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  • Writer's pictureTeam Pinto

Ice Dams: How to Stop Them, How to Get Rid of Them

Icicles dangling from your roof's eaves may appear lovely, but they're a recipe for disaster. Because the same conditions that cause icicles to grow—snow-covered roofs and cold temperatures—also generate ice dams, which are thick ridges of pure ice that accumulate along the eaves.

Why Are Ice Dams a Problem?

Ice dams can rip gutters apart, loosen shingles, and allow water to back up and flood your home. When this happens, you'll see peeling paint, warped floors, stained and sagging ceilings. Not to mention damp attic insulation, which loses its R-value and attracts mold and mildew.

If you were planning to sell your Waterloo Region home in the spring, your plans could be seriously derailed. And even if you weren't, fixing the damage can be time-consuming and costly.

If you're wondering how to fix an ice dam on your roof, here's how to prevent one from forming in the first place or remove one that has already formed.

How Ice Dams Form

The image below offers a good look at just how ice dams form

In a nutshell, here's a quick run-down of the 'birth' of an ice dam:

  • First, heat collects in the attic and warms the roof, except at the eaves.

  • Next, snow melts on the warm roof and then freezes on the cold eaves.

  • Finally, ice accumulates along the eaves, forming a dam. Meltwater from the warm roof backs up behind it, flows under the shingles, and into the house.

How To Get Rid of Ice Dams Fast

Using a hammer, chisel, or shovel to break up ice dams is harmful for your roof and unsafe for you. Salting them will do more damage to your plants than it will to the ice. You can try these stop-gap tactics instead of praying for warmer weather.

Move a box fan into the attic and direct it toward the roof's underside, where water is leaking. This concentrated blast of cold air will stop the water dead in its tracks.

If the affected roof is low enough, a rake can be a big help. While standing safely on the ground, remove snow with a long-handled aluminum roof rake. This will immediately lower the temperature of your roof's exterior without hurting the shingles.

You can even use panty hose to mitigate the damage after the dam has formed! Fill the leg of a discarded pair of pantyhose with a calcium chloride ice melter. Place the hose on the roof in such a way that it spans the ice dam and hangs over the gutter.

Push it into place with a long-handled garden rake or hoe if necessary. The calcium chloride will ultimately melt through the snow and ice, allowing water to drain down the gutters or off the roof.

If none of this helps, or your roof is too high to work safely around, call in a professional. The expense of doing so will likely be less than the cost of fixing water damage caused by an ice dam.

Long Term Ice Dam Solutions

In theory, eliminating ice dams for good is as simple as keeping the entire roof at the same temperature as the eaves. You can achieve this by boosting ventilation, adding insulation, and sealing off any air leaks that could warm the roof's underside.

You can enjoy dam-free winters and save energy by addressing the following common trouble spots, which are listed in order of importance:

  • Ventilate Eaves And Ridge. A ridge vent paired with continuous soffit vents circulates cold air under the entire roof. Both ridge and soffit vents should have the same size openings and provide at least 1 square foot of opening for every 300 square feet of attic floor. Place baffles at the eaves to maintain a clear path for the airflow from the soffit vents.

  • Cap the Hatch. An unsealed attic hatch or whole-house fan is a massive opening for heat to escape. Cover them with weatherstripped caps made from foil-faced foam board held together with aluminum tape.

  • Exhaust to the Outside. Make sure that the ducts connected to the kitchen, bathroom, and dryer vents all lead outdoors through either the roof or walls, but never through the soffit.

  • Add Insulation. More insulation on the attic floor keeps the heat where it belongs. To find how much insulation your attic needs, check with your local building department.

  • Flash Around Chimneys. Bridge the gap between chimney and house framing with L-shaped steel flashing held in place with unbroken beads of a fire-stop sealant. Using canned spray foam or insulation isn’t fire safe.

  • Seal and Insulate Ducts. Spread fiber-reinforced mastic on the joints of HVAC ducts and exhaust ducts. Cover them entirely with R-5 or R-6 foil-faced fiberglass.

  • Caulk Penetrations. Seal around electrical cables and vent pipes with a fire-stop sealant. Also, look for any spots where light shines up from below or the insulation is stained black by the dirt from passing air.

If you are not a DIY minded person, having a professional do these things for you will still be an excellent investment, not just in terms of keeping ice dams at bay but also to keep your home warmer (or cooler in the summer) thanks to the improvements you'll make in its insulation.

Getting ready to buy a Waterloo Region home, or sell the one you own? Let Team Pinto use their huge local real estate experience and expertise to help you. Contact the award-winning Team Pinto here, or book a free Zoom consultation to discuss your unique Waterloo Region real estate needs here



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