What to do About Ice Damming

Ice damming can be a costly problem for homeowners, but it can also provide a revenue stream for contractors in the normally slow winter months.  There are many “hack” job remedies and quick fix solutions; some may cause more damage down the road, some take patience, and one in particular fixes the issue at hand, but the real work comes in the form of the elimination of the problem as a whole.

For the quick fix of ice damming the first step is the ability to identify the problem area. This is easy, simply look for the abundance of icicles hanging on the gutters. This is a sure sign of the gutters not draining the water away due to ice build-up (ice damming). The next step is to clear the snow away from the eave all the way down the length of the roof by approximately 2-3 feet. This can be accomplished by a variety of methods. The easiest, safest & most cost effective method is to use Roof Rakes to clear the loose snow first. Roof rakes can be used from the ground, preventing the need to climb a ladder.

 The reason for removing the snow is because the snow can act like a sponge for water to collect and continue to freeze, creating more and more ice buildup.  Once the snow is removed, there are a couple of next steps that can be done.  The first is a kind of “better than nothing”, economical approach > fill nylons with calcium chloride. Cut away & fill the legs of nylon panty hose with calcium chloride (safe for use on asphalt shingles, cedar shake, & tile. Also works at colder temperatures than sodium chloride).
 Lay the filled stockings length wise down the eave and in the gutters and you will get the ice to melt and drain away safely. The Pros for this method are that it is very inexpensive and relatively safe because you can fling the stockings on your roof from the ground. The Cons are that it takes a long time to melt the ice. Probably won’t have the patience for this method if water has started to leak into your customers home

 Another alternative, and the preferred method is to use the steam-only technique.  A steamer takes regular, cold tap water and heats it to 300 degrees. This steam is forced through a delivery hose and wand where it is focused into a thin, low pressure column used to cut through the ice.  This is not to be confused with a pressure washer. Pressure washers can easily damage cold, brittle roofing materials.  An easy way to tell the difference between a steamer and a pressure washer is a pressure washer has a trigger on the wand and a steamer does not.   In our opinion the steamer approach is the professional approach that can keep your crews working through the winter, your customers’ homes (and satisfaction) in-tact, and last but not least, your revenue stream continuing on.

But wait, after you remove the ice dam, your work is not complete.  To truly rectify the problem, you need to identify the source. To eliminate the problem of ice damming you must have access to the attic area under the problem area. Ice damming is caused by the lack of ventilation and/or improper insulation. To remedy this you need to inspect all of the eave hole pockets in the attic area. The eave hole pockets are the areas at the eave inside the attic where the rafter or truss meets the exterior wall top plate of the framing. The pocket should be covered with insulation. The insulation should be penetrated with a styrofoam vent baffle fastened to the underside of the roof deck. This will insulate the attic from the warmer air of the structure and allow the colder air from the outside to vent into the attic. You will also need to make sure there is the proper amount of mushroom vents or continuous ridge vent in the roof itself. Next double check ALL duct work that may be located in the attic for proper insulation (bathroom fans, laundry vents, & air conditioning/heating ducts.). Once the air temperature in the attic is more properly regulated with the outside freezing temps then you will have successfully eliminated the problem and also will have gained a happy customer.

2 thoughts on “What to do About Ice Damming”

  1. It's best to combine ventilating plus a proper placed insulation. Heating cables are rather ineffective unless you have a vaulted roof that has no attic.

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