There is one certain thing, ice dam prevention is better than cure. I discuss what an ice dam is, how they form, and more importantly talk about ice dam prevention as it’s much cheaper than trying to learn how to remove an ice dam.
Here at Snow Blower Guides, I realize it is not just all about which machine will see you through the winter months on the ground. It’s also about protecting your home from the heavy snowfalls that winter brings. Therefore, high on the list of winter maintenance tasks is preventing any damage being caused by ice dams.
So, do you know the signs of an ice dam forming on your roof, and are icicles a sign of ice dams? For obvious reasons, the sooner you can identify the beginnings of an ice dam the easier it will be to prevent.
Once you have an understanding of what an ice dam is and how they form, you’ll be better prepared to know how to prevent ice damming & be able to rest a little bit easier during the snow season. Read on and I will explain all.
Contents (Jump to Topic)
How Ice Dams Form & Most Common Causes
Personally, I think there is something magical about icicles sparkling in the winter sun. But, they can be one of the signs that an ice dam is on its way. It’s worth noting here that the flatter the pitch of your roof the more likely it is that you will have ice dams form.
Pro Tip: you should know how much snow your roof can hold, otherwise you might end up with worse damage than just ice dams.
When an ice dam forms on the roof edge, any future meltwater gets trapped. It has to go somewhere, and unfortunately, under your roofing material is more than likely.
If you think you may already have an ice dam then check for watermarks or moisture in your attic. You may also see these signs on the ceiling or the inside of the exterior walls. Sadly if this occurs, then you are too late and water has already penetrated your roofing materials.
Firstly, I want to quickly let you know how ice dams form, as well as talking about some of the main causes. I discuss how to prevent ice damming a little further on.
Heat Loss from a Warm Attic
One of the most common causes of ice dams is warm air from your attic space escaping through the roof.
Warm air rising from your living space rising warms the attic floor and eventually the attic and only occurs when there is inadequate attic floor insulation. If also accompanied by a lack of roof insulation, the inevitable result is heat loss through the roof.
Should the roof temperature rise to 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees centigrade) or above, the snow touching the roof shingles will then melt. Unfortunately, as soon as this meltwater reaches the colder roof edges (or the evening temperature plummets), it then refreezes.
Should this process occur regularly an ice dam can easily form. Although less likely on metal roofs than asphalt shingles.
Lack Of Attic Ventilation
With poor ventilation and a warm attic, it’s probably just a matter of time before you see signs of an ice dam. You may even have experience in removing ice dams because of problems in the past.
Having good ventilation between the floor insulation and the roof sheathing prevents melting snow and thus any ice buildup.
A Rise In Ambient Temperature
I am sure I don’t need to tell you that daytime can be warmer than nighttime. When the winter sun shines, although you may not feel a temperature rise, you are in danger of snow on the roof melting.
As I have mentioned above, the crucial melting point is 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees centigrade). Whenever this happens the results are the same, snow melting and water runoff from the melted snow re-freezing when it reaches the cooler edge of the roof.
Ice Dam Prevention Tips, Techniques & Products
Now you know what an ice dam is and how it forms, preventing ice dams within your reach. There are various measures that you can take to prepare your home.
So, let’s get on with my tips and techniques for preventing ice damming.
1. Add More Insulation
Because heat rises the greatest heat loss from your home will always be the roof. But, you can help stop this by adding insulation. By reducing this heat loss you will achieve two things. Firstly, you reduce the possibility of snow turning into ice. And, secondly, you also save on your heating bill and reduce your carbon footprint.
How much insulation you require will vary, but, between 10-14 inches is an average. The thickness depends on which type of insulation is used and there are a few to choose from.
Many homeowners choose to use blown-in attic insulation, which is great for getting into all the nooks and crannies, unlike batts. But, whichever insulation you choose they all help in preventing ice dams on the roof.
2. Eliminate All Attic Heat Sources
Believe it or not, many heat sources may be found in an attic, here are some examples:
- The attic floor – when insulating don’t forget the floor. The heat from below will be rising warming, not just the attic but the roof decking. This, in turn, will cause the snow in contact with the roof to melt adding to the risk of an ice dam occurring.
- Ductwork – Again, insulation is the name of the game, insulate any pipes or ducts that run through the attic. Also, check for any warm air leaks if the ductwork is for heating.
- Ceiling lights – Fitted recessed ceiling lights can emit a lot of heat (unless they are LED), be sure to insulate those correctly too.
- Plugging gaps – Plugging, any gaps where cables or pipes enter into the loft will help prevent warm air from below entering the attic.
3. Improve Roof Ventilation
As long as you don’t have extremely heavy snowfalls, using soffit vents along with a ridge vent system will ensure good airflow. This is just one example of a ventilation system, there are other options available.
