Did you buy a house in 2021 in a colder region of the states? Let’s rephrase that, did you buy a home just about anywhere in the US that could be prone to cold snaps? As we found out with the Texas blizzard last year, that could be just about anywhere. Well, if so, you should know about ice dams!
An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure when it comes to ice dams and water damage.
What are ice dams?
Ice dams are a homeowner’s nightmare just about anywhere it snows. They can cause significant and costly water damage to your new home. Ice dams form when snow accumulated on the roof starts to melt but then refreezes when the runoff can’t quite make it to the gutters or drainpipes. As the day warms — even just by a degree or two — the top layer of snow melts but cannot drain off properly. This leaves you with a pool of water up against the base of your roof. This is typical when the temps stay low all day, there’s not much sun and days are shorter.
Melted water — or more ice backup — then will find its way up under the roofing material and can get into your house’s soffits, walls, and even ceilings.
What to do?
First things first: you need to thoroughly clean out your gutters and downspout after the last leaves have fallen, but certainly before the first snow of the season. Water will run more quickly through whistle-clean gutters, giving it less time to freeze. Empty gutters allow more room for ice to form and thawed water to pool before it creates a dam and starts threatening your roof.
Get a roof rake
Next up. Get a roof rake or snow rake: a type of rake designed explicitly for cleaning snow off of your roof. Unfortunately, snow rakes are really only suited for homeowners in single-story dwellings. These rakes are too short to reach a second floor. And don’t even think about using a roof rake while standing on a ladder.
You’ll want to get one before the first snow of the season. But if it’s already snowing where you live, get online and fine done toot-suite. Use your roof rake to scrape the snow off your roof after each snowfall.
Roof shingles can become brittle in the cold, so you’ll need to be careful not to damage them as you use the roof rake. Plus, if you live in an area with lots of heavy snow, it might become overwhelming. Snow rakes are really made for homeowners who experience heavy snow only rarely. Another thing to consider is that you shouldn’t use standard roof rakes if you have solar panels with a photorefractive surface as they’ll scratch the photorefractive coating. Specially designed snow rakes are available for clearing solar panels that won’t scratch the surface. They may cost a bit more, but they are worth it.
Invest in heat cables
Heat cables can also help prevent ice dams, especially when placed in the gutters and downspouts where ice typically forms. They’re best when used in areas of your roof that are particularly prone to ice dams, like corners where two pitches meet or in shady sections that don’t see a lot of winter sunshine. They won’t prevent ice dams entirely, but they create enough of a channel for water to drain away, preventing some water damage.
Try ice melt
If you see an ice dam forming, try applying calcium chloride or a similar ice melt product to the ice. But be careful: the salt in these products can damage some roof tiles, especially flat roofs. Know the type of roof you have and then read the instructions before using any ice-melt product.
Go manual – but be careful
Climbing onto the roof is never advised, especially in winter. But you may be able to chip away some of the ice by hand if you can reach the gutters and eaves with an extension ladder. It’s usually unnecessary to remove an entire ice dam: opening up a channel may be enough to allow meltwater to flow. Unfortunately, if you go this route, you may be in it for the long haul. The ice will quickly build up again overnight and block any channel you have created. An ice pick is best for this type of project and you can get them at any hardware store — but don’t attempt it if the ice dam is too high to reach safely or if you feel your gutters won’t handle a little pressure.
If fighting ice dam buildup is more than you bargained for, call a specialist. Often, a roofing company will offer this service over the winter months when fewer roofing jobs are under contract. Professionals will remove your ice dam using special equipment such as a high-temperature/low-pressure steamer. These tools will melt the ice without risking the damage that an ice pick does.
While this service can cost hundreds of dollars, it can prevent significant damage to your home. Just make sure they are insured, and make sure that they are using a low-pressure tool as high-pressure water treatment equipment can loosen older shingles that will later need to be replaced.