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Ice Dams: What Are They, How Do They Form, And How To Get Rid Of them (Ultimate Guide)

January 30th, 2021 BY First American Roofing

If there is one thing you must be prepared for when living in Midwest winters, keeping your home safe from the elements. The part of your home that takes the brunt of the force from winter storms and snow? Your roof. During the cold winter months, your roof can sustain all types of damage. Large amounts of snow can cause harm to the roof, as can blistering winter winds, especially when accompanied by hail and sleet.

However, today we’re going to talk about another roof issue caused by extreme winter weather: ice dams. We’ll discuss what they are, how you can get rid of them without damaging your home, and finally, how to keep them from forming in the first place.

What is an Ice Dam?

An ice dam is a blockage of ice that forms on the edge of a roof. They literally create a dam that keeps ice and snowmelt from flowing properly through your gutters and out your downspouts. If you notice large icicles forming on the corners of your home or gutters, that’s a tell-tale sign you have ice dams forming on your roof. The dam will then continue to grow as more melted snow works its way down the roof.

Eventually, the dam will get so big that instead of the water freezing and becoming part of the dam, it will be trapped behind the dam. This dammed water will find its way through cracks in the roof and flow into your home. It’s critical to take care of them before they become large walls of ice that can damage your gutters, shingles, and more.

ice dam infographic

How Do Ice Dams Form?

Ice dams are caused by variations in the temperature of your roof. When the snow melts up top, it slides down towards the bottom of your roof and refreezes. The dam will form when indoor heating rises through the ceiling into the attic and then warms the roof’s surface. Snow from the higher end of the roof will then melt and flow down near the bottom until it reaches the part of the roof that is below 32 degrees. The water will then refreeze into an ice dam.

An ice dam may occur under the following circumstances:

  1. There is snow on your roof.
  2. The average outside temperature is below 32 degrees.
  3. The roof surface temperature is above 32 degrees at its higher-end and below 32 degrees towards the lower end.

The reason for these variances in temperatures is due to improper insulation. Therefore, it is highly encouraged that you ensure your home is properly insulated if you want to avoid ice dams or to keep them from coming back once they are removed.

Are Ice Dams Dangerous?

Aside from all of the damage to your home ice dams can cause, they are also incredibly dangerous to have hanging from the overhangs and gutters of your home. There’s been a handful of cases of people actually losing their lives from falling icicles, and ice dams are even bigger and heavier.

The weight of the ice dam on your gutter can cause it to fall and risk hitting you or your loved ones walking along the sidewalk or driveway. They’re so heavy they can easily break bones, or worse. So removing them is essential to avoid both property damage and severe injury to yourself!

What Problems Can Ice Dams Cause?

There are tons of issues that ice dams can cause to your home if you do not take the proper precautions to prevent or remove them. Both their weight and the moisture from melting snow and ice create very damaging conditions.

Ice Dam Removal

ice dam removal

Ice dam removal is actually more simple than you might expect. Instead of grabbing your pickaxe or shovel and slashing away at the dam (which is extremely dangerous and may lead to further damage to your roof), you should use steam. At First American Roofing & Siding, we know that steam is the best solution when it comes to getting rid of heavy ice dams. We use a steam machine at 302-degrees that easily melts the snow right off. It’s safe for us, safe for the homeowner, and safe for your roof and shingles.

But once the ice dam is removed, what’s the best way to avoid another one forming?

Ice Dam Prevention

Ice dams usually form from both improper ventilation and insulation. The best way to remedy this is to get your home a blower door test to find any inefficiencies in your home. These tests work through depressurizing your home and then using a thermal camera to find areas where insulation is poor. At First American, our first step towards preventing an ice dam from coming back is by doing this home energy assessment. We’ll see how well the ventilation is working in your home and where the air leaks are, as well as where your home’s insulation can be improved.

Winters in the midwest can be quite hectic with record amounts of snow and bone-chilling temperatures. Because of this, you must always be fully prepared for whatever weather may come our way. Not only does that mean you’re wearing the right amount of layers while you’re outside, but you have to make sure you’re properly protected from the elements while you’re inside. So taking the steps to properly insulate your home is critical to preventing ice dams in the first place. And we can help you do that.

How to Safely Remove Ice Dams

Removing ice dams is critical to ensure that your home stays in a healthy condition during the winter. When water gets caught between the melting point and the ice dam, it sits on your roof for an extended period of time and will eventually find its way through your roof and into your home. This can potentially cause serious amounts of damage.

When it comes to removing ice dams, the only way to do it right — and to ensure that you don’t cause any damage to your roof — is to use steam. At First American roofing, this is the only way we’ll ever remove an ice dam, so you can rest assured that we’ll take care of the issue all while keeping your home in perfect condition.

So, whether it’s the winter months and you’re in need of some assistance quickly, or you need to keep someone in mind if an ice dam ever does affect your home, First American is your first and only choice for ice dam removal. Contact us today to get started!