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Dealing with Ice Dams: Removal, Prevention & Who to Call

Friday, February 12th by Kristina McGovern


Icicles may look pretty, but they are dangerous to walk beneath, damage the gutters and roof, and cause water damage inside your home. Read this guide for ice dam removal options and prevention tips.

Icicles hang off the edge of a roof

Heat loss and inconsistent temperatures on the roof’s surface lead to ice dams. Water backs up behind the dam and leaks into the home.

What are ice dams and why are they bad?

Ice dams are common in the northern United States and Canada. The icicles and ridges of ice on the roof can damage gutters, loosen roof shingles, and cause water to backup inside the home.

What causes ice dams?

When heat rises up through the home, it warms the underside of the roof, causing snow on the roof to melt. The melting snow flows down the roof and refreezes on the unheated overhang (or the edge of the roof where gutters are installed). When thick ice forms on the edge of the roof, this prevents melting snow and rainwater from running off the roof. Instead, the water often leaks under the roof shingles and causes water damage, including stained and sagging ceilings, peeling paint, warped floors, and wet insulation.

Ice dams form on the roof, so how do they affect the basement?

Melting snow and ice, combined with rainwater causes the soil around your home to become saturated. Water dripping off the roof adds to the problem and the water that has accumulated around the foundation can leak into the basement through leaky windows or cracks in the foundation. Check out these tips on how to deal with water in the basement.

If you're dealing with a leaky basement, installing a sump pump and interior drainage system in the basement can help prevent flooding. If you have an existing sump pump, make sure it's in good working condition. Consider installing a basement dehumidifier to prevent mold growth and musty odors caused by excess moisture.

Are ice dams covered by insurance?

One in every 50 insured homes has a claim related to water damage or freezing every year (Insurance Information Institute). Homeowner’s insurance may cover repairs for damage caused from an ice dam. However, damage to personal belongings or removal of the ice dam typically isn’t covered. Check your policy or contact your insurance agent if you’re unsure of your policy terms and limits.

How do you fix ice dams?

If you have water leaking into your house from an ice dam, you're likely looking for a quick-fix to get rid of the ice and stop the leak. The problem with most ice dam removal methods is that not only is it dangerous to climb onto the roof, but they can also cause more damage.

If you're looking for ways to prevent an ice dam problem, skip ahead to read our tips for ice dam prevention.

Here are a few commonly-used ice dam removal methods and things to keep in mind:

  • Melt the ice dam with steam - Using steam to melt the ice dam is one of the fastest and safest options for ice dam removal. However, if you're looking for a DIY option, this isn't it. A professional uses a low pressure steam and directs it through a special nozzle to melt the ice dam.
  • Melt the ice and snow with calcium chloride - Calcium chloride can be used to melt a channel through the ice to allow water to run safely off the roof. The ice melt can be found at most hardware stores and is typically placed inside a sock or pantyhose that's then positioned over the ice dam. However, ice melts should be used with caution as the chemicals can be very corrosive and can damage metal gutters, downspouts, and flashing over time. Runoff containing high concentrations of these chemicals can damage plants and grass.
  • Break up the ice dam - Breaking up the ice dams, such as with a mallet, is another option for removing ice dams, but can be dangerous and isn’t recommended. If you do decide to go this route, extreme caution should be used to prevent damage from falling chunks of ice, injuries resulting from climbing on the roof or from falling ice, and damage to the shingles and gutters.

How do you prevent ice dams?

The best way to avoid damage caused by an ice dam is to prevent it from forming in the first place. If ice damming is a concern where you live, proper precautions are necessary prevent damage to your home. Below are a key ways to protect your home against an ice dam problem; whether you've dealt with them before or you're installing a new roof and want to be proactive.

  1. Ensure proper ventilation
    A ridge vent and continuous soffit vents circulate cold air under the entire roof to keep the roof cold and prevent snow from melting and ice dams from forming. Proper roof ventilation can also extend the life of your roof and reduce heating and cooling costs. Have your roof inspected by a professional to determine if additional ventilation is needed.
  2. Seal and insulate the attic
    Air leaks should be sealed to prevent warm, moist air from flowing from the living space into the attic. Additional attic insulation may be needed to reduce heat loss. Hire a professional to assess your attic to determine whether you need more insulation. Attic Systems is the largest network of attic insulation contractors in North America, made up of independent companies specializing in insulating and sealing attics. 
  3. Hand holding leaves, twigs, and dirt over gutters

    Clogged gutters prevent melting snow and ice from draining off the roof.

    Clean gutters and add gutter guards
    Clogged gutters and downspouts cause problems when there’s melting snow, ice, or heavy rains. Homes without gutters can end up with rotting facias, mildew on the siding, rotting window and door sills, and soil erosion. Clean gutters that are in good working condition can help drain away water and prevent basement flooding and water damage from ice melt, snow melt, and rain. Gutters should be cleaned at least twice a year to remove leaves and debris. Consider installing gutter guards (also called leaf guards, gutter covers, or gutter protection) to prevent future buildup. If your home doesn't have gutters or they need to be replaced, Gutter Shutter is a good option as it's a fully-enclosed seamless gutter and gutter guard system combined and is guaranteed to never sag, warp, or pull away from the house.
  4. Install a snow and ice shield
    When installing a new roof, a snow and ice shield can be installed beneath the shingles, covering the overhang of the roof to form a continuous barrier against water, preventing melting snow and ice from working its way under the shingles and into the home.

Get estimates from qualified contractors near you

If there's water in your basement from melting snow and ice, schedule a free basement waterproofing estimate with your local Basement Systems contractor. Check out tips to winterize your basement here.

If you need help fixing the cause of your ice dam problem or with removing ice dams or repairing roof damage, get estimates from qualified contractors near you.

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