Ice Dam Removal: Why They Matter and How to Prevent Them

Sunrise reflecting on an ice dam

Ice dam removal can be dangerous and expensive. It’s important to keep your gutters clear to avoid the build-up of these costly obstructions. Learn everything you need to know about ice dams and how to keep them from damaging your home. 

Ice dams in gutters can cause water runoff to seep under your shingles, leading to extensive roof damage. Removing ice from gutters can be a long and expensive process, so it’s best to prevent ice dams before they form.

There are a few ice prevention products on the market, such as Helmet Heat, that can get the job done for you.

icicles hanging from gutters

Asher Logo of WisconsinVisit the Asher Showroom in Eau Claire, WI to learn more about our ice dam prevention products.

What is an Ice Dam

An ice dam is a buildup of ice in your gutters that stops water from flowing off your roof and instead causes it to pool and refreeze in large chunks. They may seem harmless, even somewhat pretty when adorned with icicles, but the damage they cause is not so pretty. It’s important to know what an ice dam looks like so you can identify it and find a solution before it’s too late.

Icicles on the roof are not always a clear indicator of an ice dam. The ice that rests behind them is what you need to worry about. Keep an eye on your icicles and any changes around your house that may be a characteristic of an ice dam, including:

  • Moisture in the attic
  • Water stains along the ceiling or exterior walls
  • Ice build-up behind the icicles on your gutters

Why is it Bad?

Ice dams are capable of creating leaks in your roof that cause further damage throughout your house if not addressed immediately. Many people wait to get rid of the ice after this point, when the removal becomes much more difficult and dangerous.

Even prior to removal, the risk of an ice dam falling and injuring a person or family pet is too high to ignore. Taking out a ladder to climb an icy roof is also not a fun DIY project for the average homeowner. The dangers involved in removing heavy ice at great heights are one of the many reasons that ice dam removal is best left to the professionals. Other potential hazards include:

  • Can cause leaks in your roof
  • Damage to gutters, shingles, and underlayment
  • Difficult to remove due to icy conditions

Icicles melting in the sun

What Causes Ice Dams?

Ice dams are formed when the air inside your attic is warmer than the outdoor temperature. This causes the snow on your roof to melt and flow down to the gutters where the temperature is equal to the air outside and the water refreezes. Clogged gutters can quickly worsen this build-up of ice.

Once the ice is thick enough, the rest of the water will start to flow under your shingles, damage the underlayment, and eventually cause a roof leak. Stop ice dams before they start by addressing the root causes of the problem.

  • Poor attic insulation: Letting the heat escape from your attic is not only bad for your energy bill, but it causes the roof ice to melt, which then fills your gutters. Without proper drainage, this excess water will create an ice dam on the roof.
  • Clogged gutters: The main cause of ice build-up is a blockage in the path of the water runoff. It could be leaves and sticks, or simply ice that has built up over time and needs to be removed.
  • Lack of snow removal: Raking the snow off your roof after each snowfall will lessen the roof melt that fills your gutters. Less water in gutters means less ice in gutters when the temperature drops.

Ice dam taking over a house front

How to Remove Ice Dams That Have Already Formed: 3 Methods

Removing ice dams as soon as you notice them is crucial to preventing further damage to your roof. It pays to know a few de-icing solutions, like how to melt ice dams with chemical compounds, so you can start fixing the problem before it gets worse.

Spread a Chemical De-icer 

One way to melt ice on the roof is to use a calcium chloride de-icer that you can purchase from your local hardware store. Be sure to avoid sodium chloride or rock salt as these can damage your shingles and gutters. Also, cover any plants near the gutter downspout with a tarp as the chemicals in the water runoff can cause them damage.

Start by clearing the snow near the edge of your roof. Fill a nylon stocking with the de-icer and lay it vertically on the edge of your roof to melt a channel in the ice dam for water to flow through. This may take several days to see an impact, but it’s cheaper than hiring a professional and easier than melting it yourself. It’s important to keep in mind that chemical de-icers:

  • Can be found in any hardware store
  • May damage nearby plants
  • Not an immediate solution 

Use a Snow Rake

A snow rake is a long-handled rake with wheels that allows you to pull the snow off your roof while standing safely on the ground. Removing the snow will instantly change the temperature of the exterior of your roof, preventing further water accumulation.

