. Using rock salt on your roof can damage shingles and any landscaping or foliage beneath the eaves.


  • Add Attic Insulation


The constant cycle of freezing and thawing snow and ice results from the temperature difference between your home’s warmth and the cold outdoor air. To curb heat transfer to the roof’s snow and retain energy within your home, consider investing in high-quality attic insulation. This step not only diminishes the likelihood of ice dams forming but also helps reduce your energy expenses.


  • Seal Interior Airflow Leaks and Ventilate Your Attic


Warm air naturally moves upward, potentially leading to an overheated attic despite adequate ventilation. Redirecting the flow of hot air offers a solution. Applying quality insulating foam to seal gaps around vent pipes and re-directing bathroom and dryer vents from the attic to an exterior wall helps regulate temperature.


Installing attic vents beneath the roof eaves and positioning exhaust vents near the roof’s top facilitates air circulation, preventing heat buildup in the attic. This task is best handled with professional assistance to tailor an efficient ventilation system suited to your home’s unique roof and attic setup.


Whenever you’re facing freezing conditions or engaging in tasks like climbing onto a roof, using chemicals, or dealing with significant snow or ice, prioritizing safety is crucial. While DIY approaches for preventing and removing ice dams are feasible, considering a professional experienced in working on frozen roofs with adherence to safety protocols is a wise option.


Moreover, your home’s roof and attic layout are unique, warranting tailored recommendations from a professional for insulation, ventilation, and preventive measures. A professionally installed de-icing system boasts longevity and a more discreet appearance on your roofline compared to temporary de-icing cables, which may be dislodged by snowfall or during raking.


As you gear up to tackle ice dams, remember that patience and caution are key. While these removal methods can effectively address the issue, prioritizing safety is paramount. Keep a vigilant eye on your roof’s condition, and consider seeking professional help if needed. By employing these strategies and staying proactive, you can effectively bid farewell to ice dams and safeguard your home from potential damage during winter’s icy grip.