How to Prevent and Remove Ice Dams from Your Roof

How to fix ice dam on your roof

A snowy winter is all beautiful and exciting until the lovely icicles at the edge of your roof become a major problem for the sottifs and gutters. You may have to incur expensive roof repairs to rectify the issue. Ice dam removal, therefore, becomes a winter roofing priority for anyone living in an area where it snows. The last thing you need is water backing up into the house due to loosened shingles and torn gutters.

What is an Ice Dam?

An ice dam refers to the buildup of ice forming on the roof’s edges. It prevents proper drainage of ice and water. Typically, it is caused by melting snow on the roof resulting from the heat that escapes from the attic. The melted water travels down the roof and refreezes whenever temperatures drop, often at night, thus forming an ice dam at the end of the roof. Usually, icicles on roof form a pretty sight, but they can cause serious damage that warrants major and expensive repairs.

icicles on gutters

Ice dams occur whenever heavy snowfall occurs, and the attic’s warmth creates a roof surface that rises above the freezing point. The snow insulates and traps heat,¬†causing the snow closest to the attic to melt and flow down the roof. However, the trickling water freezes immediately when it flows to a different colder environment, mainly beyond the warm roof area. This often happens towards the roof’s end, near the gutters, and after the house’s walls. This explains the common presence of icicles on gutters. Your house’s interior will also be affected by the continued accumulation of icicles.

Ice dams are thick ice ridges that form on your roof’s edges and eaves. It happens when the snow on the roof melts due to the heat from the house. The ice melts everywhere except along the roof’s edges. As a result, the melt water drains down the gutters and eaves and refreezes. The accumulation of this ice then forms an ice dam that prevents more snowmelt from draining. In most cases, clogged gutters are major culprits for ice dam formation.

How Do You know If You have Ice Dams?

Identifying ice dams is important as it is the first step to fixing them. Fortunately, you can tell the existence of an ice dam by checking the physical appearance and confirming indoors. Below are suggestions on how to go about it.

  1. Check to see if there are any moisture or water stains in the attic or on the exterior wall ceiling. The presence of water stains indicates the formation of an ice dam and potential water penetration into the roof’s membrane.
  2. Consider the physical appearance. It is possible to see a building at the house’s edge. Besides that, watch out for large icicles, 2.5 inches in diameter or more, indicating a significant problem. It is always advisable to note the location of a suspicious look or take a photo of it and inspect it from inside the house.

How to get Rid of Ice Dams on Roof

ice dam on roof

Now that you understand how these ice dams form and how to identify and confirm their existence, it is essential to know how to get rid of them. Fortunately, different tricks for ice dam removal work and focus on removing the snow before it melts and refreezes.

1. Remove the built-up snow. Using a rake, pull the snow off the roof. This will minimize the occurrence of ice dams. While you may have to do this constantly, it is still better to control the problem than to let water leak into the house. Make sure to rake the snow to expose shingles to the sun. This ensures that you do not have a scenario where ice dams form higher up the roof. Sunlight exposure ensures that the shingles are warm enough to prevent snow accumulation. Snow raking is safe as long as you stay away from the power lines. Roof rakes can potentially damage your shingles. If this is a concern, make sure to use a rake with wheels to prevent the rake from scratching the shingles.

Once you’ve removed the snow, ice may form underneath. Use a ladder to reach the roof and apply an ice melt product like calcium chloride. Alternatively, use throw-able ice-melt solutions, which are the size of small plates, specifically designed to be thrown up on the roof to melt ice in hard-to-reach places. Calcium chloride will melt the snow and ice, allowing water to flow off the roof and gutters.

2. Explore permanent fixes since raking the snow is just a temporary solution that has to be done several times to work. The secret is to keep the same temperatures in the roof and eaves. You can achieve this differently, including ventilating ridges and eaves, sealing leaks, and adding extra insulation, among others.

  • For ventilation, cold air is circulated under the roof by pairing the ridge vent with continuous soffit vents. Ensure that the ridge and soffit vents have similar openings and offer at least 1 square foot of opening for every 300 square feet of attic floor. Put baffles at the eaves to keep a clear path for the airflow from the soffit vents
  • You can also cap the hatch. Note that an unsealed attic hatch is a significant reason for heat loss. Always cover it with a weather-stripped hatch made of foil-faced foam board secured in place with aluminum tape.
  • Add more attic insulation as it helps retain the heat in this space and prevents loss
  • Exhaust kitchen, dryer, and bathroom vents outside through the roof and walls, making sure to avoid the sottifs.
  • Seal and Insulate ducts. Use fiberglass mastics on HVAC ducts and exhaust ducts joints. Completely cover them with R-5 or R-6 foil-faced fiberglass.

Do gutters Cause Ice Dams?

ice dam on gutterWhile it is generally believed that gutters cause ice dams, this is not true. However, gutters tend to ice in gutters makes it easy to concentrate ice and water in vulnerable areas at the roof’s edge. Usually, gutters fill up with ice and bend, ripping away from the house, negatively impacting the insulation.

Check to see where the icicles are confined. If it is on the gutters, and no water is trapped behind them, there is a possibility that an ice dam has likely not formed. Even so, note that icicles can be a precursor to ice dams. Icicles could pose a danger if they fall off based on their location and size. If you can safely remove icicles from your home, please do so and exercise a lot of caution while at it. Stand away from the falling icicles regardless of the technique used to remove them. Never stand underneath the falling icicles.

What to do about Ice Dams in Gutters

Ice buildup in gutters can cause a lot of issues. It is essential to know what to do when you suspect that this is happening. Fortunately, several things can help you deal with ice buildup in gutters. Below are a few remedies to explore:

  • Gently run hot water over the ice dam to melt and run through the gutters as water.
  • Installing heat cables. This can be installed in the summertime room and used when it gets cold to melt the ice accumulated on the roof and gutters. Depending on how serious the problem is, you may install the heat cables as a permanent or temporary solution.
  • Removing the snow using a rake.

How to Prevent Ice Dams

prevent ice dams

Besides taking care of the frozen water and ice dam, you can also prevent it from happening in the first place. Prevention is the long-term remedy to getting rid of ice dam formation. Preventive measures are diverse and often involve increasing ventilation in the attic, sealing air leaks, and adding insulation. Ensure that the attic insulation is continuous and consistent in depth. Poor insulation risks heat loss.

Watch out for other heat loss avenues such as recessed lights, skylights, complicated roof designs, chimneys, bathroom exhaust fans, and heating ducts in the attic, all of which can potentially increase the risk of ice dam formation. Additionally, always clean gutters and get rid of accumulated leaves and debris to trap water and encourage freezing.

Ice Dam Removal Service

If you see any signs that an ice dam is forming, contact All Phase as soon as possible. A trained ice dam removal expert will be able to identify the source of the problem and help you prevent further damages!


1. What causes icicles on gutters?

Icicles in gutters can be caused by the accumulation of debris and poor ventilation.

2. Why do I have icicles hanging from my gutters?

Icicles form when snowmelts drip into the gutter and freeze into ice. The ice buildup causes an ice dam, and as it melts and refreezes over the edge, icicles are formed.

3. How to prevent ice buildup on metal roofs?

Use an ice belt, a unique band of metal roofing, usually installed at the eaves to help prevent ice dam formation as it places a low-friction surface on areas that potentially form the ice dams.

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