Supposing you got to the “How to prevent an ice dam” party a little late and you missed all the precautionary tips, what can you do if an ice dam is already firmly in place on your roof? It will be a tougher job to tackle on your own, for sure, but given that professional ice removal services can sometimes climb to $200 or $300 per hour, it merits the attempt.
Your most important considerations at this point are time and safety. The longer an ice dam stays on your roof, the more likely you’ll end up with roof or gutter damage, as well as possible physical injuries to any unlucky soul passing under those massive icicles coming off the dam. That said, you don’t want to get up on your roof during a blizzard or in slippery sub-zero temperatures, either. If possible, wait for clearer, dryer, and maybe even warmer weather.
In addition, you’ll want to use a roof rake or have a professional remove the excess snow from your housetop before attacking the ice dam. Once the area is clear, you can start the melting and chipping process outlined below. Make sure your ladder is securely placed against your house and isn’t resting on a slippery surface. The ladder should extend about five feet above the edge of your roof to give you stability and enough room to work.
As you have no idea when any large pieces of ice might break loose and fall to the ground, be sure to warn family members to keep themselves and others, including pets, out of the icefall area while you’re working. You could also place orange cones around the workspace as a visual reminder for others to watch for falling ice.
Better known as ice melt or the stuff you spread on your walk and driveway. Calcium chloride will be your best friend when it comes to getting that dam to start melting. But you won’t be sprinkling it on your roof as you do on the sidewalk.
Find an old tube sock or pantyhose, fill it with calcium chloride and tie off the end. Position the filled tube sock vertically over the ice dam with an inch or two hanging over the edge of the roof. This will create a tube-like channel in the dam and allow the melting ice and snow to run off your roof and away from your home.
Be sure not to substitute rock salt for your calcium chloride, as it can kill your bushes and other foliage, as well as damage your shingles.
Using a mallet to chip away at your ice dam is a method best used in conjunction with melting, as it’s not that effective on its own. As the ice dam begins to melt around your calcium chloride channel, it will be easier to loosen and remove it in chunks. You also can assist the melting process by putting hot water in a large spray bottle or canister and apply that to the ice while you work.
Note, we said mallet – not hammer, ice pick, shovel, chain saw, torch, or any other heavy-duty tool. You do not want to damage your shingles or punch unnecessary holes in your roof while trying to remove the ice. Nor should you risk setting your house on fire. Using a mallet may be somewhat tedious, but it will not end up costing you thousands of dollars in roof repairs later.
Unfortunately, using steam is not a viable DIY option unless you have access to commercial equipment. The process works by converting cold water into low-pressure steam and then dispensing it through a specialized nozzle. This method is recognized as the fastest and most efficient way to clear ice dams from your roof.
Be cautious not to confuse low-pressure steaming with hot pressure washing. While the latter is exceptionally good for clearing ice and snow off driveways and walking paths, it is too powerful for your roof. It can do severe damage to your shingles and other roofing materials.
After dealing with an ice dam once, we can guarantee you’ll never want to see one again (at least not on your house). We recommend getting ahead of the next winter season by installing heat trace cable on your roof. Heat cable works by running a wired or panel heating element along the edge of your roof where ice dams typically form. By keeping this area warm, melting snow from the upper parts of the roof can’t pool on the eaves and freeze. Instead, it will continue to melt, run off into your gutter, away from your home.
For more information on installing heat cable and other ideas to winterize your home, go to HeatCable.com.