ice icicles hanging from a roof

Ice Dams: Tips for Ice Dam Removal

ice icicles hanging from a roof

Ice dams can be identified by the icicles hanging from your roof. Icicles are a red flag and you need to take care of the situation quickly to minimize water damage. When there’s ice you can see, there’s even more ice hiding up where you can’t see. The problem comes when this ice holds water on the roof, and it seeps under your shingles and leaks into your home.

It’s not the ice dam itself, but what’s behind the ice dam, the pool of water that collects as the snow further up on your roof melts. It’s this pool of water – that can’t drain – that ultimately finds it’s way inside your home causing lots of damage. Icicles and ice dams spell trouble!

If you are researching ice dams, you likely have icicles that hang from your roof like those in the photo above. This also means you have a decision to make on how you will keep ice from forming on your roof and causing water damage to your home. There are two ways to end icicles and ice dams: manually or with a roof melting system.

Ice Dams and Snow: Clear Manually or Install a Roof Ice Melt System?

Our website has concise and helpful information on the  Ice Blaster Ice Melt System we install. We realize installing a melting system is not an option for everyone, i.e. renters or condominium owners may not be able to convince their landlord or association to install a roof ice melt system. You should make them aware of the damage and safety risks surrounding icicle build ups. A reasonable landlord or association may consider paying someone to manually remove the ice and snow but this is a temporary solution, that has to be repeated with every storm. This article addresses best practices and safety for those planning to manually clear roof of ice and snow.

First, you need to determine the best strategy for removing the snow from your roof. Removing the snow, removes the water that forms ice dams and icicles. Snow or roof rakes (RoofRake.com) are the best tool to remove snow from your roof, as they are made with long handles so you can use them from the ground. Some roof rakes come with handles up to 36 feet long. The better roof rakes have wheels on the lower edge to minimize touching the roof surface which is brittle in cold weather, making it vulnerable to damage. Plan to purchase your roof rake soon, as they sell out quickly when snow storms wreak havoc across the snow belts of the U.S. The northeast has certainly seen its share of storms: whether you live in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont the past few winters have been interesting to say the least.  If you live in one of these states you should plan to buy or order your snow rake after your first snowfall: as an ounce of prevention is worth far more than the cost (stress, time and money) of potential damage. Plan to rake snow off your roof  every time you need shovel your walk. Otherwise, icicles and ice dams will form.

Emptying the Pool of Water Behind an Ice Dam

Once you’ve removed the snow on your roof with a roof rake, you’ve got to get rid of the water pooled up behind the ice dams. It is important that you do not chip away at the ice dam as you’re likely to damage the shingles underneath. Applying heat has it’s own set of risks that should be obvious, as is working from a ladder or even worse: standing on a roof with ice or snow. Unless you have the proper fall protection equipment and are experienced in using it – we never recommend standing on your snow and ice covered roof.

The most common, albeit “short term” solution to getting this pool of water off your roof is to fill pantyhose with a calcium chloride melter to create a channel that allows water to run off the roof. Place the pantyhose across the ice dam with one end extending up beyond the dam and the other end hanging out past the roof and gutter. Use a tall pole, i.e. a broom or garden rake, to push the pantyhose into position. Check the pantyhose periodically as it might shift as the ice melts. The calcium chloride will “melt” a channel into the ice dam which will allow the water pooling above the dam to fall harmlessly off the roof.

You may be thinking that filling pantyhose with calcium chloride is an extra step. But it isn’t: we cannot stress enough that you should never spread rock salt or calcium chloride across your entire roof as these chemicals are corrosive and can reduce the life of your roof flashing, along with metal gutters and downspouts. In large concentrations, these chemicals will also damage nearby shrubs and grass.

Icy Roofs, Hidden Ice Dams: Handle with Care

Many homeowners assume that a handyman or roofer can easily climb up on their roof to remove the snow and ice. This simply isn’t true. Consider how many people slip on an icy walkway or driveway and twist an ankle or worse, break a bone when they fall a few feet to the ground. Consider how seriously someone can get hurt when they fall off a roof.

There are similar concerns about working on a tall ladder that cannot be securely sunk into the ground. With the ground frozen and covered with snow, it’s almost impossible to place a ladder against a home safely. The gutters and/or roof edge may also be compromised by ice damage. Manual removal of snow and ice from roofs has inherent risks: whether it’s you on the ladder or the crew you hire make sure the safest practices determined and met.

Stay on the Ground to Clear Ice Dams and Be Safe