Ice Dams: Tips for Trouble-Free Gutters and Downspouts

Ice Dams: Tips for Trouble-Free Gutters and DownspoutsA topic that Alpine Gutters & Downspouts knows quite a lot about is ice dams. Because winter is not always that kind when it comes to this problem, knowing what to do can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Today we’d like to pass along our quick guide, Ice Dams: Tips for Trouble-Free Gutters and Downspouts.

So, what is a roof gutter ice dam? Well, they are continuous chunks of ice that form along the margins of your roof. Ice dams can form after a heavy snowfall. Warm air in the attic causes the roof itself to increase in temperature, thus melting the snow. This water will run down the roof, then refreeze when it reaches the cold roof edge, forming mounds of ice. The ice traps the melted water. That water can seep under roof shingles and even drip through the roof into the house. This can cause wet and stained ceilings, walls, peeling paint, rot and more.

With winter now in full effect and a new cold front seeming to come our way nearly every week, we want to make sure you learn the easy way, not the hard way. Let’s get to it:

  • When fall comes, thoroughly clean all the leaves and debris from your home’s gutters and downspouts. This will allow melting snow to flow where it is supposed to flow. Hopefully, you’ve already done this!
  • Throughout winter, keep the snow load on your roof to a minimum if possible. Keeping snow off of the roof helps to reduce the chance of your roof collapsing due to a heavy snow load.
  • Keep gutters and downspouts free of snow, ice, and icicles. This will allow a path for melted snow on your roof to drain, eliminating the potential for ice dam formation. The weight of ice will be less on your system which is good because excessive weight can cause gutters and downspouts to pull away from the house or become damaged, costing you more money in the long run.
  • Ensure your attic has enough ventilation and insulation so as not to promote the freezing process.
  • Seal around exhaust fans, ducts, chimneys, pipes, and attics.
  • Insulate light fixtures.
  • Install heat cables to the roof if it is a constant problem in your area.
  • Check your downspouts for clogs by knocking down the sides. If you hear a dull rap, you probably have a clog.
  • Check your downspout seams to ensure they are not split or cracked. If they are, they will need replacing.
  • Check that your gutters are properly pitched, which promotes pooling of water.

Now, if for some reason, you’ve missed some of the steps above and find yourself in a situation and an ice dam on your hands, here is some do-it-yourself advice.

Eliminate the source, which is more than likely snow build-up on the roof. Grab a retractable rake and keep your feet on the ground. DO NOT attempt setting up a ladder on the slippery ice and snow. Rake the snow towards you and off the roof as best you can.

Use an ice pick or awl to chip away at the ice. NEVER use a hammer as this will do damage to the shingles and roof. Start at the gutter and work towards the roof top. You will need a sturdy ladder at this point, and a spotter would be good too. Don’t worry about complete removal; only make a channel so the water can run down.

Purchase a chemical de-icer product from the hardware store and sprinkle this on top of the ice and gutter to help eat away the clog. You can also use old stockings filled with de-icer and place them on top of your gutters to drip into the downspout or gutter.

Finally, spray warm water on the system to melt it, but depending on your weather, you may want to wait for a warming trend in the forecast if you choose this route to avoid refreezing.

Removing an ice dam is labor and time intensive. You can expect to spend at least 2 hours in the freezing cold depending on the size of your roof. While the cost of removing one is not all that cheap, it may be worth it to you, to hire professionals, especially if it is a large ice dam. Get quotes and shop around. But remember that time is of the essence in this situation. You may also see if your insurance will cover it.

And finally, here are some more invaluable tips for preventing ice dams.

HOME ENERGY AUDITS. Take the time to get this one done and learn the ways of how to keep your roof and attic from getting hot in the winter and causing freezing ice dams. If your ice dams are occurring yearly, this could save you some frustration along the way.

ICE AND WATER SHIELDING. If you are just building and installing a new roof, you may want to add waterproof membrane fitted to the roof, underneath the shingles. When correctly done, it is an excellent way to prevent ice dams from causing interior leaks.

ROOF RAKES: These are a must in today’s do-it-yourself world. Roof rakes make a daunting task much easier by giving you an extended arm, keeping you off the dangerous ladder. Of course, this is a prevention method, not an ice dam removal method, but a good one, none the less. Be sure to choose plastic over metal.

SNOW BLOWERS. Maybe not ideal for the roof snow removal, but a good way to remove the snow that you removed with shovels from your roof. Perfect for delicate surfaces like skylights, solar paneling and glass roofing.

ICE DAM STEAMERS. A great investment if you are constantly battling ice dams because of where you live. You can look at spending anywhere from $3000 to $5000, but it truly is the ONLY effective way in removing ice dams without damaging your roof.

SHOVEL. The obvious choice for snowy conditions. Invest in a good quality plastic shovel.

Prevention is the key, so hopefully you’ve gotten some value from our guide, Ice Dams: Tips for Trouble-Free Gutters and Downspouts. If you want to hire someone for help, Alpine Gutters & Downspouts will take a thorough look at your system and provide you with any needed roof gutter repair work. Simply give us a call, and we’ll be there to lend you a hand.

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