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What Is Ice Damming on Roofs?

Ice Dam Removal

If you live in an area where the temperature drops below 32 degrees and you experience moderate or high snowfall, it’s important that you understand what ice damming is on a roof, how to remove ice dams, and lastly how to prevent them in the future. This knowledge will ensure you do not experience roof leaks or structural damage to your home during the colder seasons and save you from a costly roof repair down the road. 


What is an Ice Dam on a Roof 

An ice dam is a significant build-up of ice along the edge of a roof line near the gutters. This ice is formed by a combination of heat leaving your home, accumulation of snowfall, and the temperatures outside of your home. As snow falls onto a roof, the lower layers of the fallen snow begin to melt as they come into contact with heat that escapes a house through the roof. The water from this melting, lower-layer of snow, will drain downwards to the eaves of your roof and then re-freeze due to the freezing temperatures outside. This accumulation of frozen water at the edge of your roof, known as an ice dam, causes further drainage issues for the melting snow and is a common cause of roof leaks. Additionally, the weight from ice dams can cause significant structural damage to the roof eaves and gutters on your home. It’s important to remove ice dams correctly when they happen and perform preventative measures to avoid them in the future. This will save you from large roof repair costs down the line. 

Damage from Ice Dams 

An ice dam on your roof can cause significant damage to the interior and exterior of your home, which is why learning what an ice dam is and how to prevent them is an important lesson as a homeowner. 

The weight of an ice dam, and even some icicles for that matter, can cause your roof shingles to loosen and slip, your gutters to tear away from your fascia, and even cause cracks/creases in your shingles. This type of roof damage can allow water to penetrate through your shingles and lead to a roof leak. Depending on the size of the ice dam, the weight could also cause structural damage to the home and gutters, which is another costly repair. 

The weight of an ice dam is not the only reason they can cause roof leaks. When an ice dam forms, it interrupts the drainage of any further water on the roofing system, essentially trapping water on and then back up your roof. This collection of water has a high likelihood of working its way underneath your roof coverings and seeping into the attic. If you have an ice dam, or commonly get ice dams on your house, be sure to perform routine inspections of your attic space, walls, and ceilings to check for moisture damage. 


How to Remove Ice Dams

Once an ice dam forms on your roof, it is imperative that you take the proper steps to remove the ice in a manner that will not cause further damage to your home or roofing material. There are a lot of wrong ways to remove an ice dam so, if you choose to utilize a method we don’t mention below, we’d recommend you talk with a local roofing company first as supplemental expertise.

Rake snow using a roof rake 

A roof rake is a good tool to have on hand if you live in an area with moderate/harsh winters. Roof rakes for snow can be used to push snow from your roof system without leaving the ground. They’re best used for 1-story homes, but are effective on 2-story homes to clear the overhangs (where ice dams can form). By preventing the build-up of snow on your roof, this can be an effective measure of removing or preventing ice dams in the future. 

It’s important to buy a roof rake for snow removal that has bumpers or rollers on the bottom of the blade. These serve to protect your shingles as you’re raking your roof. Be sure to start at the bottom of the roof, near the overhangs, and work your way up as you rake the snow from your roof. 


Melt Tabs

Melt tabs utilize a salt-mixture which can help with removing ice dams to some degree, although we recommend utilizing other approaches first. Melt tabs, also called salt pucks, are small (relatively expensive) tablets that are designed to be placed on the roof to melt ice. The goal is to melt a channel through an existing ice dam and allow excess trapped water to escape. The degrees of success for melt tabs and salt varies, and you should remember that the salt/chemicals in these tablets will melt off and fall onto your shrubbery so it’s important to tarp the surrounding area if possible. 

Ice Dam Removal With Steam

Although this is likely the most expensive remedy to remove an ice dam, it’s also the most effective. Hiring experienced professionals who focus on ice dam removal by steam or snow removal is very effective. Ice dam steaming involves heating water through metal coils until it turns to steam and pushing that steam through a hose to target the ice dam. The steam will loosen the ice from the roof edge and the gutters without causing any damage to your shingles or other roof coverings. Using steam to remove ice dams is known to be so gentle that it wouldn’t even remove the spray paint from a styrofoam cup.  


Ice Dam Prevention Tips 

If you want to prevent ice dams on your home, we can start at the source. Let’s start by thinking about how ice dams form – once the snow falls onto the roof, it begins to melt if there is excess heat escaping through the roof of your house. This problem can be solved by adding insulation and sealing any air leaks that would cause the underside of your roof to become warmer. Proper insulation and ventilation not only prevent ice dams but also increase your energy efficiency, it’s a win-win. 

Proper Insulation

Adding additional insulation to your attic floor will help keep the heat in your home where it needs to be – inside the living areas of your home. 

Proper Ventilation

Though most new construction in most states now mandates this as a required building code, a soffit-to-ridge ventilation system is a great setup to maintain a cooler roof. Soffit and ridge vents should run continuously along the length of the house. The pressure through the ridge vents essentially sucks the cold air from the soffits up through the roof, keeping it the same cooler temperature. 

Avoid Air Leaks

Pay special attention to any flow of warm indoor air that can make its way into the attic or roof area. Even small holes that allow this warm air to leak into those upper-roof spaces can cause a big difference in the air temperature. Seal any bathroom or dryer exhaust vents with caulk or urethane spray foam to create a seal to keep the air from flowing. 

Stephanie Puchacz is the content creator for Signature Exteriors, a roofing company in Charlotte, NC. Their organization prioritizes educating homeowners so they can make the best decisions about maintaining, repairing, or replacing their roof and home exterior. 

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