Manage Ice Dams With These Tips

Winter has piled snow higher than it has in years, culminating in a number of damaging and sometimes dangerous ice dams throughout Golden Valley. Here are some tips for fixing and preventing them.

photo of ice dam on houseIce dams form on roofs when the heat of an inadequately insulated attic causes snow to melt and trickle toward the edges of the roof. There, because the attic heat does not affect the ledges near the gutters, the water refreezes and ice slowly accumulates. After an ice dam forms, subsequent melted water pools at the dam, backs  up, and sometimes leaks through the roof, soffits, and gutters, creating dangerous icicles and inner-wall damage.

Snow accumulation on a roof acts as an insulator for the attic below, contributing to the initial melting. This, combined with below-average temperatures, leads to ripe conditions for ice dams and headaches for homeowners.

If you see a large build up of ice at the edge of your roof with snow melting above it, if your gutters are beginning to look weighed down by ice, or if icicles are forming on the undersides of the eaves, you may have ice dams.

What To Do

The removal of ice dams is a tricky and often hazardous job, says Roger McCabe, Golden Valley community standards inspector. Once you are on a roof, it’s easy to fall. The ladder may slip out from under you.  The icicles may drop. The entire ice and snow build-up may slough off the roof in one swift motion, taking with it anyone in its path.

McCabe advises hiring a professional. There are people who clear ice dams for a living. They have the right tools to fix the problem and know how to take proper safety measures.

Weatherization contractors may be listed under “Energy Management and Conservation Consultants” or “Insulation Contractors” in the Yellow Pages. Be sure to get multiple quotes, McCabe says, and ask for proof of license and insurance.

How to Prevent Ice Dams

If the primary cause of ice dams is warm air leaking from the house into the attic, says McCabe, the key to preventing ice dams is to replace or increase the attic insulation and to seal any air leakage paths between the house and attic. Anywhere there is a penetration into the attic space around plumbing pipes, light fixtures, wiring clamps, and poorly insulated attic heat ducts are potential air leaks. These preventive measures are best done in the summer.

For more information on ice dams, visit the University of Minnesota Extension Web site at and type “ice dams” in the search engine.

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