What Causes an Ice Dam and What You Should Do If You Have One

What causes an ice dam?

They're pretty and kids love to play with them. But if you've got giant icicles hanging from your roof, it usually means trouble.

 An ice dam is caused from a buildup of frozen precipitation along your home's roof line. It happens when snow on your roof begins melting from the warmer air in your attic. As it melts and runs down to unheated areas over the eaves of your roof, it begins to refreeze on and around your roof's edge or gutter system. This growing frozen icy dam slowly backs up any remaining melting precipitation, sending water right under your roof shingles. And that means  costly damage to your home. 

There's a lot you can do as a homeowner to reduce the risk of ice dams. IBHS has a list of great  recommendations. We can tell you from decades of insuring Virginia homes, a little prevention goes a long way- thoroughly clear your gutters at the end of fall. 

Great, but I already have an ice dam! What should I do?

If you have an ice dam forming along your home's roof line, it's important to take action quickly to prevent or limit damage to your home. 

WARNING: This is a slippery, dangerous and tedious job. One of this magnitude is best left to a certified roofer or gutter specialist in your area, especially if you're unable to access your roof without a ladder. They have specialized steaming equipment to safely and quickly resolve   ice dams and the experience to fix extenuating issues.

For the DIYers: If you're able to easily and safely reach your roof, you can take these steps to help remove the ice dam:

  1. Pull the snow behind the ice dam down off the roof using an aluminum roof rake, ideally removing 3-4 feet of snow behind the ice. 
  2. Next, apply calcium chloride as a throwable melting product. Note that this chemical can damage plants if exposed to in large amounts. There are also environmentally friendly heating cables made specifically for the melting needed along your roof line.
  3.  Be patient! Avoid using any sharp, hard metal tools or chipping away at the ice. It may seem like a faster solution, but it's bound to damage your roofing, soffit and parts of your gutter system.
  4. It may take some time, but once you are able to see your gutters, make sure they are free of debris and able to carry melting precipitation down your gutter spouts and away from your home's foundation.

Even after successfully removing ice dams, it's important to have your roof professionally inspected to check for hidden damage. You also need to determine why the ice dam formed in the first place. If your gutters are clear, it may be as simple and inexpensive adding insulation or identifying unwanted heat sources in your attic. This is another good reason to just hire a specialist to address the whole problem. You'll have peace of mind that the problem is fixed and won't happen again.

We hope you don't experience ice dams this winter, but if you do, remember it's important to address it quickly. And if you have a claim, give us call or visit us online to start the process- we're here to help get your home repaired and protected from the next big snow.  

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