For many people, icicles bring thoughts of crisp, winter air. For knowledgeable homeowners, they conjure images of damaged shingles and costly repair bills. To keep your home free of ice dams, consider the following guide.
Why it’s a Problem
At first, an ice dam might seem like a minor nuisance. If it gets big enough, however, melted water can back up behind it and make its way beneath shingles. After a while, the water can migrate into ceilings and exterior walls, and cause water damage to paint and sheetrock. If a large ice dam breaks away from a home, it can pull gutters and shingles with it. It can also damage underlying items, including cars, shrubs and windowsills.
How to Eliminate an Ice Dam
Hopefully, you’ve taken steps to prevent ice dams from forming. If you haven’t, you can remove an ice dam using the following method:
First, make sure to clear the area beneath the dam, removing any items that might sustain damage due to falling ice. Next, clear away snow and ice beneath the dam. Once you’ve opened enough level space, set up your extension ladder. Be sure your shoes are as dry as possible and follow the safety precautions listed on the ladder. Take your time and move slowly, especially if your shoe soles are moist from melted snow.
Once you reach the dam, remove as much ice as you can by breaking it loose in small chunks. Use a blunt mallet instead of an ax or sharp tool, since this can damage shingles and put your life at risk. Again, work slowly so you won’t damage your shingles or risk a fall. Avoid the urge to hurry and try to work with a steady, meticulous pace.
When you’ve removed enough ice, start clearing out your gutters and downspouts. Maintain your slow, steady pace to keep from damaging metal or plastic gutters and spouts. If you need to melt through the ice dam, use a calcium chloride ice melter. Never use any type of salt, since this will damage metals, paint, and any plants beneath the dam. You can saturate an old pants leg or roll of cloth with the calcium chloride and lay it across the ice. After a while, it will slowly melt its way through and allow water to start flowing freely.
Preventing Ice Dams
If you’ve ever had to spend hours clearing out a stubborn ice dam, you will understand the importance of prevention. To keep an ice dam from forming, it helps to know why they develop in the first place. An ice dam forms when a warm roof melts snow into water, which then trickles down and refreezes near the edge. To keep this from happening, you need to keep your attic and roof cold. This means closing up attic bypasses and adding attic insulation. You may also need to add roof and soffit vents, which will draw in cold air and flush out warmer air.
In addition to these steps, you should seal any point where warm air might leak from the living space into areas immediately below the roof sheathing. You will also need to make sure your living space is insulated well enough to prevent heat from passing through the ceiling.