Ice Dam Prevention and Ice Dam Removal

You and your roof are a lot alike. You’re both impacted by weather changes. While it’s simple for you to add a coat during the cold winter months, it’s not as easy for your roof to stay warm. That’s why it’s important your roof be constructed with good insulation.

Warm roofs can help with ice dam prevention, because while it may be pretty to see icicles hanging from your gutters in snowy weather, it’s very bad for your home.

What is an Ice Dam?

Almost any roof has the potential for ice dams.

According to Traveler’s Insurance, heat rising from your home’s interior during the winter can melt the snow and ice on the roof, causing water runoff. This same water can refreeze when it hits the cold edge of the roofline. This buildup of solid ice creates a dam that prevents water from draining properly off the roof and into the gutters.

The weight of the ice dams and icicles can damage both your gutters and roof. A bad result of ice damming is that it can cause water to back up onto the roof, which can cause leaking into your home.

ice dam prevention
When and Where Will Ice Dams Occur?

That’s easy. Ice dams will most likely occur during very cold weather. And, they tend to form on structures with poorly ventilated or insulated attics. In many homes, warm air inside the house rises and escapes into the attic. This heats up the underside of the roof, causing snow and ice on the roof to melt.

The melted water drains along the roof, under the snow, until it reaches the cold overhang. The overhang tends to be at the same temperature as the outdoors. When that happens, the melted water refreezes and forms roof ice dams and icicles.

The ice dam can cause damage to the roof, which can result in water leaks to the inside. Frequently the result will be a water spot on the ceiling under where the roof is damaged.

Tips for Ice Dam Prevention

Tip #1 – If you’re having a new roof installed, request a premium self-adhered membrane. This “protective layer” helps insulate the attic. And that helps with ice dam prevention on your roof and overhang areas.

At DaVinci Roofscapes, we require self-adhered membrane be installed from the bottom edge to two feet above the exterior wall line on all eaves in areas where ice dams are possible. DaVinci requires a self-adhered membrane in all valleys regardless of temperature.

Review your options. Then select the self-adhered membrane that works best for your roof project. However, make sure not to eliminate this necessary step. Ice dam prevention is a serious part of a roof replacement project. Another step for ice dam prevention is to keep the attic well ventilated and insulated. It’s key that the attic temperature stay as close to the outside temperature as possible.

ice dam prevention starts with clean guttersTip #2 – Each autumn, clean out your gutters, or hire someone to do this task.  Check your downspouts and evaluate the condition of your roof. Keeping these areas clean and empty is a positive step toward ice dam prevention.

This is especially important after the leaves have fallen, as they tend to take up a good portion of the gutter’s space. If you don’t handle this clean-up project now, debris, water and melting snow can sit in the gutters. That will create all sorts of water problems if not addressed — especially if the water freezes.

Tip #3 – If you experienced hail storms over the spring or summer months, have a roofing professional evaluate the condition of your roof before the snow starts to fall. You especially need assistance from a professional if you have steep slope roofing that makes it dangerous to work on the roof yourself.

Roofs are usually exposed to direct sunlight. They are the first level of defense your home has from the sky and what it delivers. So checking your roof for wear and tear is also very important. Slates can crack. Shakes can split. Asphalt shingles can lose their durability from heavy hail or wind storms. Fungus, algae and mold can grow. A professional roofer should evaluate your roof for all of these potential problems on a yearly basis.

Tip #4Spend time in your attic. During spring, summer or autumn, take time to make sure your attic is well insulated. This can help ice dam prevention by eliminating the melting-and-freezing cycle that causes ice dams to form in the first place. Start by sealing any places where warm air can leak from your house to the attic, including vent pipes, exhaust fans, chimneys, attic hatches and light fixtures.

While in the attic, look for visible signs of leaks from summer storms. And, check out the status of your insulation. Consider adding more in worn-down areas. Homes with superior attic insulation also have reduced energy bills — especially during frigid winter weather.

Ice Dam Removalhow ice dams form on roofs

Taking a shovel and knocking off overhanging icicles isn’t a solution. Neither is pouring hot water on ice dams, or using a hammer or chainsaw. During ice dam removal, you have to be extremely careful not to harm anything under the dam — like the gutters, roofing or siding.

If you’re looking at a great deal of snow in addition to the ice dam, you may consider starting with a roof rake. This is a rake with wheels, specifically built for this purpose, so it won’t harm the roof. Standing on the ground, pull the snow off the roof toward you. Be aware of the falling icicles and snow as you work toward the ice dam removal.

This Old House magazine offers a variety of ideas in their story, “How to Get Rid of Ice Dams.” A common method includes placing old pantyhose or tube socks (filled with a chemical ice-melt) directly on the ice dam.

Finally, another way to make sure ice dam removal can be done quickly is to use heated cables. Some homeowners hire professionals to do this, since it involves strategic placements on the ice-covered roofing. Roofing professionals are always a good choice if the ice dams are difficult to reach or you suspect roof leakage or damage.

After the Ice Melts

Once the weather has turned warmer, how will you know if ice dam damage necessitates a new roof? While gaping holes, stained ceilings and messy leaks are obvious signs, sometimes the signs are less clear.

If your roof is approaching the end of its life cycle — which is usually 20 – 25 years for asphalt shingles — it’s time to think about a new roof. However, a calendar shouldn’t be the only way you determine if it’s time to replace your roof.

You will want to seriously start thinking about replacing your roof with a composite slate or shake roof when …

  • Your neighbors have new roofs and you want to maintain the value of your home.
  • Your neighbors have not added a new roof and you want to increase the resale value of your home.
  • Your geographic area has seen an increase in severe weather conditions, (including hail or tornados) that require a stronger roofing material to handle the dramatic weather changes.
  • Your existing roof is functional, but has staining that detracts from the look of your home.
  • You want to switch to a low-maintenance composite roof that has a lifetime limited warranty.
  • You don’t want to worry about wood rot caused by wood shakes and termites.
  • Excessive snow in your area has caused substantial damage to your roof.
  • Wildfire concerns have accelerated in your area, and you wish to have a fire-resistant composite roof for peace-of-mind and to meet changing building codes.

Too often homeowners wait until their roofs are old and worn out before considering an upgrade.

Certainly curling, splitting and missing shingles are all warning signs that a roof needs to be replaced. However, changing weather patterns in our country necessitate homeowners be more aware of their roofs overhead. Whether hail headaches or ice dam damage, our roofs handle whatever Mother Nature throws their way. And it’s up to us to be vigilant. We have to invest in the best roofs to help protect our homes.