Ice Dam Prevention: How Ice Dams Form And Ways To Stop Them

Sunrise reflecting on an ice dam on the roof of a house

Ice dams are a common winter occurrence, but they can be both dangerous and expensive to remove. Read on to learn about ice dam prevention and how to keep them from damaging your home. 

Learning how to prevent ice dams on your roof is essential in preventing water runoff, excess moisture, and damage to your gutters or shingles. Roof ice dam prevention is the best way to ensure that your roof stays safe and structurally sound for years to come. In this article, we will cover:

an infographic showing how ice dams are made from heat rising from the house to the roof, causing snow to melt and freeze in colder spots and creating a large ice build up

Our Helmet Heat is here to help keep your home free of ice dams. 

What Is An Ice Dam On A Roof?

Ice damming on a roof is a buildup of ice in your gutters. This ice stops water from flowing off of your roof and instead causes it to pool and refreeze in large chunks. This frozen roof water may seem harmless, but the damage it can cause is devastating.

It’s imperative to know what roof ice dams look like so that you can keep an eye on your roof’s durability. So, what does an ice dam look like? One good indicator is when icicles freeze on the side of your home. Many homes also will have lots of snow and ice buildup that forms a ridge on the edge of the roof. These ice dams can create leaks, water damage, rust, and even a sagging roof.

What Causes Ice Dams On Roofs?

Now that we’ve answered “What is an ice dam?”, it’s important to know what causes this ice buildup and how to avoid ice dams. Ice dams are formed when the air inside your attic or the top floor of your home is warmer than the outdoor temperature. This melts the snow on the roof and makes water flow down to the gutters, where the temperature is equal to the air outside. This causes the water to refreeze.

There are various aspects that may cause ice dams, including:

  • Poor Attic Insulation: When heat escapes from your attic, this causes the roof ice to melt, which then clogs your gutters. Without proper drainage, ice dam damage can occur.
  • Clogged Gutters: Even with good attic insulation, clogged gutters can still occur. This may include leaves, sticks, debris, or ice that has built up over time. Utilizing weatherproofing techniques can help ensure that your gutters stay clear.
  • Lack of Snow Removal: Snow buildup can cause both an ice dam leak and issues with your gutters. Raking off the snow on your roof can help with preventing ice dam problems.

The Importance Of Good Roof Insulation

Good insulation can help prevent ice dams by ensuring that more of the ice on your roof melts instead of just the ice on the very top of your home. This, in turn, creates better water run-off.

Ice dams and icicles on a house roof

Gutter guards are a great investment that help protect your gutters. 

How Do Ice Dams Cause Roof Leaks And Other Damage?

As we mentioned, ice dam formation happens when the warm air on the top floor of your home melts only a portion of the ice on your roof. However, ice dams are most directly related to the liquid that tries to flow down your roof and eventually hits areas that are lower than freezing temperature (32 degrees Fahrenheit). This buildup of water that stays on your roof can eventually back up and seep through.

This water then finds cracks or openings in the roof and causes leaks, gutter damage, or other exterior damage. It’s imperative to know what to do about ice dams in order to mitigate the potential damage to your home.

Asher's Helmet Heat melting snow off the roof of a house

How To Prevent Ice Damming

Preventing ice damming is the best way to avoid damage to your roof and gutters before it even occurs. While general maintenance is important – such as keeping your gutters clean from debris and buildup – there are other solutions that require less maintenance that can actually help prevent excess ice from forming in the first place.

Install Helmet Heat In Your Gutters

Asher’s Helmet Heat is a self-regulating heating cable system that helps prevent ice dams on your home. Helmet Heat automatically activates when needed, too, meaning you don’t have to worry about excess energy bills. Some other benefits of Helmet Heat include:

  • Clean and clear gutters all year
  • Energy savings
  • Protection from frozen gutters and roof leaks

Rake Your Roof After Each Heavy Snowfall

Ensuring that the snow on your roof is clear after heavy snowfall is also a great way to prevent ice dams from forming. You can buy a roof rake, which is just an especially long-handled rake, that allows you to remove excess snow and protect your roof.

Ensure Proper Attic Insulation And Ventilation

While a bit more costly, ensuring that your roof has proper insulation and ventilation can also help prevent ice dam buildup. If you notice that your energy bills are higher in the winter, you have a constant formation of ice dams, or water drips from your attic, this could be a sign of needing to contact a professional.

ice dam that has extended from the roof to the ground

Gutter Guard helps protect your gutters from debris, ensuring your home stays safe from excess water buildup. 

How To Remove Ice Dams That Have Already Formed

If you can’t prevent ice dams from occurring, don’t worry – there are still ways that you can easily remove the dams that have already formed. Knowing de-icing techniques can help prevent further damage to your roof before the problem gets any worse, thus saving yourself costly fixes in the future.

Hire A Professional

Professionals know exactly how to take care of the ice forming on your roof. They can effectively remove the ice on your roof with the least amount of risk of damage to your home. While this is often the easiest solution to removing ice dams, it can also be the most costly.

Spread A Chemical De-Icer

Many hardware stores have chemical de-icer products available. It’s important to make sure that you buy a calcium-based product and not sodium chloride or rock salt. Sodium chloride or rock salt can easily damage your shingles, gutters, and roof.

In order to spread these chemical de-icers effectively, ensure that you clear as much snow as possible beforehand. Then, fill a nylon sock with the de-icer and lay it vertically on the edge of your roof. This will melt the ice on the edge, eventually making a channel for the rest of the water from the ice dam to flow through and off your roof.

Use A Snow Rake

As mentioned earlier, snow rakes can be a lifesaver in preventing ice dams from forming. These allow you to safely stand on the ground while taking snow off your roof, effectively reducing water accumulation. These rakes are inexpensive and can help you conduct routine maintenance for your home.

the Asher Lasting Exteriors team standing in front of their office

Prevent Ice Damming On Your Wisconsin Home With Asher’s Helmet Heat Installation

If you notice that your roof or gutters have been damaged by ice dams, reach out to Asher today. Helmet Heat helps prevent the buildup of excess moisture in the first place. This ensures that your roof and home stay safe from leaks, cracks, and damage for years to come.

If you want to prevent your Western Wisconsin home from forming ice dams this winter, contact our team of experts at Asher Lasting Exteriors today. We are here to answer any questions you may have and make your winter as stress-free as possible. Get in touch with us for more information on Helmet Heat.