Short And Long-Term Solutions To Ice Dam Formation On Residential Roofs

Have you noticed a growing mountain of ice and icicles at the edge of your roof? As pretty as this ice formation may be, it's not a good thing. It's known as an ice dam, and its presence can be detrimental to your roof, causing shingles to loosen and leaks to appear. If you notice an ice dam, it's important to take action -- not only to temporarily solve the problem, but also to keep it from occurring again.

Short-Term Ice Dam Solutions

If you've noticed an ice dam beginning to form, there are two main ways you can stop it in its tracks and prevent the situation from becoming worse.

Melt a path in the ice dam.

You don't want to treat the entire roof with salt or other melting agents, since this may cause damage to your roofing materials. However, it is okay to melt a small portion of the ice dam with calcium chloride and allow any more water that melts to trickle down through this melted area, rather than adding to the growing dam.

Fill an old pair of pantyhose with calcium chloride salts, and lay it on top of the ice dam. It should stretch from the edge of the ice dam near the edge of the roof, all of the way back to where the ice dam starts. The calcium chloride will slowly leech out of the stocking and melt a pathway through the ice for additional melting water to follow.

Raking off the Roof

You can also slow the formation of ice dams by removing snow from the roof before it has the chance to melt. You'll want to do this after every major snowfall. Use a snow rake to reach as far back towards the peak of the roof as possible, and then pull towards you, causing the snow to tumble down. Snow rakes are available at most home improvement stores; they look like garden rakes with extra long handles.

Long-Term Ice Dam Solutions

Preventing ice dams in the long-term requires that you address the underlying cause of ice dams: a lack of insulation or roof ventilation. When a roof is poorly insulated or ventilated, heat from the home makes its way into the roof, warming it and causing the snow to melt. That melted snow slides towards the edge of the roof, refreezing once it reaches this cooler section.

Depending on the current state of your roof and associated insulation, you may need to employ one or more of these methods to prevent future ice dam formation:

Adding Insulation to Your Attic

Most homes require about 10 - 14 inches of insulation in the attic. If you have less than this, adding another layer of insulation will help prevent ice dams from forming.

Sealing Holes and Cracks

If you live in an older home with a lot of leaks, the problem may not be that you do not have enough insulation, but that warm air is leaking into your attic space through cracks and crevices. Sealing these cracks with polyurethane spray foam, which can be purchased at most home improvement stores, will help. If your cracks are extensive, you may wish to have a contractor tackle this job for you.

Increasing Ventilation

When your roof is poorly ventilated, warm air cannot escape from your attic like it should. Have an HVAC expert visit your home and evaluate whether or not your roof is adequately ventilated. Adding additional soffit vents, which are placed under the eaves of the roof, is not an extensive job for an experienced contractor, and it can greatly reduce ice dam formation if poor ventilation is to blame.

Ice dams are not a problem that should be ignored. Get rid of your current ice dams with the short-term solutions recommended above, and then employ the long-term solutions before next winter so you don't end up with the same problem again. For more information, contact a local residential roofing contractor. 


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