A Comprehensive Guide to Removing Ice Dams
December 10, 2022
Winter is a wonderful time if you like winter sports, but if you are a roof, problems come with the season change that is entirely preventable. Ice dams or ice damming at the roof’s edge create many issues for a homeowner. When you recognize the problem, ice dam removal in Toronto is your only course of action to prevent costly repairs come spring. If you engage in winter gutter maintenance, preventing ice dams on the roof becomes a real solution to the problem at hand. If you have a metal roof ice dam, don’t fret; the same solutions apply for your roofing system to prevent the type of expensive repairs other roofing systems sustain with a lack of preventative maintenance. We have all heard horror stories from friends and neighbours alike, and some of us have lived them when ice dams invade our roofing systems. Your roofing system is the first line of defence for your home, and it is incumbent on any homeowner to monitor the roofing system during the winter storm months. A fresh blanket of snow will shield an ice dam from the naked eye, and the longer it lingers, the more it will cost come spring to rectify the problem.
Why are Ice Dams Bad?
Apart from the damage ice dams cause – lifting shingles, gutters ripped from the fascia, and water leaks into your home – ice dams come with a raft of problems. Water leaks, a roofing system’s mortal enemy, can cause damage to your attic, insulation, drywall, and electrical systems and health hazards when mould grows after a leak. The causes of ice dams are simple: warm sunshine melts the snow and changes it to water, just like we learned in science class. Once the water hits the cold edge of the roof, it freezes, and dams form. This process repeats itself until corrective measures are taken. There are other causes of ice dams that we will touch on here. The most significant reason for ice dams is improper roof ventilation – combined with other factors, it is a recipe for disaster. Poor or no attic insulation – heat released directly to the decking that radiates to the shingles causes snow to melt. If your bathroom exhaust fan vents into your attic, it adds warm moist air to mix, causing heat radiation to the roof. Last but by no means least, folding stairs that lead to the attic that have little or no insulation stimulate heat loss, and it has to go somewhere, like the roof. These are a few causes of ice dams, but they are the most common and easy fixes for your roofing system.
Ways to Remove Ice Dams
Blow in Cold Air
You don’t want to take a hammer, chisel or shovel to your ice dam; it will only damage your roofing system. One way to solve the problem is to change the temperature in your attic. An injection of cold air accomplishes that to stop the snowmelt on the roof. Using a fan, aim it directly at any leak, so it refreezes and acts like a sealant to prevent water from cascading into the attic.
Using a long-handle rake, run over the ice dam to recalibrate the temperature in the ice dam area, and it can be accomplished without damaging the shingles.
Use Heat Cables
Temperature equalization is what you are shooting for here using heat cables. To install them, get to the roof edge and lay a zig-zag pattern at the lip of the roof. A helpful hint: install the cabling before bad weather hits, as it will be easier to affect this solution in fair weather than foul.
Use Hot Water
Running hot water over ice dams – gently – will force the ice to melt and run through the gutters to the downspouts and away from your home. Removal of the blockage will prevent gutters from being pulled away and shingle problems in the long run.
How Not to Remove Ice Dams
The last thing you want to do is take tools to an ice dam. Sure, the tools will remove the ice dam, but you could take up the shingles with the dam, and that is not a good thing. Ice dams don’t just disappear; they reform in the same spot – due to previous problems mentioned – and the dam will form cracks and gaps, splitting the decking at the roof’s edge. This creates leaks, and come the spring thaw, leaks in the attic are commonplace.
Asphalt roofs are susceptible to damage in the chemical de-icer you put on your roof. If the chemicals sit for long periods, it takes on almost an acidic base that eats away at the shingles. Using a chemical de-icer may void a shingle warranty if the shingles weren’t manufactured to withstand the chemical compound of the de-icer. And that is a surprise you don’t need when filing a warranty claim for your roof.
Permanent Fixes for Ice Dams
Ventilate Eaves & and Ridge
You want cold air circulation in the winter. This can be stimulated with a ridge vent and soffit installation to get cold air pouring into your attic. A rule of thumb is one vent for every 300 sq ft. of attic space for adequate ventilation. Also, install baffles to get consistent airflow into the attic.
Cap the Hatch
Use foil to cap the hatch, as it is a large opening for heat to escape from the inside of your home.
Exhaust to the Outside
Dryer vents and kitchen and bathroom ducts must be vented outside to prevent heat buildup and heat radiation through the attic.
Install Sealed Can Lights
If you install outside lights, use IC fixtures for best results. Recessed lights release plumes of heat and can’t be sealed without creating a fire hazard.
Flash Around Chimneys
Get an L-bracket(s) and encircle the chimney to close gaps between the house and the chimney exterior. Use a flame retardant sealant to close the gaps between the chimney and the roof to stem the flow of heat emitted in this area.
Seal & Insulate Ducts
Using fibre-reinforced mastic around HVAC and exhaust ducts, use R5 or R6 foil-treated fibreglass to cover the openings.
Cables, pipes and vents can stand a dose of flame retardant caulking to close the gaps. If you see light coming through from the inside, use a liberal dose of the same caulking to close the gap.
Understand the Lifecycle of an Ice Dam
Heat builds in the attic and radiates to the roof, except the gutters.
Snow melts, water runs to the gutters, then refreezes.
Ice forms in gutters – dam established. Step 1&2 repeat; ice dam grows. Warm water backflows under shingles and into the attic and a leak is established.
We at Integrity Roofers Can Help You Remove Ice Dams on Roof
If you are having ice damming issues, we at Integrity Roofers take a root-cause approach to the problem. Need ventilation, we install vents. Need insulation top-up; we can install some. Soffits blocked, we can blow out the blockage. Every roof problem is unique and must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. When you see ice dams on your roof, contact us for a complete diagnostic to get the weight off your gutters.