Ice dams are as ominous as they sound. They can ruin your roof, cause flooding within your house, and cost hundreds of dollars in damage. If mold sets in, the cost could run into the thousands.
The process of melting snow refreezing on the edge of your roof forms ice dams. This frozen snow hardens into a ‘dam’ that causes the rest of the melting snow behind it to back up, causing flooding and other damage to your gutters, roof, insulation, attic, and other areas of your house, depending on how far the water spreads.
Removing an ice dam before it causes further damage is key. Doing so safely is tricky. Here are some options.
1. Shovel the roof. Removing the snow that is backing up onto the ice dam limits its ability to cause a backup of water. But don’t climb up on your roof and use a regular shovel – that’s dangerous and less effective than your other options. Instead, consider buying a roof rake, which has extended handles that allow you to remove the snow from the safety of the ground. Plus, they have buffers that prevent damage to your shingles.
2. Break up the ice dam. Another option is to attack the ice dam itself. However, only homeowners who are experienced at home repairs should do this. Many experts recommend hiring a roof professional to take this on. If you do it yourself begin by slowly working on the ice dam with a mallet. Using an ax or hatchet could inadvertently cause further damage to the roof. Also, breaking it up into large pieces could, as one homeowner adviser puts it, cause “large swaths of ice crashing off the roof, breaking windows, damaging bushes, and injuring anyone below.” You don’t want that to happen so a go-slow-and-small approach is better than fast and big. Making sure you’re not under the ice dam when you’re doing it is another common-sense must.
3. Freeze the melting water. This may seem like the opposite of what you are trying to do but this is a real option. Go into your attic and identity where the water is leaking in. Then place a box fan near it and blow cold air at the leak. This should cause it to freeze, sealing off the gap. With this outlet blocked, the rest of the melting snow should just run off the roof. Obviously this is the most temporary of Band-Aid solutions. But if you’re facing an immediate issue with leaking and potential flooding, do this to buy you some time to explore other options.
4. Run hot water over the ice dam. If you hire a professional, they might use a power sprayer to douse the ice dam in heated water. Chances are you don’t have one of these sitting in the garage and even if you did, it might not be safe for you to try to use it. But, you could replicate the process using an outdoor hose at your home.
Of course, ideally, you want to prevent ice dams from forming in the first place. For tips on how to do that see here and here.
Ultimately, the best way to ensure you are fully protected is to make sure you have a solid homeowner’s insurance policy. Call us for quote or to check on your existing policy’s coverage.
Sources included: The Family Handyman, Bob Vila, and This Old House.