How to keep ice dams from damaging your roof

If you have spikes holding the gutters in place, the extra weight can pull the spikes loose, causing the gutters to separate from the fascia board, says Blitz. (Photo courtesy of Mercury Home Remodeling)

If you have spikes holding the gutters in place, the extra weight can pull the spikes loose, causing the gutters to separate from the fascia board, says Blitz. (Photo courtesy of Mercury Home Remodeling)

Do you have a lot of snow on your roof? Are your gutters clogged with ice and snow? Are there icicles hanging off of your gutters? Is there ice and snow hanging behind your gutters?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, then you probably have an ice dam. An ice dam is a condition that develops when the warm air in the home melts the snow that is against your roof, leaving a pile of snow above the melt. 

The melted snow trickles into your gutters and then refreezes. This prevents the gutters and downspouts from doing their job, which is to drain water off the roof and away from the structure. When gutters are full of frozen water, they can’t function properly and there is a significant risk of damage to your home.

Damage from ice dams can range from minor to severe. Sometimes, if you have spikes holding the gutters in place, the extra weight will pull the spikes loose, causing the gutters to separate from the fascia board. 

Other times, it can become a source of water infiltration into the home, causing damage to drywall, carpet and flooring, moldings and more. Of course, once water gets in to the wall cavities and other places, the risk of developing mold is greatly increased.

Ice dams can also result in roof leaks. As the water melts and refreezes, it can lift up shingles and enter the home through the roof. I call that, “Pop-goes-the-shingle.”

What about the interior of your home? On your interior walls, where they meet the ceiling, do you see any new water stains? Or even worse, is there water dripping out of a ceiling light fixture? If so, don’t try to change the bulb.

So what can you do about ice dams, short of waiting until spring with buckets in your living room to catch the water? As a preventative measure, you can get some heat tape from the local hardware store. It should be run across the entire gutter system, as well as snaked down through the downspouts. When you have a snow condition, simply plug in the tape and it will heat up the gutters and downspouts, which will keep the water flowing.

If you didn’t do that, and are faced with an emergency like 12 inches of snow on the roof and you see water stains or water dripping into your home, there is another “emergency” solution. 

Connect your garden hose to the laundry sink and turn on very warm water, but not hot water, because the spray could burn you and even cause other damage from the extreme temperature difference. Spray the warm water onto the gutters until the melt shows water draining from the downspout. 

If you do try this, do so at your own risk. This author assumes no responsibility or liability for anyone who is spraying a garden hose on his or her roof in the middle of the winter.

Next time you are considering replacing your roof, make sure the contractor uses an ice/water shield product. It costs a few dollars more, and while it is not a cure-all, it helps. Maybe even ask the contractor to install the heat tape for you.

About this Angie’s List Expert: Roger Blitz is the president of Mercury Home Remodeling, providing roofing services in Baltimore. Since 2012, Mercury Home Remodeling has specialized in home improvement and remodeling projects, windows, roofing, exterior doors, deck maintenance and construction, concrete, sun rooms and more.

As of November 14, 2013, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.


More Like This

Winter ice dams damage roof and gutters

A lack of attic ventilation can cause ice dams to form, preventing roof and gutter systems from redirecting rain and snow away from the home. Learn how ice dams can cause serious damage to your home.

Add comment

Anonymous reviews are Internet graffiti.  Angie's List has real reviews from real people.

What is Angie's List?

Angie’s List is the trusted site where more than 2 million households go to get ratings and reviews on everything from home repair to health care. Stop guessing when it comes to hiring! Check Angie’s List to find out who does the best work in town.

Local Discounts

Daily deals up to 70% off popular home improvement projects from top-rated contractors on Angie’s List!