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Ice Dams- Can I Remove it Myself?

With winter comes the usual fixtures; snow, icicles, frost, and ice dams. While you may be tempted to try and remove it yourself, read this post to find out why this may not be a safe option.

What is an Ice Dam?

Ice dams can be deceiving to the casual eye, because at first glance it looks like a bunch of beautiful icicles hanging from a roof. Ice dams are built up ridges of ice that form along the edge of roof preventing melting snow from draining off the roof.

How do Ice Dams Form?

Ice dams form when heat and warm air leaking from the living space below melts the snow, which trickles down to the cooler edge of the roof. As gutters fill with ice, they often bend and rip away from the house bringing fascia, fasteners, and downspouts with it.1

Problems Ice Dams Cause

Roofs leak on attic insulation. In the short term, wet insulation doesn’t work well. Over the long term, water-soaked insulation remains compressed, so that even after it dries, the R-value isn’t as high. The lower the R-values, the more heat lost. This sets up a vicious cycle.

Water often leaks down inside the wall, where it wets wall insulation and causes it to sag, leaving uninsulated voids at the top of the wall. Moisture gets trapped in the wall cavity between the exterior plywood sheathing. Soon you can smell the result. In time, the structure framing members may decay. Metal fasteners may corrode. Mold and mildew may form on the surface of the wall. Exterior and interior paint will blister and peel.2

DIY Solutions that Don’t Work

  • Heat Cables: Often advertised as heat tape or heat wire, these cables lay across your roof and melt ice and snow. Unfortunately, these cables never really get hot enough to do a good job. To get as hot as they would need to fully melt the snow it would create a fire hazard.
  • Gutter Guards: Gutter guards don’t do anything to prevent ice dams. Ice dams will form regardless if your gutter is full or not. Gutter guards get in the way of ice dam removal because ice dams can form underneath these guards.
  • Salt Pucks: The are little puck shaped discs of salt. These salts pucks are thrown onto the roof gutters, thinking that it will melt away the snow and problem solved. All this does is create puck shaped holes in the ice or snow. The ice dams will form around them or past them, because you never melt enough snow or ice to get the job done. Ice pucks also discolor your shingles and is a fast way to kill your grass and shrubbery around your home when the snow melts and splashes onto everything else below it.
  • Ice Melt or Heated Ice Melt: The stuff you use to melt ice off your driveway should not be used on your roof. They also sell “heated” ice melt systems that look like big metal wands and hoses attached to big 5-gallon buckets of ice melt. There is no way to get the ice melt inside of the bucket hot. You would need more than 5 gallons to get the job done, even if the chemicals were a good idea. If you already have an active leak, you’re going to end up spraying hot chemicals into your home.

Safe DIY Solutions

  • Ice and Water Shielding: If you’re installing a new roof ask your roofer to install ice and water shielding on every available surface. It costs more but is worth it. Ice and water shielding don’t prevent ice dams, but it does stop leaks.
  • Home energy audits: A home energy audit will tell you all of the things you need to fix to keep your roof from getting hot in the winter. If you follow the recommendations, you will drastically reduce your chances of getting ice dams.
  • Shovels: Shovels can’t help with ice, but they can help you get the snow off your roof. Use a plastic shovel to avoid damaging your roof. Use caution when doing this because you could slip or fall seriously injuring yourself. Any snow removal solution you should do yourself should keep your feet firmly on the ground.
  • Ice Dam Steamers: Steam is the only safe and effective way to remove an ice dam. It won’t damage your roof and it won’t make leaks worse. These are pricey and range from $3,000-$5,000 dollars when purchased out of pocket. Using an ice dam steamer requires training to do it correctly, and you can’t purchase an insurance policy to protect your roof if you decide to buy on yourself.

Ice dams may be tempting to try and DIY to remove them. While this may be tempting it’s also very dangerous and could result in serious injury or death. If you find yourself with an ice dam and need help call us today at (630) 346-6859. Our customer’s safety is our top priority, and we are available and ready to help you!

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