How to Remove Ice Dams from Your Roof

ice dam in the gutter of a house in grand rapids, mi

Preventing Ice Dams in the First Place

Ice dams are a consequence of living in a state where freezing and thawing occur throughout the winter and the building is not properly set up to prevent their occurrence. 

Preventing ice dams in the first place is obviously not going to help you resolve the problem if you have them now. Once you’ve dealt with ice dams, learn how to prevent ice dams and work on that project come spring!

Dealing with Existing Ice Dams

There are numerous ways to get rid of ice dams, some more effective than others. Here’s a list of some strategies you can consider before deciding what to do for your situation.

Break existing ice into chunks with a mallet.

If you can keep it safe, one way to get rid of ice dams is to get up on the edge of the roof and start breaking up the huge ice flows into smaller chunks using a fiberglass mallet. This is both backbreaking and dangerous but can be a little easier if you start the ice melting a bit first. Some of the strategies below should work for that.

As for the dangerous part, imagine being on a ladder and pounding away at the ice in front of you and something suddenly breaks off. Where will it go? Probably right at you. So be very careful with this one. 

Work on ice flows to the right or left side of your ladder so the chunks fall off to the side instead of on you. Also, make sure dogs and kids stay away from your work area so they aren’t injured by falling ice.

If you have lots of ice dams or have a high roof, this is not the best solution. 

Melt the ice with products

DIY “ice melt socks”

Using calcium chloride and tube socks, you can create your own ice melt socks, place them on the ice dams, and start melting them down. 

Calcium chloride is what you use to melt ice on sidewalks. Do NOT use table salt! It will damage your roof and kill your bushes, trees, or grass. You can buy sodium chloride in bulk at hardware stores or nurseries. 

Once you have your product, purchase several pairs of tube socks and fill them with the sodium chloride, tying them shut. Place them vertically in the middle of the ice dams, with one of the short ends hanging off the edge of the roof. As the product melts the ice, it will form a canyon-like tunnel. More melting ice will find that tunnel and flow off the roof.

You can also use a mallet to break off some of the remaining ice chunks after it melts.

Be careful since you still need to somehow get up to the eaves to place the ice melt socks. If you’re not into making the socks yourself, similar products are now available in stores.

Roof Pucks

De-icer roof pucks can also be purchased. You can throw them up on the roof to start snow and ice melt. They use the same chemicals that are in the ice socks. These are only as effective as where they land. In some instances, where you can easily get to your gutters, these can be a good option.

Freeze the attic air

If you know where your roof is susceptible to ice dams and see that they are starting to form, you can help prevent them from getting worse by making the attic air much colder. They are forming because warm air from the attic is leaking into the roof. So the goal is to freeze the attic air and stop the warm air seepage.

To do this, take a small fan up into the attic and run it, pointing it at the area where the ice dam(s) is forming. Assuming your attic is already cold, but just leaking some warm air, the fan should make it much colder. Keep it running through the freeze/thaw cycle when ice dams typically form and you may be pleasantly surprised at how it helps stop existing dams and prevent the buildup of more.

Steam the ice dams away

The steam method to clear ice dams should only be done by a professional since it is so dangerous. The roof should first be cleared of as much snow as possible. Then the steaming equipment and chemicals will be applied to the ice dams to get them to melt. It is fast, but expensive. Most companies charge in excess of $300 per hour.

What NOT to do

Do Not Heat The Attic Air

While it might seem like heating the attic air will melt the snow and ice on the roof and you’ll get rid of the ice dams, the biggest word of advice is: Don’t! It might help melt more snow on the roof, but that will just make the ice dams bigger. It won’t do enough good to melt the ice itself and you’ll end up making the problem much worse.

Do Not Use Table Salt

Not even a little bit. While it might be tempting because you have a big container in the house already, you’ll be paying for this mistake when it ruins your roof and kills your vegetation next spring. Go to the store and buy calcium chloride, as noted above.

Do Not Try to Steam or Use Hot Water Yourself

Steaming the ice or using hot water to gently melt it off the roof is a method that works but it is extremely dangerous. Professionals have large machines and safety equipment for a reason. It will be much cheaper to hire them than to pay for broken bones and loss of work.

How to Stop More Ice Dams from Forming this Season

Rake your roof when it snows

By getting a roof rake with an extension you can rake the bottom few feet of your roof when it snows to prevent ice dams. But if you’re experiencing ice dams, the likelihood that it snows quite often where you live might be the biggest deterrent to using this method. If it snows more than 6 inches at once, the ice dams might form before you even rake off the snow. Still, if you’ve cleared the ones you had and want to prevent them while it’s still winter, you have the option.

Clean your gutters if possible

Should you get a thaw before more snow arrives, you might be able to get at your gutters and clean them. This can really help prevent ice dams if the water from melting snow has a place to go.

Put a Fan in the Attic

As noted above, keeping the attic air very cold to prevent warm air from leaking out and onto your roof can be a good way to prevent more ice dams from forming this season. Just play it safe with your electrical cords and check on it once in a while.

Damage Control

What if I ignore the ice dams on my roof?

Ignoring the ice dams on your roof is a good way to ensure your roofer will have more business. Sometimes your drywaller and flooring person too. While not all ice dams will result in major damage, many of them do. You might notice leaks in your home right away, or you might not think anything of it until you get a leak from a hard rain years later. But ice dams are bad for your roof and gutters. Preventing them or fixing issues they cause is a part of keeping your home maintained, which makes homeownership costs lower and satisfaction higher.

Can I file an insurance claim if there is ice damage?

It depends on your policy. Look for an ice-related perils clause and then read it carefully. If covered, it should include repairs for your roof, walls, or other structural damage up to the coverage limits on your policy. 

Be forewarned that insurance adjusters know what they are doing. If the damage occurs due to a lack of maintenance that has occurred over time (like that ice dam that comes back every year and gets ignored but finally causes major damage), it is likely it won’t be covered.

When should I have my roof inspected for damage?

If you’ve experienced ice dams over the winter and done what you could to keep them at bay, the spring is the best time for an inspection. Determining and fixing any damage, as well as taking steps to prevent them next year is best done right away. It may prevent worse damage, and ensures you won’t be waiting until the last minute next fall when roofers may already be booked up for the year. If you live within 60 miles of the Grand Rapids MI area you can contact Melvin Belk Roofing for a free roof inspection!

Dealing with ice dams after they occur is a lot harder than preventing them. But many of us still find ourselves with the problem. Deciding and implementing a safe way to get rid of them is important for the maintenance and value of your home. So decide what works for you and get going!