4 FAQs About Ice Dams

What Causes Ice Dams?

  • Ice dams occur when a snow-covered roof over the attic is warmer than the eaves – the overhang of a roof. If the roof is warm, it will cause the snow to melt and run under snow along the roof, down to the eave line, and refreeze there. Ice prevents water from running off freely.
  • Poorly insulated roofs are the chief cause of ice build-up on eaves.
  • Ice dams are usually a problem only on cold days when the roof is warmer than the eave overhang. On warm days the snow melts at the same rate on the eaves and water runs off freely.

What Damage Can Ice Dams Do?

  1. Ice dams along eaves may cause considerable damage to the roof and inside walls of a house.
  2. If water backs up high enough, it may seep under shingles and through seams in the building paper and roof decking to enter the attic and living area.
  3. Sometimes it leaks through plaster walls and ceiling, damaging wallpaper, plaster and paint surfaces in the process.

 How Can I Prevent Ice Dams?

  1. Insulate between the top floor ceiling and the attic, or along the underside of the eaves if the attic is used as living space. Insulation also will help cut fuel bills.
  2. Ventilate the attic through windows and louvers when insulation is added to the attic floor. This will help reduce moisture condensation in the attic.
  3. Use electric heating cables along the eaves if insulation or ventilation is not possible. When plugged in, they will heat the area, melt any ice already formed and prevent further freezing when water drips off the roof.
    • Be sure cables are approved for the intended use by the Underwriters Laboratory.
    • Check with your electrician for correct installation.
  4. Do not use salt to melt snow or ice from the roof. Salt will rust nails, damage gutters and downspouts, and ruin next year’s lawn

What If Leaking Has Already Begun?

  1. Remove the snow from the part of the roof directly above the ice dam. This limits the amount of water that can collect behind the dam.
    • Use a roof rake, hoe or push broom. Roof rakes have long handles that allow you to stay on the ground when clearing a single-story roof. You can purchase them at hardware stores.
  2. Get rid of the ice.
    • Avoid using sharp instruments, such as axes, to break channels through the ice. This is likely to cause roof and structure damage.
    • Hot water will melt the ice but don’t use so much that it causes more leaking.

WHN TIP – Too Bad to Handle? If the ice dams are too bad for you to handle, consider calling a local company to come to your house to remove the ice dams. Some roofing companies do this. Be sure that they are legitimate and insured. Ask neighbors or co-workers for recommendations of any firms in your area who handle ice dams.


Thank You…

Thanks to the University of Idaho for providing information for this post.