Ice Dams Can Be Disastrous, But You Can Prevent Them

When it comes to winter weather, the only thing worse than the snow and the cold is ice. We tend to worry most about ice when it comes to road conditions and walking out to our cars, but ice can also do serious damage to our homes in the form of ice dams. 

And yes, they are as bad as they sound. 

Ice dams form when heat evaporating from your roof melts the snow on top of it. When the snow refreezes, it becomes an ice dam, usually forming at the edge of your roof. Ice dams can cause water damage to walls and ceilings, deform shingles, and dislodge your gutters. Inside your house, they can lead to the growth of mold and mildew. (For more on how ice dams operate, see this helpful graphic.) According to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, ice dams are the source of millions of dollars in damage annually. 

Ice dams can cause a lot of headaches for homeowners, so it’s a good idea to get ahead of the problem with these prevention tips. 

1. Remove snow from your roof. This takes care of the main source of the problem. Buy a roof rake or push broom, or hire a snow removal specialist. 

2. Stop heat loss. You can also attack the problem from the other end—the heat escaping from your house. That means you’ll have to get into your attic and check for holes, cracks, or gaps in the drywall, light fixtures, plumbing pipes, chimneys, and anything else that is coming into your attic from elsewhere in the house, according to Family Handyman. You’ll have to use caulk or something else to stop up the air leaks. In some cases, it may make sense to hire a winterization contractor to assist. 

3. Insulate your roof. Putting insulation in your attic will prevent the heat from your home from melting the snow on the roof. Since it’s blocking heat loss, this option has the added advantage of cutting down on winter heating bills. 

4. Rubberize your roof. Metal roofs are a common solution, but they are pricey and do not provide enough insulation, according to an expert at UMass Amherst, who says installing rubberized sheets under roof shingles is a better, more affordable option. But again, as he notes, it’s just a Band-Aid solution. 

5. Get cables. De-icing cables are an affordable, hi-tech solution. You can find them for as little as $35 at your local home goods or hardware store. The cables will come with manufacturer’s instructions on how to install them. The one downside is that it will add to your electricity bill. For more, see the Family Handyman

6. Put a sock in it. If an ice dam has already started to form, don’t panic—there are still things you can do to prevent it from getting worse. An effective low-tech solution is filling socks or pantyhose with calcium chloride and placing them in perpendicular positions over the ice dam. When ice melts under them it will form channels in the ice dam allowing backed up water to flow out. (For information on how to do that see this article.) 

7. Break it up. A tempting low-tech solution is just breaking up the ice. If you go this route, be careful, using hammers or even chainsaws could do harm to both yourself and your home. This home advice expert says a mallet is safer. Begin by clearing all of the now. Then, when you start hacking away, make sure you do so from the roof, not under it, where all the ice will be falling. 

Ice dams can be deadly. Fortunately, there are many options out there for all types of budgets, homes, and homeowner preferences. We hope these tips help you keep you and your homes safe this winter.