Fixing Ice Dams Right Now


OK, so you know the best way to address ice dams is to prevent them from forming in the first place, with proper attic insulation and air-sealing to keep the heat and warm in your house, and then attic ventilation as the backstop to remove heat that does escape into your attic.

But you live in the mid-Atlantic region, from Virginia and DC to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and Delware up into New Jersey, you’ve been pummeled with snow, and there is more on the way.  What about the ice dam that is on your roof right now?

First, stay off the roof. Walking on an icy, snow-covered roof is dangerous. And falls even from a low roof can result in serious injury or kill you.

Chipping away at the ice with shovels, axes, hammers is also NOT a good idea. It can damage your roofing (or siding or gutters) and it too is dangerous for you.

Instead, try these temporary home remedies:

  • Use a long handled snow rake–while you stand safely on the ground and far back from where the snow will be falling—to pull off snow from around the eaves.
  • If you’ve already got an ice dam formed, with water building up behind it, fill a panty hose stocking with calcium chloride and lay it so it runs up the roof, across the ice dam. This is a last resort, and the calcium chloride may harm plants below it.  [Amazon sells a special “sock” for thick, but old nylon stockings, or even a cheap new pair from the nearest store,  should work just as well.]
  • If you’ve got water leaking in through the roof, you may be able to stop the leak by sticking a box fan in the attic and having it blast cold air on the leak, freezing the water. Of course, this is a short term fix only, and it works only if the air in the attic is sufficiently cold.

Ice dams can cause water leaks that result in thousands of dollars in damage. The best fix is good insulation and air-sealing to help avoid them in the first place. And it really works. Take action now to avoid the problems coming back in the future.


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7 Responses to “Fixing Ice Dams Right Now”

  1. Darin Rohead Says:

    While I can agree with your observation that many homes are poorly insulated and have areas were heat loss from the home causes problems and should be focused on to remedy, there are many factors as to whether a COLD ROOF will stop ice dams. With so many architectural challenges by poor designs, dormers, gables, cathedral ceilings, getting to a cold roof via ventilation can be difficult and extremely costly. Your article does not address a basic fact of Mother Nature… THE SUN. What do you do about radiant heat from the sun everyday? Most homes will see some sun exposure during the day. That heat melts snow and creates moisture on the roof, typically following the slope to the eaves and valleys. Then the temperature drops and the melt refreeze. If this happens over a couple of days… ICE DAM! Even on a well vented cold roofs like you have described. Keeping valleys, eaves and gutters clear can only be achieved by keeping the refreeze from occurring by keeping the melt liquefied and allowing it to get off the roof and then too the ground. There are energy efficient products out on the market that can prevent ice dams and keep them from forming.

    • greenhomesamerica Says:

      Actually, if you read the blog, you will see that I do address the sun. Compare the two homes here 10 days after a 30″ snow storm. Plenty of sun. One house loaded with ice, one without. Even the house that has the ice melt problem doesn’t have the problem out on the gable ends–why? Because it is heat loss from the house driving the issue, not the sun. Ice damming isn’t typically a problem on unheated garages. Why? Because heat loss isn’t driving the snow melt, even when the sun is out. While the sun is out melting snow, it’s also out keeping melted snow from refreezing. There can indeed be architectural conditions that contribute to ice damming. But to suggest mechanically heating a roof is generally necessary is incorrect–it unneccesarily raises energy costs, and it doesn’t improve occupant comfort. Homeowners would be advised to consider that only as a last resort under very narrow conditions.

  2. Take Out a Home Equity Loan to Fix Your Ice Damming Problem | DemandSideSolutions Says:

    […] an ice dam? Consider fixing it and taking out a home equity loan to finance the work. You’ll reduce the risks associated […]

  3. Federal Says:

    It’s very exiting to find your site. What a great blog! I admire how detailed each of the entries are. They are well balanced – funny and cognitive – and the pictures are cool too.

  4. jerry greer Says:

    i had a new baxi wallhung gas furnace installed in my home 3 years ago. I never had problems with ice build up on the roof before that I do. the chimney for the furnace is under the soffit so the hot air rises & later ice forms on the roof about 6 inches thick. the company that installed the baxi furnace says that the chimnety isn’t the problem. the chimney for the old furnace exited the roof but this new chimney comes out the back wall a few feet off the ground. extending the chimney causes more problems so I am told. the 3 foot section of chimney was removed leaving a short pipe & elbow. now we have to worry about snow build up around the short / low chimney. what to do ? any suggestions

    • Jason Todd Says:

      First, My appologies for missing your question. Ice dams can be tricky. Not sure where in the country you are, but hopefully they aren’t a problem for you now! It is possible that the ice dams you were experiencing had to do with this particular winter, some can be worse than others, but 6″ thick ice does seem like something else is going on! It is possible to vent directly through the roof for some high efficiency boilers. There are also clearance requirements for direct vents appliances. This includes the ground as well as windows and doors nearby. I would encourage you to have an energy audit done to determine the ice issue, but also to find an energy auditor who is knowledgeable about HVAC as well. The systems in our home are very much a part of the house as a system. Good Luck!

  5. jerry greer Says:

    just did

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