How to prevent an ice dam

How to prevent an ice dam

By the time you realize you have an ice dam, it’s often too late.

“Unfortunately, ice dams are usually undetectable until they have formed into massive mounds of ice and icicles,” says Bill Smith, owner of Smithwright Home Improvement in Columbia, Md.

An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms at the edge of a roof and prevents melting snow from draining off the roof. Spotting one quickly can help curb the damage to your home.

Regular roof and gutter maintenance can help prevent ice dams from forming when cold weather and snow storms hit.

Removing the insulating layer of snow can help melt the ice, says Smith. An aluminum “roof rake” can be used to gently brush excess snow off of a low-pitched roof yourself or a roofing professional can clear larger roofs safely.

Barry Reiter, owner of Reiter Roofing in Philadelphia says another way to help prevent ice dams from forming is to keep the drains clear and the downspouts free of leaks.

If you find that ice dams are continually a problem, consider options such as installing an ice shield, putting in a heating coil or improving attic insulation and ventilation to keep the attic from getting too warm.

Mark Negron of O’Lyn Roofing Contractors in Norwood, Mass., says ice dams can lift your shingles and start a water infiltration where there was none before. They can pull off your gutters or damage the inside of your home, resulting in wet interior walls or flooded basements. Icicles formed can also pose a danger to your home and anyone on your property.

These long icicles hanging from your gutters are one of the main warning signs of possible ice dams. Negron has seen icicles several feet large hanging off roofs.

If you suspect you have an ice dam, call a professional. "Don't try to loosen an ice dam on your own," warns Bob O'Sullivan, owner of Ranch Roofing & Renovations in Arlington, Mass. "You don't want to damage the gutters, or yourself." 

Chipping away at the ice on your own can cause holes in your roof or greater damage.

The cost of removing an ice dam can range anywhere from $100 to $700 depending on the extent of the problem and the gutter’s size or length.

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