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All About Ice Dams

Risk of Ice Dams

What are the risks? How can you prevent ice dams

(Illustration courtesy of IBHS – Institute for business and Home Safety, https://disastersafety.org/)

Ice dams are a common occurrence in snowy areas of the country. While they may be pretty to look at, they can cause major damage to your roof and possible water damage to the property. The havoc ice dams produce is caused by a combination of factors. Here’s a primer on ice dams and how to prevent them.


Ice dams form on the outside of the home or commercial building. They form on the edge of your roof, in front of the gutter following a snowfall.

How do they form? When heat from the interior of the building melts the snow that has accumulated on the roof, the snow begins to drain from the roof toward the gutters. What happens then is that the water running off the roof hits the cold edge of the roofline and forms ice dams as it starts to refreeze. The result is a block of ice in front of the gutters, preventing any drainage.

How do they cause harm? When a drainage path becomes blocked, more melting water has the potential to seep between the roof shingles – directly into the home or office building – leading to water damage and mold growth.

Is damage obvious? Actually, ice dams are rather sneaky. Water enters the home or office building very gradually. The first area to show damage is usually the attic. And since the attic is seldom visited, the damage often goes unnoticed. Once the problem is realized, the damage has usually spread from the attic into other areas of the home or office.


How to prevent ice dams. While it’s normal practice to shovel the driveway, we often forget about the snow that’s fallen on our house or office. The best way to prevent an ice dam from forming is to incorporate roof maintenance into the post-snow shoveling routine.

What’s the best way to clear my roof? First of all, we recommend you use a professional service. Clearing snow from a roof can lead to disastrous results. When clearing the snow, you want to remove the first 3 to 4 inches of snow to prevent the ice dams from forming. The best way to do this is to use a roof rake or a long-handled brush. In some cases, that means that you might be able to remove the snow without the use of a ladder. Try to clear the downspouts so that the melted water has a chance to drain properly.

Is there anything that can be done long-term to prevent ice dams? Here are a few things you can do:

  1. Insulate the attic: A well-insulated attic helps prevent the melt-then-freeze conditions in which ice dams form.
  2. Water-repellant membranes: Before you replace the roof next time, consider Installing a water membrane underneath the roof shingles. This layer of protection can help prevent water from seeping into the building envelope.

Can I remove ice dams? Even when an ice dam has formed, it doesn’t mean that water has entered the building envelope or that water damage and mold growth inside your structure is imminent. If possible, you should remove it before it causes damage. Safely removing an ice dam can be done in a number of ways:

  • Simply knocking an ice dam with a roof rake is often enough to dislodge it so that water can drain again.
  • If the ice dam is too large, consider cutting a channel through it that will allow any standing water it’s blocking to drain properly.
  • While you never want to use rock salt on your roof, you can use calcium chloride to melt the ice dam and allow water to once again flow freely.
  • Finally, another option is to hire a snow removal contractor to resolve the problem.

Now is the time to make winter weather maintenance a priority. But even with all the proper measures in place, you still may be susceptible to a broken or frozen pipe or ice dam that could create a water loss. If that happens, please give us a call at 720-573-2568. We are happy to send our experts out to evaluate your water damage.