SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A buildup of ice on the edge of your roof, known as an ice dam, could be a dangerous winter addition for the health of your home.
Ice dams form when snow high on a roof melts, running down to the edge where it freezes, creating a buildup of ice which can block water and snow behind it.
This water can then seep back into the roof, damaging walls, ceilings, insulation and more.
While there are ways to remove ice dams, some are more risky than others.
When looking to remove or treat an existing ice dam, University of Minnesota Extension Cold Climate Housing Coordinator Patrick Huelman says it’s all about risk management.
You could for instance use a hammer, a chisel or a shovel to break away the ice in order to form a drainage channel for water, but doing so could result in you damaging your roof, shingles and gutter.
Additionally, climbing up onto your roof to chip away at the ice could present its own risk to your health, while using chemicals or salt to melt the snow could cause damage to your roof, siding or landscaping.
Huelman said one of the first things to consider is the build up behind the ice dam. Depending on the size of the dam, the shape of the roof and the amount of snow above it, you could wind up with a lot of water pooling behind, or very little. If you determine that not much pooling will form and the ice isn’t effecting the structure, you might leave it be.
If a large buildup of water is expected, however, you may need to take options.
The most extreme option is to hire an ice dam removal service to use a steam device to remove the entire dam, but this can be expensive.
Other alternatives include creating a channel through the ice as mentioned above, either by chipping it away or by using something like heating cables or a sock or pair of pantyhose filled with salt or ice melt (though again, this could damage your shingles) laid across the dam to create a channel.
One of the simplest things you can do however is removing the snow from behind the dam, said Huelman. This can be done either from the roof, which comes with the risk of working on a snowy and icy roof, or from the ground with something like a snow rake.
In terms of prevention, Huelman says it is important to address the reason ice dams form. He says the biggest culprit is often air leakage from inside the house. Basically, warm air from inside can seep into the cavity between the ceiling and roof, creating a pocket of warmth that melts the snow above it.
In order to fix this, Huelman said people should ensure they have adequate insulation beneath their roof, ensure the ceiling and walls of the house are properly sealed underneath the attic insulation to prevent warm air from seeping through and make sure ventilation throughout the roof is adequate in order to allow cool air to flow uniformly throughout the space.
As for spotting ice dams, they can sometimes hide under snowpack, but a good indicator is often large icicles and a lip of ice visible along the edge of the roof.