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Gutter Ice Dam

How To Prevent And Eliminate Ice Dams

We get many calls in the winter season with homeowners panicking that their gutters are failing because they have a problem with trapped water and melting snow. 

To an untrained eye, it can certainly seem like gutters are the issue. Afterall, that’s where much of the visible problem is, but it isn’t actually your gutters creating the trapped water problem; it’s an ice dam.

What is an ice dam, and what kind of problems does it cause?

An ice dam is precisely what it sounds like. A thick band of ice forms along the edge of your roof (often at the gutters). Once the ice has formed, the water from melting snow higher on your roof has nowhere to go, so it backs up behind the dam. 

While it’s lingering there, the water can cause extensive (and expensive) damage as it seeps into your attic, ceilings, walls, insulation, and other areas such as your gutters. Not to mention the future formation of mold from all that excess moisture being trapped.

How does an ice dam form?

Ice dams form when there’s the right combination of heat loss within your home, snow on your roof, and outdoor temperatures. Essentially, the heat loss from your home melts the snow, but it’s cold enough outside that the snow doesn’t stay melted; it refreezes as ice before it can be removed by the gutters. 

The science behind it is that enough of the upper surface of your roof must be warmer than 32* while the lower-lying shingles are below 32*. As snow melts and runs down your roof, it turns to ice as it nears the colder shingles closest to your gutters. The water behind that coldest portion of your roof remains liquid and can seep into the structure.


Gutter Ice Dam Diagram

The Making of an Ice Dam in 3 Steps

  1. Heat loss from your attic causes the snow on your roof to melt

  2. Melting snow slides down from the warmer part of your roof to the colder edges

  3. An ice dam forms as the melted snow is refrozen, usually along the perimeter of your roof

How do I prevent an ice dam?

An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure when it comes to ice dams. Little can be done until they melt away once they’ve formed. The key is to not let an ice dam form.

Short-Term Solutions

Do whatever you can to safely remove snow from your roof. Some people use a roof rake or broom to get the snow off, but it should be noted that these tools could cause damage to your roof. Another tactic is using tap water from the hose to form enough channels in the ice dam that water can pass through.

Long-Term Solutions (The Gold Standard)

Heat loss is the main contributor to ice dams that you can influence and control. Rather than try and deal with ice dams once they form, minimizing heat loss prevents ice dams from even getting started. 

Managing heat loss is a relatively straightforward project. Seal air-leakage paths between your ceiling and attic to prevent warm air from seeping into the space. If needed (and it usually is necessary), increase the insulation and ventilation in the attic to further reduce heat loss. 

Many of our clients find that increasing the insulation in their attic and a bit of attention to any air-leakage paths goes a long way in making ice dams a thing of the past.

Are Heating Cables a Solution?

Heating cables along the roof and gutter can help, but they aren’t without drawbacks. Under some conditions, they can prevent ice dams. However, if the snowfall is heavy enough, the heating cables alone will not be enough.

What if my gutters are already damaged from an ice dam?

If you already have gutter damage from an ice dam, give us a call. We can install new seamless gutters and give you tips on preventing  future damage. Fill out our quick & easy estimate form to get started on a free estimate today.


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