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What are Ice Dams and How to Fix Them

Winter can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a headache. The same snow that makes snowmen and ski trips possible can also wreak havoc on your home. Ice Dams are one of the most common winter problems for homes living in high precipitation areas. But despite their frequency, many homeowners wonder what ice dams are and how to fix them.

Today we’ll talk about the basics behind ice dams and how you can both prevent and fix them. Knowing more about why and how ice dams form will help you protect your home, and make it less vulnerable to ice dams even after large snow events.

What are Ice Dams?

So, what are ice dams in the first place? An ice dam is a solid mass or ridge of ice that forms at the edge of your roof. Ice dams prevent melting snow and other water from draining properly. Instead of sliding off your room into the gutter, water can back up behind the dam and pool. From there, the trapped water can leak into your home and cause significant structural damage to walls and ceilings.

Ice Dam Causes

Ice dams are caused by inconsistent surface temperature on your roof. Picture the following. Let’s say one area of your roof is warmer than another due to heat loss from your house. This escaping heat will begin to melt snow from the bottom down. When air and roof temperatures surrounding the hot spot are significantly cooler, this melted snow refreezes into ice.

Over a period of time, this cycle continues and the ice dam grows, as does the amount of water trapped behind it. Larger ice dams create a higher risk for water damage and are more difficult to remove.

Why are ice dams bad?

Ice dams are bad because water inside your home is bad. Water that enters your home can cause both structural and personal problems. A rotting wall or leaky ceiling is bad enough, but moisture in your home can also encourage the growth of mold and mildew.

Mold and mildew can cause significant health concerns and irritate health conditions such as asthma. For the health of your home and your family, it’s important that ice dams are dealt with as soon as they are noticed.

How to Fix and Prevent Ice Dams

There are a few directions you can take to help prevent and fix current and future ice dams. Firstly, you should remove snow from your room. Without snow, the melting cycle can not occur. Removing snow from behind current ice dams prevents them from growing larger or collecting more water. To remove snow, try using a roof rake or a push broom to gently remove the excess of snow.

In order to deal with an existing large ice dam, you will first need to create a drainage path to allow trapped water to escape. To create a drainage path, you can try chipping away at the ice dam. However, be careful if manually creating these channels. Chipping away at ice dams can cause damage to shingles or gutters. 

If the weather has warmed slightly, you may be able to use a hose to melt a portion of the dam and free the trapped water. However, unless the entire ice dam is removed, it will gradually reform.

Finally, many temporary solutions such as chemical ice melters are available for purchase. These can melt ice dams temporarily but will not prevent them from reforming in the future.

To truly prevent ice dams, you need to address the core issue, which is heat loss from your home. Many roofs are not properly insulated. Adding more effective insulation prevents excess heat loss. This prevents warm spots that cause ice dams to form.

Removing an Ice Dam

Removing a large ice dam is tricky. Working on your roof in the best of weather is risky, much less a roof that is covered in snow and ice. We recommend that any homeowners dealing with a significant ice dam call a professional for removal.

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