The Professional Choice

A companion overview to the popular "Ask Mr. Handyman" radio program airing on Christian Talk Radio, KCRO 660AM Saturdays @ 9:30AM.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Preventing Ice Dams


With the possibility of snow piling up in the next few weeks ICE DAMMING has become a very big problem in the Omaha Metro area. Ice damming happens when snow is not removed from the lower 3 ft of roof line. These lower feet of roofing are over the eaves of the roof where there is no insulation or warmth underneath. What happens is the upper part of the roof starts to melt (due to the sun, poor insulation or inadequate ventilation in the attic) and the moisture drains down to the lower section that will not melt (in these temperatures) and gets "dammed up." Basically water pools above the ice and backs up into the home (comes through the roof). Roofs were made to drain off water, not pool water.

Extensive damage can happen in homes if ice damming occurs. Replacement of ceilings, walls and insulation can be very costly alone without considering carpeting, wood floors, furniture etc. Insurance will probably cover some of these costs but deductibles, replacement time, time off work, coordination hassles etc. will make it well worth the expense to prevent ice damming in the first place.

Fresh snow can be pulled off the edges of the roof with a roof rake, or snow rake. They are available at some of the local hardware stores. I have never found one at any of the "big-box" stores, but if the need is there I would not be surprised if they started carrying them. If you wait several days before you attempt to pull the snow off with a snow-rake you may have a more difficult time ahead of you. The snow may build up ice crystals and be very tough to remove.

With the expected accumulation of more snow the rest of the winter I would highly advise you MAKE THIS A HIGH PRIORITY! The added weight of all that snow on a roof can cause a collapse let alone water leaking into the ceiling and walls. This amount of snow this early in the winter could be still on the ground (and roof) until April.


If you have some old panty hose laying around the house you could fill them with "Ice Melt" (must be calcium chloride, not rock salt) and lay them vertical on the ice dam. The point is to make several vertical breaks through the ice dam so melted snow has a place to drain off the roof. This is a great trick but the best overall method is to remove the loose snow right away.


Heat wire or heat tape is an effective method to prevent ice dams. A heated electrical wire is attached to the lower sections of the roof and is manually plugged-in or turned-on by the home owner to heat up that part of the roof to melt off the ice and snow. These are somewhat inexpensive (relative to costly repairs or your insurance deductible) but should only be used as a last resort in correcting the ice dam problem. The heated wire does not have a long life and the underlying issue causing the ice damming is still unsolved. I would only recommend using heat tape if all other methods of correction have been used and the issue is still not solved for a particular problem area (may be related to tree cover, shading, wind direction, etc.)
The best approach to solving ice damming should be attempted in the following manner for cost savings and the best long-term results:
1. Correct attic insulation issues
2. Correct attic ventilation issues (whole attic space should be same temperature as outside)
3. If the only time you have ice damming issues is after a very heavy snow - purchase a snow rake and use it immediately after a snow fall removing 3 ft up from the edge.
4. Use the pantyhose trick if you did not get the snow off the edge of the roof.
5. Install heat tape (do not wait until your roof is a solid sheet of ice to try to accomplish this task)
If you cannot do the work yourself or would like a professional to accomplish these tasks for you please give Mr. Handyman a call at 402-502-5212. We've had many, many requests to do these tasks in the last few weeks -thank you KCRO & KGBI listeners! We've also heard of other companies attempting to perform ice/snow removal for homeowners and causing roof damage. Be very careful who you hire.