Ice Dams: Ways to Prevent Them

Ice Dams | Home MaintenanceWinter is coming and it is always brutal one for the Midwest. The record amounts of snow and cold can create icicles on the roof and although they may look pretty, they may hold a more serious problem; Ice Dams!

Ice Dams form when the warm attic causes the snow on the roof to melt.  As the melted snow, now water, hits the edges of the roof where there is no heat it refreezes and creates an ice dam. The damage begins when the melted snow hits the frozen dam and pushes the water back, seeping through cracked shingles and poorly sealed vents forcing the water to flow into the attic or between the sidings of an exterior wall.  Once in the attic the water may leak through to the exterior walls and the ceilings.  The water damage can cause stains on the ceiling and walls.  Mold can also begin to form where there is constant moisture from the leaks.

Ways to Prevent Ice Dams

  • One way to prevent ice dams is to use a “roof rake” or “push broom” to pull the snow off the roof after it snows. You can purchase a roof rake from your local hardware store.  Roof rakes provide a safe way to remove the snow from your roof without having to climb up on a ladder or the roof.  If you use a push broom you may need to climb up on a ladder or the roof itself to use it effectively.  Make sure someone is around when you do this in case you fall off the roof.  If you are using a ladder, have someone hold the ladder steady while you are on it.
  • Make sure your attic insulation is adequate.  Proper insulation minimizes the amount of heat entering the attic. Make sure the roof vents in the attic are clear of anything blocking them.
  • Ensure the ridge vents or soffit vents are clear of debris and snow.
  • Check exhausts in the other parts of your house such as in your kitchen and bathroom.  Make sure they are vented to the outside of the house and NOT into the attic.
  • Clear your gutter spouts of debris so that nothing blocks the draining of water when the weather warms up.

Clearing the Ice Dams

Creating channels in the ice so the water has an exit from the roof is a good way to remove some of the water as it melts.  Be careful not to cause any damage to the roof shingles when creating the channels.

Put sodium chloride tablets inside the leg of an old pair of panty hose and throw them up on to the roof.  They will help melt the snow and ice. Sodium Chloride tablets can be purchased at your local hardware store.

Some people install heat tapes or cables on their roofs but the verdict is out on whether they are very effective or safe.  In properly installed tapes or cables pose risks of electrocution during installation as well as a fire hazard to the building from overheating while in use.

If you are not comfortable clearing ice dams on your own don’t hesitate to hire a professional.  But before you say “yes” to the professional, do your homework.  Get quotes from more than one company.  Check the company out with the Better Business Bureau and make sure the company you hire is licensed and bonded.

Check with your insurance agent regarding coverage of ice dams and the damage your home may have received from an ice dam.

By: Christine Gaffron, Insurance Advisors, Inc.