Ice Dam Removal & Prevention Tips For The Homeowner
The recent barrage of snow storms this winter here in New England has taken its toll on everybody. I tried to hold out as much as I could, if not for me, at least for my kids; but what was left of that childhood excitement had quickly faded. Now I found myself waving my arms towards the snowy skies in disdain as an almost continuous band of snow storms dump foot after foot of snow onto our homes and driveways. it’s bad enough to have to clear the driveway of snow each time, but I now find myself shoveling snow off the trampoline my wife and mother in-law, without my knowledge, graciously decided to surprise the kids with one day last summer. Trampoline? An insurance professional has a trampoline? Again, wife and mother in-law. Surprise. Graciously. Some things are just out of a Man’s control. I’m not one to wrap lifestyle around insurance industry risk models and insurable exclusions, but any parent knows that if you take a trampoline add 4 kids, you end up with bouncing mayhem. Add friends and then throw in birthday parties and you can start to see why these things get a bad rep. While tossing the last shovel full of snow from the trampoline my eye caught the enormous amount of snow accumulating on our roof. But it wasn’t the snow that concerned me the most; it was the almost 5 inches of ice that had built up at the edge of the roof. Ice dams, like the one on my roof have the potential to force melted water into the home and cause a great deal of damage. I knew I had to address this formidable ice dam before I had a bigger problem on my hands.
Last summer, when removing a painting off the living room wall, I discovered water had seeped in and trickled down sticking the back of the painting to the wall. Until now, I never noticed any leaks. Then, while slowly pealing the painting from the wall I remembered we had a pretty good ice dam build up the previous winter. This often happens with ice dams. The water damage from ice dams can be so subtle you might not notice it at first. If you have ever found faint water lines on your wall it’s a good indication you may have had some water leakage recently do to an ice dam. Now, a year later, I’m looking at an even more severe ice dam problem. And with no sign of the cold letting up and another snowstorm approaching I need to address the ice dam that has grown to almost 4 inches tall. If I don’t, I’ll probably have the same issue I had last year.
If you are a weekend DIY (Do It Yourself) person like myself there are many things you can do yourself to avoid ice dams, as well as things you can do to reduce or even eliminate an ice dam once it has formed. I’ve provided some of these suggestions below. If you’re not and your limits of DIY end at changing a light bulb then I highly recommend calling a friend, or professional before you end up shoveling off half your roof shingles along with the snow. Believe me, it’s an easy thing to do!
What is an ice dam, and how does it form?
When snow accumulates on a roof, a cycle of melting and refreezing occurs. Since most roofs are pitched the melted snow, warmed by the attic air on the other side of the roof, trickles down until it finds resistance. If that resistance is strong enough to stop, or even delay the water from leaving the roof it has a potential to refreeze and form what is called an ‘ice dam.’ This usually happens right at the edge of the roof.
Depending on how well your attic is insulated the ice dam process can be mild, or severe. My attic is pretty well insulated, however the weather has been very cold and several storms have added snow to the roof making it more difficult to avoid an ice dam no matter how well the attic is insulated. Whats more, because of the extreme temperatures the edge of the roof has remained below freezing and so when the water reaches the edge it immediately begins to refreeze. It’s simply a vicious cycle of snow melting, draining to the edge of the roof, refreezing and creating an ice barrier or ice dam. Eventually the ice dam will build itself high enough up to a section of the roof that is warmer causing a pool of water that doesn’t refreeze. With no place to go except where it finds least resistance the water often times ends up seeping under the shingles and into the house.
Ice Dam Removal
Most likely, if you’re reading this article, you’re currently staring down a formidable ice dam. Below are a few ideas I’ve come across through the years that might help. And no, none of the ideas include using a blow torch or hair dryer. I’ve seen this suggested elsewhere and can only imagine some of the results. You’ll either end up in the dog house for burning out the wife’s hair dryer, or be the subject of discussion at the next party when you burn a hole in the roof. Besides, I tried using a blow torch and it takes too long to melt the ice- not worth it.
