How to Remove and Prevent Ice Dams

Paul Pogue
Written by Paul Pogue
Updated November 23, 2021
An ice dam frozen in a house gutter
Photo: Soupstock / Adobe Stock

Icicles may be pretty in the winter, but they can cause damage to your home

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The icicles that form along your roof may add to the whimsy and charm of your holiday decorations, but they can actually be a sign of dangerous ice dams. Ice dams can cause serious roof problems over time if left untreated.

Learn how to prevent ice dams and save your home (and wallet) from further damage.  

What’s an Ice Dam?

An infographic illustration of a roof with an ice dam

An ice dam is a blockage of ice that builds up along the edge of your roof. Ice dams form when the warm air from your home rises to the attic, warming the attic and interior roof deck, melting snow and ice on the exterior roof deck. The melted water then travels down the roof and refreezes along the eaves and gutters, where the surface temperature is colder, forming an ice dam and icicles. After an ice dam forms, the meltwater from above cannot run off the roof and backs up. With no place else to go, this water gets under the shingles, causing leaks in your attic and sometimes into your living space. 

Are Ice Dams Dangerous?

Yes, ice dams are dangerous for many reasons. Believe it or not, falling icicles can cause serious injury if they land on someone. The weight of ice dams can also force gutters to break off the roof, which can potentially fall and hurt someone. 

Additionally, melting icicles can drip onto a driveway, patio, or sidewalk and create patches of ice that people can slip on.

Common Roof Problems Caused by Ice Dams

If left unchecked, ice dams can cause significant (and expensive) damage to your roof, walls, and ceiling over time. Common damages include:

  • Leaky, water-damaged ceilings

  • Broken gutters

  • Loose shingles

  • Wet insulation (could lead to mildew and mold)

  • Collapsed roof

How to Remove an Ice Dam Yourself

In a pinch, there are a couple of things you can do to melt ice dams. These methods include:

  • Freeze it internally: blow cold air directly on an attic leak to freeze it (a simple room fan will work).

  • Roof rake: use a long handle shovel or roof rake with wheels to safely remove snow before it has a chance to melt and form an ice dam.

Do not try melting ice dams by:

  • Using salt or chemicals: these can damage shingles and other roofing materials. 

  • Installing heating cables: when installed improperly, heating cables can damage shingles and become a fire hazard. Always hire a professional installation.

  • Chipping at the ice: using a chisel or hammer to chip at the ice can damage the gutter and shingles. 

  • Installing a roof vent: these do not work and often make the problem worse. 

Ice Dam Prevention

With the help of a professional, discuss these prevention methods to make ice dams a problem of winter’s past. 

  • Get a home energy assessment: this involves infrared camera imaging to find leaks in your home’s airflow. 

  • Seal air leaks: a home energy assessment will show you where to seal leaks in the attic. 

  • Add insulation: in addition to air leaks, the energy assessment will determine if insulation needs to be added or replaced in your attic. 

  • Frequent snow removal: if snow doesn’t build up on your roof, the less snow there is to melt and refreeze.  

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