What is an ice dam?
Ice dams are typically identified by the icicles hanging from your roof. Icicles are a red flag and should be taken care of quickly to minimize water damage to your home. Where you see ice, there is most assuredly even more ice hiding where you can’t see.
It is not just the ice dam itself, its what’s behind it. It’s the pool of water that collects around the ice dam as the snow further up on your roof melts – that can’t drain – that ultimately finds it’s way inside your home causing lots of damage. Icicles and ice dams spell trouble and can be your worst nightmare, leaks in the winter months.
If you are researching ice dams, you likely have seen icicles hanging from your roof. This also means you are trying to figure out how to get rid of and prevent said icicles from continuing to form 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.
Clear Manually or Install a Roof Ice Melt System?
You need to determine the best strategy for you to remove the snow from your roof. 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. We do recommend that you 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 must be repeated with every storm. This rest of this article addresses best practices and safety for those looking to manually clear their roof of ice and snow.
Planning ahead is essential. Snow or roof rakes (RoofRake.com) are the best tool to manually remove snow from your roof, as they are made with long handles so you can use them from the ground. Note that roof rakes like most items come with different “features”. Some come with handles up to 36 feet long, or wheels on the lower edge. The wheels are meant to minimize touching the roof surface, which is brittle in cold weather, making it vulnerable to damage. Consider the features that will work best for your need. You should 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. Also, important to note that most winter essentials (shovels, ice melt, snowblowers, etc) sell out quickly when snowstorms wreak havoc across the snow belts of the U.S. The northeast has certainly seen its share of storms. Once you are the proud owner of a rake you should plan to rake snow off your roof every time you shovel your walk or driveway. Definitely before the icicles and ice dams have time to form.
Emptying the Pool of Water Behind an Ice Dam
Once you have removed the snow on your roof, you’ve got to get rid of the water pooled up behind the ice dams. Understanding the risks of your options is important. 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.
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.
Proceed 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 hurt someone can get if 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 safely 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.
Safety first and foremost – stay on the ground to clear ice dams. Be sure you take the right precautions so you can enjoy the snow and cold weather from a place other than the couch recovering from an injury.