It’s the Season of the Dreaded Ice Dams! What Do We Do Now?

ice dam on condo roofWhen you live in the cold, snowy region of Northwest Montana, you probably are already aware of the damaging effects of ice dams. This season’s combination of deep snow accumulations and warmer daytime temperatures is raising havoc with hundreds of residents’ roofs and introducing many first time victims to the dreaded ice dam. What can you do to remove and eliminate their cause? Why is this such a serious problem for the house?

Gutters clog up with ice, or melting water running off from the upper roof freezes and forms a 3-12 inch high ridge or ‘dam’ of ice along colder lower roof edges. When water gets trapped behind the ‘dam’ it can back up, seeping beneath the shingles or around valley flashing, finds it way through the sheathing, then dripping, even pouring down into the home’s interior.

Water suddenly appears inside the home as a dripping ceiling, wall or wet floor covering. It is then urgent to fix the ice problem and thoroughly dry the structure! One time or repeatedly wet building materials will degrade, potentially leading to mold growth and very expensive structural repairs!

A permanent fix for ice dams usually requires increasing the insulation, roof sealing, and improving ventilation inside the attic. Often, installing electric heat tape is a prescription for problem areas on the lower roof and valleys or inside gutters and downspouts. Of course, these longer term solutions are difficult to accomplish quickly on a frozen roof and usually must wait to be done in a warmer season.

Temporary relief involves mechanically removing all or parts of the ice ridge with pressurized steam, claw hammers or other tools. Raking or shoveling snow off the roof is necessary to slow additional snow melt. These tactics are darn dangerous and beyond the ability of most homeowners or tenants. It is best to call in a roofing pro to tackle any work requiring roof or gutter access. Experienced and fully insured professional roofers are not the easiest contractors to locate, so be prepared to make several phone calls and grovel for a place on their waiting list.

One inexpensive thing you can try  is this simple trick to slow or even stop the dripping after a dam has formed. Fill the leg of old pair of panty hose or similar light nylon mesh material with a calcium chloride type ice melt chemical. Tie the ends and lay this floppy ice melt ‘tube’ across and behind the ice dam and overhanging into the gutter.

If possible, use a long-handled pole with a hook, a garden rake or hoe, to drape the ice melt ‘tube’ into position. Once in full contact with ice, the calcium chloride will begin to melt through and create a channel for water to flow from behind and through the ice dam. Chipping some of the ice to form a cup in the ice dam and using multiple ice melt ‘tubes’ along the length of the roof edge reportedly improves the speed of melting and effectiveness. 

Added, important advice is Be Very Careful — No ice dam or dripping ceiling is worth getting seriously injured or killed over. Falls from ladders and slippery roofs are too frequently fatal. 

For the crucial step of drying the structure below the roof, including sheetrock, lumber and flooring materials, please give FLOODCO LLC a call at 406 892-1717.