Having good ventilation in your attic will allow fresh air to flow in while heat flows out. Again this is all helping to avoid melting snow and ice dam issues.
4. Install A Heat Cable
One of the questions that I am always asked is: Does heat tape work for ice dams? This is a question that receives a lot of hot debate in the world of ice dam prevention systems.
I always give a word of warning as my answer. Always buy high-quality materials and employ a specialized company that has experience in their installation. If heat cables are installed incorrectly it can bring more trouble than you could want.
5. Install A Metal Ice Belt
If you experience a lot of ice dams then fitting ice belt panels to the roof eaves is a great option. Basically, ice belt metal panels form a band of metal around the roof. Because they are a low friction material the snow tends to slide off easily and ice dams are less likely to form.
6. Rake Your Roof Regularly
There is a misconception that raking the lower part of your roof will avoid ice dams. Be warned, if you live in the high snow zone, doing this you can run the risk of causing a second ice dam further up the roof.
For single-story buildings, the use of a specialized roof rake will help stop a buildup of snow. This is especially true after an occasional but heavy snowfall. Be careful though, shingles can be brittle in the cold weather.
If you don’t yet own a roof rake, check out my round-up where I’ve reviewed some of the best roof rakes on the market.
Note: Unless you are trained and have the correct safety equipment NEVER attempt to get onto a roof (snow-covered or not). Call in the professionals. If you do want to clear snow off your roof properly, check out my article on how to get snow off a roof which covers the topic more in-depth.
7. Keep Your Gutters Clear
It goes without saying that cleaning your guttering after fall and before the cold weather arrives is an important part of your winter house maintenance. This helps to prevent ice dams by letting the meltwater flow freely before any freezing can occur.
8. Use A Specialist Ice Prevention Kit (Expensive)
Although integrated heating or ice melting panels are available for the roof surface, they are premium quality with a price to match. Add to that, the fact that they require specialist installation puts this option out of reach for the average homeowner.
If you have found no other solution and have the budget, then this is one of the roof ice dam prevention products that you may want to consider.
How To Get Rid Of An Existing Ice Dam
Removing existing ice dams is dangerous. Therefore I never advise that you attempt to remove them yourself, especially once have a large formation of ice. Having said that, there may be something you can do if an ice dam is in the early stages of forming.
Note: You should only attempt these if you are dealing with a single-story building.
- Rake the Snow Off – By raking snow with a snow rake after each heavy snowfall you may be able to stop any further buildup of ice on the roof edge.
- Use Snow Melts – There is a good selection of snow melts available on the market, most of which contain calcium chloride for melting snow and ice. Follow the instructions carefully and be aware that some products may cause staining so read the packaging thoroughly.
Never be tempted to use either rock salt or sodium chloride and definitely do not attempt to chip it away as damage can easily be caused.
Hiring A Professional for Ice Dam Removal
If you have ice dam issues, call in the experts. DO NOT BE LIKE THIS GUY ABOVE AND STAND ON A SNOW COVERED ROOF WITH NO SAFETY HARNESSES/GEAR. If you fall of a roof, you will likely end up in the back of an ambulance, or worse.
The amount of damage removing an ice dam incorrectly can cause could cost more in the long run. Not to mention, it is also highly dangerous.
Different ice removal companies will have different methods and vary in price. But, as an example, they may initially clear all loose snow and follow up using a professional steamer to finish the job off.
This can cost up to $300 an hour, so be sure to remember the preventive measures above so you only have to pay once.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
There you have it, all my recommendations for preventing ice dams from forming along with some solutions. I will now answer some of the questions that I get asked an awful lot in the hope that it helps you further.
Do gutter guards prevent ice dams?
The only reason gutter guards may help prevent ice dams is because they keep the gutter clear of fall leaves and debris. But having said that, this debris must still be removed regularly to allow meltwater to flow easily.
Can ice dams cause mold?
If the ice dam is large enough to have forced water underneath the roof covering, then there is a high probability that mold and mildew will occur. Sadly, there is no quick solution once this has occurred.
Will a metal roof stop ice dams?
Although it may reduce the possibility of an ice dam, a metal roof does not stop ice dams completely. I would advise that you use a snow rake to remove snow from the lower part of the roof, especially after a heavy snowfall.
Does insurance cover ice dams?
Yes, a lot of insurance companies will cover for ice dam damage. But don’t take my word because no two companies are the same. My advice is to always check the policy for yourself to see if ice dam damage is included.
Can you put salt on your roof to melt ice?
Under no circumstances should you put rock salt on your roof to melt ice. Rock salt, or sodium chloride, is extremely corrosive and can cause damage to any materials that it comes into contact with. Any runoff can also create problems at ground level, including killing any plants that may be below.
Summing Everything Up
I hope you have enjoyed this blog and that it will help you have a winter free of ice dams. Remember, the key here is prevention is definitely better than cure.