Shoveling snow off the roof seems simple, but it takes careful execution. If you have a high roof with a steep pitch you should probably forget this idea. There’s two approaches to shoveling snow off the roof. You could simply take off a couple feet of snow starting from the edge. Just doing this will give melted snow a chance to drip down and off the roof. If you’re really ambitious you can remove all the snow, but it might not be necessary. Just removing a couple feet will make a big difference. No matter how you approach it the most important thing to keep in mind when shoveling snow off the roof is not to shovel the shingles off along with it. Getting the majority of the snow off is enough.
Hammer A Path
After clearing at least a couple feet of snow from the edge of the roof you still have to deal with the ice dam that will continue to block melted snow from draining off the roof. Clearing a path for the water that builds up behind the ice dam is imperative, especially if more wet snow or even rain is forecasted. What I do is carefully use a carpentry hammer, and if you’re confident, a chisel to chip away a section of the ice dam. Again, be careful when chipping away the ice so that you don’t damage the roof. For best results you should do this at a location where the water will most likely drain from. Check where the largest icicles form on your roof line. This is a good indication where water prefers to drain from the roof. Chipping your drain hole at this location will give you the best chance at draining standing water. If you’re unable to reach or get access to this location you should still create a drain hole any place you have access to. Any kind of opportunity to improve drainage is better than none. Again, careful with those those shingles!!
Ice Melt In A Sock
One good suggestion I heard was filling an old pair of panty hose with ice melt made from calcium chloride. Lay the sock of calcium chloride horizontally on the back of a section of the ice dam. As long as the ice dam is not too thick this will safely melt a section of the ice dam and keep it from freezing back up. Please note I suggested using calcium chloride based ice melt and not rock salt. Rock salt will stain the roof and siding. If you do attempt this I suggest still chipping a hole away so when the ice melts it will immediately drain off the roof. If you don’t the ice melt could, depending on how thick the ice dam, add to the problem (creating another pool of water behind the ice dam) rather than reducing it.
My neighbor actually just bought a roof rake this past weekend and I tried it out on the parts of my roof that I could not reach easily. The pole of the rake extends about 16 feet and is pretty light. It worked really well and I would highly recommend getting one. Your arms may get a bit tired, but it does the job. You can search for this tool online for your nearest retailer.
Preventing Roof Ice Dams
If you plan ahead you can reduce the chance of an ice dam from occurring. Of course, most likely you’re reading this article because an ice dam has already occurred. Never the less you can take some steps for next year.
Ice Dam Heated Edge
If you want to completely remove the possibility of an ice dam you can install ice dam edge. Ice dam edge is a heated barrier that will stay at a constant temperature of around 45 degrees. The only thing drawback is you can’t keep the power running 24/7 or it will burn out. You’ll have to be home or remember in time to turn it on when the snow starts and turn it off when it’s no longer needed.
The most obvious thing you can do is improve the insulation in your attic. A day or two after a snow storm look up at your roof and compare it to your neighbors. If your roof is almost completely free of snow, but your neighbors is not (assuming pitch didn’t force the snow to fall off) most likely you have a great deal of heat escaping from the attic. Melted patches also will indicate specific sections of your attic that need a better layer of insulation. In the end, if not to save money on heating costs it would be a good idea to improve the insulation to help off set the heat loss and potential ice dams from occurring.
If your roof still shows more melting than your neighbors and you have a good layer of insulation then check the ventilation. Even with a good layer of insulation without adequate ventilation warm air will collect in the attic; warming up the roof, melting the snow and potentially continuing ice dam problems. First, if you do not have vents either at the top (ridge vent) or end of the roof you may want to get them installed.
If you do have vents make sure they are not blocked, or covered by insulation. Even if professionals insulated your attic check it. Just because they’re licensed installers doesn’t mean they knew what they’re doing. You insulated the attic yourself with a couple buddies? I’m sure you did a terrific job, but maybe that one buddy had a few too many and wasn’t really watching what he was doing. Double check to make sure all the vents are clear of insulation. And finally, checking the vents for any debris that might be clogging them is also a good idea. After checking mine I notice several had a significant amount of dust collected in them; blocking much of there effectiveness.
In the end it is always best to try and prevent ice dams from happening by making sure your attic has enough insulation and ventilation. However, as I am experiencing this year, even the best prepared homeowner can’t predict what the weather might bring, or how the home will react. Hopefully with some of these ideas you can avoid significant damage to your home if an ice dam develops on your roof.
For more information about this or any other type of insurance check out or company site at www.cksteele.com