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How to Prevent Ice Dams, Winter’s Insult to Injury

How to

Ice dams are winter’s way of adding insult to injury. For weeks, you’ve weathered gray skies and the cold. You’ve shoveled sidewalks and driveways to the point of exhaustion. Just when you think you’ve got the upper hand, you look at your roof and notice a huge, eerie edge of ice that looks pretty—but is unsafe not only for your roof but people walking underneath. Let’s look more closely at what ice dams are, why ice dams are dangerous and how to prevent ice dams.

The dark side of ice dams

The one-of-a-kind, hexagonal crystalline structures that form ice may be nature’s masterpiece, but when they team up, beauty takes a chilling turn.

How ice dams form 
How ice dams form

Ice dams occur when water builds up behind a blockage of ice. More specifically:

  • Heat rises into attics that aren’t properly insulated, causing snow on the roof to melt.
  • As water runs toward the colder section of the lower roof, it refreezes and forms a dam.
  • Water pools above the dam and spreads underneath your home’s shingles and sheathing.
  • Water seeps into the attic, through the upper ceiling and can leak down into your walls and insulation—also known as interior seepage.

Left unchecked, interior seepage can cause significant damage to your home. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), water damage and freezing accounted for almost 22% of all homeowner insurance claims in the U.S. last year with an average claim of $4,757 USD.

Ice dam prevention: Stay ahead of the flow

With a few pre-season precautions, you can prevent ice dams from forming from the get-go.

In the fall:

  • Inspect your roof in early fall for loose shingles and flashing
  • Make sure you have adequate insulation and your attic is well-ventilated
  • Seal any gaps that could potentially vent warm air from the house to the attic
  • Keep the gutters and eaves clear of debris

Throughout the winter:

  • Place close attention to icicles. If they’re confined mainly to the gutters, you’re probably in luck. But if you find water building up behind them, an ice dam may be forming.
  • Check for moisture and water stains in your attic and along the ceiling of your exterior walls. If you notice interior seepage, an ice dam may have formed on your roof.

Damage from ice dams is covered under most standard homeowner insurance policies. However, it’s a good idea to meet with your agent to review your coverage before winter hits.

A quick ice damn solution: Put a sock in it

Even if you’ve taken preventative steps, ice dams can still form. When they do, you’ll want to act quickly before they cause further headaches and damage to your home.

  • Using your SnowPeeler snow rake, remove 3-4 feet of the ridge of ice from the lower edge of the roof.
  • Fill a nylon stocking with the calcium chloride and lay it vertically across the dam. This will melt a channel through the ice.

Calcium chloride ice melt products can be purchased from your local hardware store. Avoid using rock salt or sodium chloride because it may damage your roof.

SAFETY FIRST – Accessing your roof in the winter can be dangerous, especially if you’re using a ladder. If you can’t reach your roof safely, hire a professional snow removal service. Here are a few more tips for clearing snow from your roof.

Ice dam prevention: The bright side

Ice seldom gets good press—think the Titanic and the North American Ice Storm of 1998. But ice dams don’t have to be a pain this winter. They’re both preventable and fixable with the easy and affordable ice dam solutions we’ve described above. So, look at the bright (and shiny) of ice: it chills our drinks and makes hockey, well, hockey!

Easily remove the snow accumulated on the roof with the SnowPeeler!

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