Icicles and Ice Dams: As Dangerous as they are Beautiful

Before the first snowfall hits the Philadelphia area this year, we’d like to educate homeowners about the dangers of icicles. While picturesque and synonymous with winter landscapes, they’re also a symptom of a major problem—Ice Dams.

What’s an ice dam? As the name suggests, it’s an icy buildup which prevents water from flowing off your roof. The most common area for ice dams are along the roof’s eaves. You typically won’t notice the ice dam itself, but you’ll notice the icicles forming underneath instead. While icicles are pretty to look at, they’re a major problem for your home.

How do Ice Dams Occur?

Snow builds up on the roof and heat from the attic causes the snow to melt. But along the eaves (edges) of the roof, the temperature is much cooler, which prevents the snow and ice from melting.

This creates an “ice dam” and the ice causes the water to stagnate on the roof—causing leaks, roof damage, and potentially damaging the inside of the home.

While there’s no easy solution to solving the problem, there are methods to help prevent and safely remove them.

How can they be prevented?

Clean your gutters. Gutters are an essential part of a home’s water management system, however, it’s imperative that you clean out your gutters before the first snowfall. Gutters always get cluttered the most during the fall, which causes ice dams to form after snowfall. So before the snow starts, clean out your gutters.

Use a roof rake. You can remove snow on your roof after a snowstorm by using a specialized tool, usually called a roof rake or a roof broom.

By removing the snowy build up, you’re removing a lot of water that would get trapped behind an ice dam.

How can they be removed?

There are multiple methods to remove ice dams. One method is to use store bought chemicals which melt ice—this is the most effective method, but can have negative consequences. (You also don’t want to use chemicals on the entire roof–just the problem areas, like on a roof’s eaves.) The problem with this method is that chemicals can have secondary effects, like staining shingles, killing plant life, and even corroding metal (like your drip edge and gutter system).

Another method is to break them off with a hammer, or similar object—the most dangerous method. By using this method you risk damaging your shingles. When the ice forms it can stick to the shingles and breaking and tearing the ice off can take the shingles with it—big problem.

The easiest for method for homeowners, however, is to use hot water in a spray bottle and simply melt the ice. Not nearly as effective as using chemicals, but if you have the time, this combined with using a roof rake after snowfall is the ideal method.