A snow rake can be found for around $30 at your local hardware store, so it’s an inexpensive fix but a time-consuming one. In order to keep your gutters free of ice dams, you need to rake the bottom half of your roof after each snowfall. Knowing how to stop ice dams forming on your roof with a snow rake is most beneficial when you can access all of your roofs’ edges. The pros and cons of a snow rake include:

  • It’s an inexpensive, one-time purchase
  • Routine maintenance will be needed 
  • May not work for hard-to-reach roof edges. 

Hire a Professional

Professionals are the only ones equipped to know how to melt the ice on a roof. By using commercial steaming equipment, they can effectively remove the most ice with the least amount of damage or risk to you or your roof. Their worry-free guarantee may be the easiest solution, but it comes at a cost of roughly $200 to $300 per hour.

They start by shoveling off the snow a few feet around the edges of the roof. Then they can use pressurized heated water to steam the ice, dislodging it from the gutters and shingles. From there, they may chip away at the ice dam until your roof is completely clear of ice. In short, hiring a professional for ice dam removal means:

  • No hassle for the homeowner
  • No damage to the roof or gutter system
  • Higher cost for a high quality solution

Clear gutters on a snowy cabin

How to Prevent Ice Dams: 3 Tactics

Learning how to prevent ice dams on the roof is easier on you and your home than having to learn how to remove them. The three main approaches to ice dam prevention are snow removal, insulation, and installing gutter helmets. The most effective is a combination of all three to ensure you never need to worry about ice dams again.

Rake Your Roof After Each Snowfall

The snow that falls and accumulates on your roof acts as an insulator for your attic. Once the attic gets warm enough to melt the snow, the resulting water will flow towards the gutters. This water will only add to the thickness of your ice dam, or seep into your attic if there is no place for it to go.

Invest in a snow rake and clear off the bottom of your roof after each snowfall for easy ice dam prevention. It’s one of the cheapest methods of prevention, but it does take a bit of diligence to ensure the snow doesn’t get a chance to build up all winter.

  • Least expensive prevention technique
  • Requires season-long maintenance 
  • Ineffective for hard-to-reach roof areas

Ensure Proper Attic Insulation and Ventilation

Many people have asked, “Do gutters cause ice dams?” In reality, it’s not the gutters but the attic that’s the root cause. An attic without proper insulation will quickly melt the snow on your roof, sending excess water down into the gutters. The water freezes again when it hits the gutters because they stay the same temperature as the outside air.

When the attic is well insulated, the shingles stay at the same temperature as the air, and the snow doesn’t melt. You can then remove the snow with a snow rake or let the sun take care of it as it simultaneously warms the gutters to create a solid stream. Benefits of this solution include:

  • Stopping water runoff before it starts
  • Adding insulation can be a DIY task
  • Increasing energy savings all year long

Install Helmet Heat in Your Gutters3-D model of helmet heat

The best option for a worry-free winter is to install gutter heaters to prevent ice dams. Gutter guards, such as Gutter Helmet, can stop any debris from clogging up your gutter system but can’t always stop ice from forming. Helmet Heat is a self-regulating heating coil that can be used with a Gutter Helmet system to prevent ice dams completely.

When the temperatures grow colder, Helmet Heat goes to work automatically, keeping your gutters’ temperature above freezing to ensure the proper flow of water into the ground. Since it activates automatically it requires no monitoring and wastes no energy. Helmet Heat is a safe and secure one-time solution to all your ice dam problems.

  • Self-regulating ice dam prevention
  • Saves energy with automatic activation
  • Combined with Gutter Helmet for maintenance-free gutters year-round

Snow covered cabin in the woods

Contact Asher to Learn More about Our Ice Dam Prevention Products

This winter, look into what causes the icicles on your roof. If they’re the result of overflowing gutters backed up by an ice dam, take the proper steps to protect your home from damage. There are a number of great choices for ice dam removal, but the real battle begins with prevention.

If you want to prevent ice dams from forming on your home this winter, contact the experts at Asher Exteriors to learn more about Helmet Heat. We want to make your winter worry-free like all our satisfied customers. If you’ve found the tips in this blog to be helpful, check out our other blogs for more home maintenance expertise.