The invention of holiday icicle lights helped homeowners everywhere recreate that classic look of shimmering icicles hanging off the side of your house. But what happens when the holidays are over and your home has cascading formations of frozen water hanging from your gutters and there are no icicle lights to blame it on?
What’s happening on your roof? Will it damage the roof or gutters? Is there a way to safely deal with the problem? All questions we want to help address so you and your home remain safe and free from damage.
When you begin to notice ice building up around the gutters of your home, you are seeing the initial signs of an ice dam beginning to form. They will usually begin to form after a large storm and during a period of temperature fluctuations, but the primary cause of ice dams on your home will be a warm attic heating the underside of your roof.
When heat from your home escapes into the attic, it will begin to warm the underside of your roof. This will cause the snow on your roof to melt into water droplets. Once the snow turns to water, it will run down the slope of your home until it reaches your rain gutters or the edge of your roof. This area of the roof (not overtop of your attic) will be much colder and the water will refreeze as ice on the edge of your roof or in the gutter. As more snow becomes water, runs to the edge of the roof and becomes ice, it will begin to “stack up” or “dam” along the edge of your roof.
From the outset, this may not seem like a big deal, and depending on the extent of the ice build-up it may not be. But as ice dams build they get incredibly heavy. Your rain gutters aren’t designed to hold weight like this and at some point the ice, along with your gutters may come crashing down.
If your gutters are able to sustain the weight, you may find the ice build-up will begin to work its way back up your roofline slowly covering a portion of your roof with thick ice. This can be damaging to your home. As the ice builds up along the roof, moisture under the shingles will freeze, expand, and begin lifting and loosening the shingles.
Then as your roof heats (either from excess attic heat or seasonal change), the ice that is now pushed up under your shingles will begin to melt and cause internal water damage in your home.
Your best option is to stop the ice dam before it begins or to at least mitigate the amount of ice build-up forming on your roof. Before hiring a professional, there are a few ideas you can try. Before trying to address ice dams, be sure you feel confident and capable in all aspects of the task.
Prevention is Always the Best Strategy
Because the issue is being caused by the heat in your attic, it may be a good idea to have a professional assess the level and quality of insulation in your attic and if it would be to your benefit to make a change. They may also be able to spot areas that are leaking hot air to your roof even with good insulation.
If you know your home may be susceptible to ice damming, you may want to purchase a lightweight roof rake. After a heavy snowfall, use the roof rake to clear off the bottom 3-5 feet of your roof to prevent ice build-up in this area.
Ventilating your attic is always a good idea. It will help keep the base of the roof cool and prevent snow from melting and starting an ice dam. Talk to a roofing expert to see if your roof is properly ventilated.
Use Calcium Chloride
The name sounds dangerous, but it really is nothing more than an environmentally safe ice melting agent. Typically large bags of calcium chloride can be purchased for a reasonable price. It’s recommended you use this instead of salt as rock salt can damage your shingles along with the unintended side effect of killing or damaging vegetation during water runoff.
A nifty tip for melting ice is to fill a stocking (knee-high) with calcium chloride. Then lay the stocking vertically on the roof so a few inches of the stocking hanging over the edge of the gutter. The stocking will slowly melt a channel for excess water to flow through eliminating the problem of water working its way back up your roof.
Breaking the Ice
Another option of dealing with ice build-up is to forcibly break it up into chunks so water can pass through. Do not use an axe, hatchet, or other sharp-edged tools to cut through the ice. This almost always leads to roof damage. Use fibreglass or hard rubber mallet to do the work. This is risky work and can result in large chunks of ice sliding off the roof. These can cause damage to surrounding fixtures or injure people below. Large sliding pieces of ice may also destabilize your ladder. We would always recommend the use of a professional if you are uncomfortable with any aspect of the job.