close-up picture of ice dams forming along the rooftop of a home in the winter

How to Prevent Roof Ice Dams

If you live in cold climate areas, you might already be familiar with ice dams. They are an interesting phenomenon caused by constant melting and freezing cycles in the weather, and the damage they cause can be quite extensive to your home if left untreated.

There are ways to prevent ice dams from forming, including proper attic insulation and regular maintenance, that will save you lots of money - and headaches - in the long run.

What Are Ice Dams?

Ice dams are frozen patches of melted water that freeze around the edges of rooftops. They form when heavy snow buildup melts during the day and then refreezes around the eaves when temperatures drop overnight. The frozen ridges of ice prevent further drainage of melted snow from the roof, causing the water to back up behind the newly-formed ice dam and leak through the roof and into your home.

graphic of ice dam formation from the National Weather Service (NWS)

Courtesy of the National Weather Service

As warm air rises to your attic, it heats up the outer surfaces of your roof and melts any snow it comes into contact with. The water would normally run off the roof and into the gutters. But when ice dams are present, the melted water under the snow pack starts to pond and back up underneath the shingles, finding a way to leak into your attic.


Types of Ice Dam Damage

Ice dams can cause a lot of damage to your home's structure and interior when left untreated. Some of the most common damage includes:

  • Broken or damaged gutters and waterspouts

  • Scuffed, frayed or lifted roof shingles

  • Water leakage in your attic, walls, ceilings and other interior parts

  • Water damage to wires and other electrical components
  • Mold and mildew growth
  • Injury from dangerous falling icicles

  • Roof collapse


Preventing Ice Dams

There are both short-term and long-term remedies to combatting and preventing ice dams from forming. We recommend a few suggestions to keep regular maintenance over your roof and minimize further damage to it. Be sure to always keep yourself safe and protected when working on or around your roof.

black shovel with red handle used to scoop heavy snow off of a roof in preventing ice dam formation

1. Clean Snow Off Your Roof

Using a shovel or rake, clean off any heavy snow lingering on your roof. Be careful not to damage any shingles during the process. This should be done regularly after a heavy snowfall. When left alone, the snowpack insulates any melted water from cold outside temperatures. Additionally, the more snow living on your roof means more melting occurs and - eventually - the heavier the ice dam becomes.

2. Clear Your Gutters

Run-off water in your gutters freeze over first, filling them up and promoting the formation of both ice dams and overhanging icicles. Keep an eye on your gutters and use hot water to break up any lingering ice. A clear sign of ice dams are the formation of icicles on gutters. Clear off any overhanging icicles to prevent them from potentially falling and injuring someone. Run hot water through your downspouts as well to ensure proper drainage.

professional treating roof to clear snowpack and ice dams

3. Apply Treatment to Ice Dams

You may have heard about the old pantyhose trick (filling them up with ice treatment and setting them on the formed ice dam to diminish it and prevent reformation), but this trick has led to damaging consequences to your shingles, eaves, as well as to your lawn and plants from run-off.

Certain de-icing chemical treatments chip away at fully-formed ice on your roof. Using steam and high-pressure warm water also combats ice dams and helps clean your roof entirely of any snow or ice in general.

NOTEDO NOT use DIY treatments, as it can be dangerous and cause more damage to your roof. Contact local professionals to get the job done right for you.

asphalt shingles coming loose on a home rooftop

4. Shore Up Any Holes In Your Roof

Before winter, assess your roof and repair any lifted or broken shingles. You can fix loose or lifted shingles using silicone adhesive to seal them down. Broken shingles may need to be replaced with entire new strips. 

Check your attic space out for any noticeable holes that would be cause for concern. For extensive repairs, be sure to contact professional repairmen to fix these up before the cold weather arrives.

5. Check Your Insulation

Installing proper insulation in your attic significantly reduces the chance of ice dam formation. 

Perforated Radiant Barrier from EcoFoil® is the ultimate insulation for attic spaces. When sealed up with insulation tape, it reflects heat back into your home during the winter, as well as keep any radiant heat out of your attic during the summer. Above all, it promotes air flow through this space (more on this below).


6. Ventilate Your Attic

Ice dams are more common for homes with roofs that don't have ridge vents at their peaks or soffit installed under the eaves. Ventilation in your attic allows cold air to circulate through and warm air to escape. Installing ridge vents, soffits, and other ventilation caps before the next winter arrives ensures your attic space has the proper air flow needed to prevent ice dams from forming.

    More Articles You May Like:

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    How Radiant Barrier Works

    Fortify your attic with our reflective insulation products. To learn more, email us or call 888-349-3645.

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