Icicles are a gorgeous part of winter that lend an ethereal touch to the landscape. When they're hanging off your roof, icicles may also be a sign of an ice dam problem. Ice dams – those floes that collect on the edges of your roof – can kill the best roofing materials, causing water damage and leaks that quickly degrade the quality of your home. While there are many de-icing products on the market, they should only be considered a temporary fix while you address the underlying problems.
Insulate attic spaces
The biggest contributor to ice dams is an attic that's too warm. Heat rises from interior spaces during the winter, melting the snow just long enough for the water to slide onto cooler parts of the roof and re-freeze. As more snow melts, less and less gets to the gutters as more ice builds up.
Adding loose-fill insulation or fiberglass batts to your attic can significantly reduce your ice dam problem. Place barriers around pot lights or electrical fixtures before adding insulation; most of these fixtures will overheat if insulated, potentially starting a fire.
Ensure proper attic ventilation
Airflow keeps attics at a consistently cool temperature. It also helps draw extra moisture out of the space, so there's less chance of mold or other hazards, as well as less chance of ice buildup. Check that the vents are open and nothing is in the way of free airflow around the entire space.
Clear the gutters
On low-pitch roofs, clogged gutters can allow a significant amount of water to pool before they overflow. If water can't drain properly, it will freeze on your roof even if your attic is perfectly insulated. Clean gutters thoroughly in the spring and fall, and check them regularly throughout the winter to ensure they don't get choked with ice or fallen branches. If ice problems persist, electric trace heating cables can help melt the ice and keep the gutters clear.
Rake the roof after a heavy snowfall
It's not safe to shovel most roofing materials – most types of tiles and shingles chip or break easily. Instead, invest in a roof rake. This is essentially a long-handled rubber rake that allows you to scoop snow off of your roof, and it's extremely helpful for low-pitch roofs in high snowfall areas.
Most roofs can handle about 2-3 feet of accumulated snow without structural risk, but rake even small amounts of snow off the roof when there's a known ice dam problem. Manual removal may help keep the dams to a minimum until you can put a permanent fix in place.
Get a professional roof inspection
Put simply, ice dams may just be the result of shoddy roof work. If you're doing everything right, to your knowledge, then the problem may actually be a problem with how the roof was built. Contact a high-quality roofing contractor such as Darr Roofing to get a quote for an inspection. An inspection will reveal any drainage issues, materials problems, pitch inconsistencies or other fundamental issues with your roof. If you've had ice dams for a while, an inspection will also shed some light on just how much water damage the roof has already sustained.
Don't just ignore ice dams. They're an ongoing aggravation to keep away during the winter, but the time is a worthwhile investment in your home.