Homeowners know that unsightly ice dams are what often follows a major snowstorm and onset of low temperatures.
The resulting damage from ice dams to the roof and the rest of the house can easily cost thousands of dollars, especially if the snow is allowed to remain on the affected roof for a long time. 🙁
What Causes Ice Dams?
When the snow falls onto your roof, it can melt when it comes into contact with warmer surfaces of the roof. — This happens when the warm air and heat escapes from your home through the attic floor and rises up to the peak of the roof, which is what causes the melting of the snow.
Source: Sunshine Contracting
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When the melted water reaches the colder eaves of the roof, it refreezes forming a wall of ice, which blocks the runoff of the rest of melted snow.
Thus, the melted water has no where to runoff but to rise up underneath the shingles, which is how it can get inside your home, damaging not only the roof shingles in the process, but also causing major long-term damage to the walls and insulation in your abode. 🙁
Understanding the Extent of the Damage Caused by Ice Dams:
You’ll see gutters torn and damaged, shingles that are broken and falling off, and even paint that’s peeling. What you may not see is the underlying damage to the deck and in the attic including wet insulation, which can become moldy, damaged sheet-rock in the walls, and major wood and plaster rotting issues.
As you can guess, preventing ice dams in the first place, or removing them as quickly as possible is essential for the well being of your property. 😉
With so many ice melting and snow removal products on the market, here is a look at the top fifteen preventive measures:
- Snow Rake – It’s important to remove snow from your roof before it has the time to melt and refreeze. At the same time, you have to be careful not to damage the shingles that lie underneath. They often come with rollers along the bottom to prevent damage to the roof when you’re removing the snow. Some snow rakes feature a metal rod to help cut snow when it has hardened and make the removal easier.
Upfront Expense: An average cost of snow rakes is between $50 and $100, which is an affordable option for most property owners.
Pros: easy DIY project, inexpensive
Cons: Must get on a ladder every time there’s a major snowstorm
- Ice Melting Heat Cables – This product is one of the most popular options for preventing ice dams, however it does not make it the best long-term option. You must access onto the roof eaves in order to install the cables. It’s recommended to place them in a zigzag pattern along the lower edge of the roof as well as near the gutters. Many homeowners hire a contractor to do the work, but it is possible to do it yourself, if you are comfortable with working at heights and using the ladder.
Upfront Expense: The price for heat cables may range from $50 to $100, plus the cost of installation, which can be significant if you hire a specialist. In fact, you can expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 for a professional installation of a self-regulating ice-melting heating-cable system.
Pros: effective when installed correctly
Cons: doesn’t prevent ice dams, just creates a run-off for water. may require hiring a professional electrician to ensure the installation is carried out in a safe manner. Cables must be manually turned on or set on a timer.
- Blown-in Attic Insulation – Preventing heat loss in the attic to improve energy efficiency is only one reason to increase the amount of insulation you have. Blown-in insulation is the easiest method, and a straightforward process for DIY homeowners. You just have to purchase the insulation and rent a machine to blow it in.
Upfront Expense: The cost depends on how much square footage you’re covering, but it can average around $700 to $800 for 1,000 square feet. If you choose to go this route, make sure you leave the soffit vents unblocked!
Pros: effective for preventing heat loss, inexpensive and easy to install
- Ventilation Upgrade – Poor ventilation is the cause of many issues with heat loss and ice dams. Certain types of roofs are more susceptible to this problem, but it can be fixed by bringing your attic’s ventilation to an adequate level. The type of vent needed will depend on the exact situation, but you may need a ridge vent, if your roof has soffit vents, or soffit repairs for blocked soffit intakes. — This can sometimes be the unintentional result of poorly-done attic floor insulation. You’ll have to consult a professional to properly remedy any major attic ventilation issues.
Upfront Expense: Expect to pay between $1,500 and $2,000 for a new ridge vent, or several hundred dollars to re-open the soffit vents if they are blocked.
Pros: permanent resolution
Cons: more expensive, must be done by a professional, only partially solves the problem
- Ice Belt Metal Panels – Many roofs are made of shingles, which work well to remove water until it starts to travel upward. To take a more pro-active approach in preventing ice dams, you can install ice belt metal panels, which are installed along the eaves to block water. They are often made of aluminum and sold in short panels of about three to four feet in length. You would need to remove a few rows of shingles from the eaves of the roof in order to install the ice belt metal panels.
Upfront Expense: The cost is about $45 to $70 per linear foot of ice belt metal panels installed. If you choose to go this route, it’s best to install them before you put a new roof on, but it can be done at any point as long as your asphalt roof is still in good shape.
Pros: doesn’t require an electrician to install, no ongoing expenses
Cons: ice-belt metal panels are rather expensive to install and will likely require hiring a professional installer such as a roofing company with access to sheet metal fabrication shop
- Metal Roof – Solve all of your ice dam problems with a new metal roof. While this isn’t a cheap solution, it does offer long-term benefits. Metal tiles or shingle are an option along with the continuous standing seam panels.
