Ice Dams

Jan 1, 2020 | Outdoor Living

How to Identify and Remove Ice Dams


If the snowy season came before you had a chance to winterize your attic, an ice dam might have you swearing at your situation. A regular winter worry for homes with sloped roofs, ice dams lead to serious and costly problems for homeowners. But with awareness and preparation, you can protect your home from the frozen menace.


What Makes an Ice Dam?

Ice dams are thick build-ups of ice along gutters and eaves caused by escaping heat that melts snow on the roof. As the melt-water meets the eaves, which are considerably colder than the roof, it freezes in place. The situation is compounded when clogged gutters further impede the water from reaching the downspouts. As snow continues to melt, the runoff is blocked and it, too, freezes, causing the dam to increase in size.


While the gutter can contribute to the development of ice dams, the bigger problem is usually in the attic. Oftentimes, it’s a ventilation issue, such as excess heat in the attic leaking through cracks and gaps around fixtures, pipes, and drywall. Under-insulation is another cause, as that allows too much heat from the house to enter the attic. If you’re having problems with ice dams, a contractor like Excel Fencing & Decking can help you identify and correct the problem.


What’s the Damage?

Ice dams require immediate attention. As the dam grows, the freezing melt-water pushes up the roof and under the shingles. This loosens the shingles and eventually causes water damage to the roof. Water stains, peeling paint, and rusted fasteners in the attic are telltale signs of a problem. Adding to your concerns is the water-logged insulation, which is a breeding ground for mildew and mold. Heavy ice dams also can destroy the gutter.


Can They Be Prevented?

Since a warm roof is what produces ice dams, take the appropriate steps to cool it down. This starts with a thorough attic inspection. Plug and seal attic air leaks with foam spray, weatherstripping, or caulking. Make sure the attic has at least 12 to 15 inches of insulation, and check to confirm it’s the correct R-value. The Department of Energy recommends adding R38 insulation for Maryland homeowners if existing levels are low. Keeping the gutter clean also helps lessen the impact of ice dams.


What If I Already Have an Ice Dam?

You might be tempted to chip away at it with a pick, but doing so will only damage your roof and gutter. And sprinkling rock salt will corrode the nails holding shingles in place, not to mention kill any plants beneath the eaves. So, what should you do while waiting for Mother Nature to take care of the problem herself? Start by using a roof rake to remove snow from the roof and keep the problem from worsening. Then, fill old pantyhose with calcium chloride ice melt and lay over the dams. Never use sodium-based products as they can damage the roofing materials. Just cover any shrubs and plants so they won’t be hit with the runoff, and set up a tarp, if possible, to catch the meltwater and dispose of away from greenery. For severe ice dams, you may want to enlist professional help by contacting a roofing contractor or ice removal specialist.


If you experience water damage in your attic, don’t hesitate to give us a call. The construction professionals at Excel Fencing & Decking will quickly patch up any problems so you can spend your winter worry free.