dangerous ice dams.

How to Remove & Prevent Ice Dams to Avoid Roof Damage

When you imagine a winter wonderland, you probably picture fluffy snow in the yard, smoke piping out the chimney and beautiful icicles dripping down the tip of the roof. While icicles along the roofline may seem like a picture-perfect scene, it could actually be a signal that trouble is near. The same conditions that produce icicles can create ice dams, which can cause significant damage to a home. Read on to discover how to prevent ice dams before they lead to expensive roof repairs.

What Is An Ice Dam On a Roof?

An ice dam is a thick structure of ice that has built up over time along the eaves of a roof. This is caused by a cycle of melting and freezing water conditions throughout the winter. Ice dams on a roof are most prominent in areas where snow is prominent throughout the colder months.

What Causes Ice Dams?

Ice dams form after a heavy snowfall on the roof. When the roof warms up from heat inside the attic, it causes the snow to melt and sends running meltwater down the roof. This will freeze once it gets to the edge of the roof, forming a pile of ice. This process will continue to form larger ice dams and can even cause significant damage to the home.

Photo credit: Owens Corning
how ice dams form when your roof gets warm in the winter.

How Ice Dams Form On a Roof

1. Heat from the attic warms parts of the roof while other sections stay cold. Heat naturally rises, which can make the attic a toasty place during the winter. If your roof isn’t properly sealed or the insulation needs to be replaced, that warmth will escape and cause a temperature imbalance on your roof.

2. The warm roof causes snow to melt, but it freezes again on the cold eaves. The problem occurs because the heat is not equally distributed, and the eaves of your roof are a colder temperature than the rest of your roof. The water will flow down the roof until it reaches the freezing temperatures on the eaves where it will freeze and accumulate into an ice dam.

3. Excess meltwater will collect above the ice dam. The ice dam will continue to grow from the melting water supply until the water no longer reaches the freezing point of the roof and starts to accumulate.

4. Water & ice dams cause roof damage. The backed up water will eventually find any cracks in the shingles and seep through the roof. This is how ice dams cause roof leaks and other damages to the home.

Can Ice Dams Cause Roof Damage?

Yes, there are many ways ice dams can cause roof damage and other issues to your home. The types of damage which homeowners will notice quickly include:

  • Roof leaks
  • Lose shingles
  • Torn off or damaged gutters

However, there are many other damages caused by ice dams that you may not notice until some time passes. The signs that you’ve had roof damage or water backed up in the past include:

  • Stained or sagging ceilings
  • Peeling paint
  • Warped floors
  • Soggy insulation

Along with these physical damages to the property, there are a couple other red flags homeowners may start to observe when they have damage caused by ice dams. First, you will probably notice your heating bill keeps going up. Since the roof is releasing its warmth due to poor insulation or leaks, you’ll eventually start paying more to maintain the same amount of heat in their home. Second, you might run into unwanted pests in your home. Insects, mice and other critters can sneak inside through small cracks, even the size of a small roof leak, and many of them are looking for a dark and damp place to inhabit. If you have standing water caused by an ice dam, that is exactly the type of environment these pests will seek out and thrive in.

How To Get Rid of Ice Dams on The Roof

If you’re noticing ice dams starting to form on the roof, there are a few measures you can take to get rid of ice dams on the roof before they cause extreme damage. It’s important to tackle this issue early so you’ll be less likely to cause more damage.

Quick Fixes to Get Rid of Ice Dams on a Roof

If you already have an ice dam on your roof and are looking to get rid of the ice dam before major damage occurs, these can be great solutions. We encourage homeowners to be cautious and consider their safety when performing any of these tasks in order to not cause further roof damage or injuries. Additionally, our roofing experts want to reiterate that these tips and tricks will combat the current problem at hand, but if you’re looking for more long-term solutions that prevent future damage, continue ready the section below this.

  • Use a rake to safely remove excess snow or ice. This will release any water that may have built up underneath and change the temperature on the roof’s exterior. It is important to note that homeowners should not try to remove ice dams with shovels or other sharp tool. This would be a dangerous task, and will cause more damage to the roof.
  • Create a path to release excess water. Using ice melt or a heated cable, you can clear a trail between ice structures for the excess water to break through to the gutters. Before you attempt this, it is important to check that the gutters are clear and will be able to drain the meltwater properly.
  • Freeze existing leaks to prevent further damage. If you’re experiencing roof leaks because the ice dam has already started harming the property, try to stop the water from running into your house and causing additional problems. We recommend doing this by temporarily turning down the temperature and aiming a fan at the source of a current leak. This will allow you to freeze the leak while you tackle one of the other approaches to remove the excess water, then patch the leak.

Proactive Measures for Preventing Ice Dams on a Roof

If you’re worried about how ice dams can cause roof leaks and other damage, start planning ahead so you won’t have to stress next winter season! The key to preventing ice dams on the roof is keeping the surface a cold and consistent temperature to fend off melting snow. We’ve got a few options that will provide a long-term solution to get rid of ice dams on the roof.

1. Add insulation in the attic. Regularly checking your insulation will help you know when it needs to be replaced or when you should increase the amount you currently have. According to most building codes, homes should have 12-14 inches of fiberglass or cellulose insulation.

2. Increase roof ventilation. Additional ventilation will add a layer of protection that will draw in cold and flush out the warm attic air. Adding soffit vents and ventilation strips to the eaves will help your roof maintain a consistent, cool temperature.

3. Remove heat sources from the attic. During the winter, try to keep your traffic and heat upstairs in the attic to a minimum. This includes turning off lights or other heat sources if applicable, and keeping doors closed to try to keep the space cool and avoid paying to heat the space with your furnace system.

4. Seal all air leaks. As we’ve mentioned, air leaks are the culprit for easily losing heat through the roof, and can cause other issues along with ice dams. Homeowners can check for air leaks in these common places:

  • Gaps in drywall
  • Cracks around windows and light fixtures
  • Openings around the chimney
  • Space between the roof and plumbing pipes, access hatches and other ceiling openings

5. Use Owens Corning ice & water barriers. If you’ve experienced roof leaks in the past, hiring a professional to install an additional layer of protection could save you from further roof damage from ice dams. These special barriers are self-sealing and apply an additional layer of waterproofing your roof.

Call Superstorm for Help With Your Roof

If you see signs of a roof leak or icicles forming along your eaves, contact the Des Moines roofing experts at Superstorm Restoration for more information. If you need a property evaluation or are looking to get your roof repaired, our team members will assist in making the appropriate fixes and preventing future damage. Reach out to our team by filling out the contact form or call us at 515-225-4880 to discuss your options.