Upfront Expense: A typical new metal roof can cost between $10,000 to $25,000, depending on the size and location of your property. The cost will be higher for larger, steeper, and more complex roofs.
Pros: energy-efficient and cost-efficient, long-term solution, solves the problem of ice dams
Cons: expensive, requires professional installation
- Integrated Heating/Ice Melting Panels – This professional-grade product will last for a long time, but they are expensive to buy and install. They can add quite a bit to your monthly utility costs, because they are plugged into an electrical source. This solution is mainly for those homes which have not had much success with other methods or if you want a long-term system and you aren’t worried about ongoing costs.
Upfront Expense: Average price is $20 or more per foot for these systems, plus the cost of installation. You may consider a system such as the one offered by HotEdge to melt snow on roof edges, valleys and along the gutter and downspouts.
Note: Lifetime total cost can range widely because of the monthly electricity costs. Expect to spend thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the product.
Pros: effective, protects the roof
Cons: expensive, requires professional installation and must be set on a timer or turned on to work
- Caulk to Seal Air Leaks – A simple, but effective fix for some of the warm leak issues. Caulk can be applied around vent pipes and electrical cables to prevent warm air from escaping.
Upfront Expense: The product itself is rather inexpensive, costing less than $5 a tube.
Pros: inexpensive, DIY project
Cons: Only takes care of specific areas. It may be difficult to locate all the sources of warm air leaks without the help of professional. The attic space must also be adequately insulated and ventilated in order for air leak sealing to really make a decisive difference.
- Chimney Flashing – Another vulnerable area for ice dams is around the chimney. Purchasing flashing to cover the area where the stones or bricks meet the roof will help prevent ice dams from forming. L-shaped flashing made of steel can be installed by a homeowner or a roofer.
Upfront Expense: Expect to pay just a few hundred dollars if you hire a pro. Do it on your own, and costs will range from $20 to $350.
Source: Runyon and Sons Roofing
Pros: inexpensive even if you go the route of hiring a professional
Cons: only takes care of water leaking in one area
- Water Repellent Membrane / Ice and Water Shield – This product will not prevent ice dams from happening, but it will help minimize the damage by shielding the roof deck. When installing a new roof or replacing the old one, consider adding a water repellent membrane such as Ice and Water Shield underneath the shingles. This added layer prevents water from getting inside your home when the ice and snow melt.
Upfront Expense: The cost of this membrane is added in to the total cost of installing a new roof, which can range from $5,000 to $8,000.
Pros: effective at preventing water damage
Cons: expensive, can only be installed with a new roof
- Insulated Caps – Covering heat sources to prevent them from allowing heat into the attic can be an effective way to prevent ice dams. Some common concerns include the attic fan and openings for folding stairs.
Upfront Expense: Insulated caps can cost less than $100 and are often something you can install yourself.
Pros: inexpensive, takes care of specific areas
Cons: will require other methods to resolve the entire problem of ice dams
Removing ice dams as quickly as possible after they have formed is your second best option to prevent long-term damage. Here are some of the top products to help with this process.
- Industrial Pressure Washer – A steam pressure washer with a low psi can remove ice dams quickly before they have time to do damage. With a variety of pressure washers on the market, you have to find one that fits your needs and budget. They often power by electric and heat with propane.
Upfront Expense: Expect to pay between $4,000 and $10,000 for one of these. You may also be able to rent one, but it’s often recommended to hire a professional to do the work to prevent the damage to your roof.
Pros: removes ice dams quickly
Cons: expensive, often requires hiring a professional
- Box Fan – As expensive as the last option, this is the cheapest solution to removing ice dams. Put a box fan in the attic pointing to the area where the water is coming in. Turn it on and allow the water to freeze again. This is only a temporary fix until you can make a more permanent repair.
Upfront Expense: The cost is minimal with fans ranging from $20 to $50 for the basic models.
Pros: inexpensive and a quick fix
Cons: only a temporary resolution
- Calcium Chloride – Purchase this product and pour some of it into a netted bag (an old pair of pantyhose is a good DIY fix). Place the bag of chemical on the roof across the ice dam and the gutter. As it melts the snow, calcium chloride will allow the water to run off.
Upfront Expense: The cost for this is minimal at about $5 per calcium chloride bag.
Pros: DIY project, inexpensive
Cons: must be redone every time there is a large snow
- Other Chemical Compounds – While calcium chloride may be the best known, other compounds also help melt snow off the roof. Select from sodium chloride, magnesium chloride and even rock salt to help melt ice and snow. Be aware of the risks associated with the different chemicals, such as roof discoloration or corrosion to aluminum gutters. Talk to a professional about which products are safe based on your roof type.
Upfront Expense: The cost can range from $5 a bag to $20.
Pros: another easy ice removal measure you can do yourself
Cons: like the calcium chloride it must be redone after each snowstorm
Needless to say, it’s best to prevent the problem in the first place. 😉 However, it’s also helpful to know what to do when you have to deal with a situation requiring a timely removal of ice dams to avoid costly damage. Consider consulting a trusted roofer before the situation occurs.
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