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Ice on Roof Poses Problems

Updated on January 24, 2014
Icicles hanging from the eaves are a common sight in winter, but they can prove costly!
Icicles hanging from the eaves are a common sight in winter, but they can prove costly! | Source

by Kathy Batesel

Icicles are a Warning

One of the things I love about mid-western winters is the wonderland created by melting snow and ice. Icicles hanging from the eaves glisten in a brisk winter day, recreating a feeling reminiscent of childhood, but today, I see them as much more sinister. Icicles can signal problems that can cost homeowners thousands of dollars even if they don't ever bonk someone on the head!

Keep reading to learn how you can recognize signs of a problem and fix it before a minor problem turns into a nightmare.

Do You Know About Ice Dams Already?

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Icicles and Ice Dams

When snow accumulates on your roof, it should start melting as the sun reappears. The water should drain to your gutters, flow to the downspouts, and be directed away from your home's foundation.

Sometimes this process gets interrupted. The snow may melt from higher points on the roof, while the gutters and eaves see icicles forming instead of flowing away from your structure. This happens because the snow melts faster from the roof due to warmer air in the attic. The water flows down to the unheated gutter, where it refreezes. As ice accumulates along the gutter, more melting snow becomes captured by the refrozen ice ridges, creating a slushy pool of water that can get beneath shingles and penetrate interior walls.

Some of the problems that a home owner might find:

  • Leaks in ceiling or walls
  • Mold growth
  • Structural damage to the roof's trusses (the support beams) and the home's framing
  • Damage to shingles and gutters

Once these problems set in, repairs can involve drywall removal, mold remediation, repainting, and other expensive remodeling projects. There could potentially be health costs if a family member is susceptible to mold or breathing problems.

Because many areas only see a few days of snowfall each year, it's easy to ignore ice dams until they create noticeable damage, but it's smart to take proactive measures as soon as you notice any icicles at all - a sign that ice dams are forming.

This newscaster reports on how ice dams can affect homeowners:

Suncast SRR2100 24-Inch Snow Shovel Roof Rake with 20-Foot 3-3/8- Inch Reach
Suncast SRR2100 24-Inch Snow Shovel Roof Rake with 20-Foot 3-3/8- Inch Reach

Make sure a roof rake has plenty of reach and enough of a scoop or blade to pull piles of snow. Smaller blades can require more effort and time. This roof rake has a 20' reach.


Simple Solutions for Ice Dams

Sometimes people will climb onto their roof to shovel snow from it in order to prevent ice dams. Obviously, this is a dangerous method of home maintenance! A better choice would be to purchase an ice rake like the one shown here from Amazon.

Better methods for preventing ice dams include better insulation between the ceiling and attic. In areas where heavy snowfall is common, an R-40 or higher rating may be necessary. While rolled fiberglass insulation may be adequate, many contractors recommend blown-in cellulose insulation as a better choice. Hiring a contractor to insulate with cellulose can cost a few hundred dollars, but some of the cost can be recouped in energy savings.

By adding attic ventilation, home owners can also allow cool air to flow through the attic and prevent heat from accumulating beneath the snow. It takes longer for snow to melt from the roof, but that's a good thing when it comes to protecting your home!

Ridge vents allow heat to escape instead of contributing to ice dam formation. They work in conjunction with soffit vents.
Ridge vents allow heat to escape instead of contributing to ice dam formation. They work in conjunction with soffit vents. | Source

Examples of Sofft Vents that Help Prevent Ice Dams

Heat Tape May be a Poor Choice

Lately there has been a great deal of interest in heat tape solutions like the one shown above. Heat tape is a product that is installed in a zigzag pattern along the bottom few feet of a roof. It consists of an insulated electric wire that generates heat to melt ice in areas where ice dams may form.

Although it sounds logical enough, the installation instructions advise users that it should only be used on fireproof roofs, such as asphalt shingles, but not on roofs or gutters with rubber components, tar and gravel, wood shake, slate, tile, or flat roofs. The manufacturer stresses the importance of avoiding electrical fires that can be caused by the wires crossing, getting overheated, or improper grounding.

Since a wire and its insulation can be damaged by animals, falling limbs, or hail, it strikes me as risky to use an electrical wire on snow year after year! Plus, the product adds more heat to the environment.

Although the installation is simple enough that many do-it-yourselfers can install it by climbing onto the roof and following instructions, it's recommended that people who may have problems with ladders, balance, or coordination call a professional. In my opinion, using insulation and venting is a safer, equally effective choice that costs about the same.

Note: I am not a contractor. I am providing general information only. This information is deemed accurate but is not guaranteed. Please consult an expert for your special needs.


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  • jellygator profile image

    jellygator 5 years ago from USA

    I never have, but I'm always afraid that I'll get knocked out or something!

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

    I once received a severe injury from an icicle hanging from the eaves of our roof. It was very painful! Great post and one that will help many home owners living in the colder regions of the country.