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What Are Ice Dams? (Causes, Prevention, and Solutions)

December 20, 2021 | 3 min. read

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In the midwest, we deal with snow – and a lot of it.

Every winter, we experience winter storms that can leave us shoveling snow off of our roofs and sidewalks for days. 

It isn’t just the amount of snow that can pose a problem. Many homeowners will notice leaks from something called ice damming in the winter.

Rescue My Roof has spent over a decade braving the Wisconsin Winter to help homeowners solve ice dam issues. We have worked with hundreds of customers who have experienced the same leaking issues that you have, so we understand that it can be stressful. 

That’s why we’re going to give you everything you need to know about ice damming. So when the time comes, you know how to handle it. 

By the end of this article, you know what an ice dam is, how you can prevent it, and how a roofer can solve the problem. 

What is an Ice Dam? 

Ice build-up on a roof due to poor roof ventilation

An ice dam forms when snow and ice freeze down by your gutters and create a blockage. Unfortunately, when the snow at the peak of your roof melts,  the ice dam blocks it from properly draining into your gutters. 

Your roof is not meant to hold standing water. So when the ice dam has led to a mini-lake on your roof, the water will eventually find a way to seal into your home.

The results: rotten decking, mold growth in the attic, and interior drywall damage. Yikes, those all sound like a complicated fix. 

Ice dams are likely to occur around your gutters and valleys. If your roof begins to leak in the winter in these areas, it is likely the result of ice dams. 

How Do You Prevent Ice Damming?

Fortunately, ice dams are not inevitable; they will not come to plague your home every winter if you take the proper precautions.

And if they do happen, with these steps, you can lessen their severity and impact. 

1. Check Your Roofs Ventilation

Roofing ventilation is essential for several reasons, but the one we are focusing on today is that it can help with ice dams.

Roof ventilation keeps the air circulating throughout your attic. As a result, your roof will stay at a consistent temperature. 

Without proper ventilation, the peak of your roof will be much warmer than the eaves, encouraging snow to melt.

The eaves of your roof (the area by your gutters) will be much colder than the peak, allowing the water to refreeze. This is where ice damming begins. 

Ventilation provides a consistent roof temperature that will decrease the likelihood of severe ice damming.

If you want to learn more about ventilation, click here. 

2. Heating Cables

Heating Cables can melt existing ice dams- not prevent them.

Heating cables can be strung up by the eaves and valleys of your roof. 

They plug into an energy source and heat up, melting the ice and snow around them. If you notice the ice dams on your roof are beginning to build up, you can use heating cables as a preventative measure.

You may notice a slight increase in your energy bills, but the silver lining is that you are at a lower risk for costly roof leaks. 

3. Conduct an Energy Audit

Before the winter hits, conduct an energy audit. 

During an energy audit, you use a thermal camera to identify an extremely hot and cold spot in your attic space.

If you notice many of them, it’s time to call a professional to inspect your ventilation. They will tell you if you have enough or if it is functioning properly.

Additionally, you can seal up air leaks that cause drafts and make sure insulation is not blocking intake or exhaust vents. 

Taking these precautions will ensure your roof is ready to handle the ice damming that winter brings. 

 Know When To Call A Pro

Sometimes we get in over our heads.

Luckily, professionals like Rescue My Roof are here to help. When you are experiencing extreme ice dams, roofing professionals have a unique tool they can use.

A roofing contractor can use steamers to melt the ice off of your roof. Steamers are a valuable tool during the winter because they can get rid of the ice without chipping away with a hammer or mallet and potentially damaging the roof. 

A steamer is the safest option to remove ice dams. Find a professional in your area that provides ice remediation service to help get the job done right. 

You can learn more about ice dams and how to protect your home with “Ice Dams: The Main Culprit of Winter Roof Issues.”

If you need ice remediation services in the greater Milwaukee area, Rescue My Roof can lend a helping hand. Contact us to schedule an initial appointment today.