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What to Do If You Can’t Afford Professional Ice Dam Removal: Tips for Homeowners

Media: USA Today
Link: What to Do If You Can’t Afford Professional Ice Dam Removal: Tips for Homeowners

Can the ice dam on your roof go away as quietly as it appeared? It’s possible. With some proactive effort, good timing, and a little luck, you can minimize or prevent damage caused by an ice dam, and you may be able to avoid having to hire someone to steam it away.

Ice dams form when an overheated attic melts snow into water and the water refreezes along the edge of your roof, causing water to pool and leak through your shingles and into your home. An ice dam cannot form without snow and hot shingles. Understanding that one point can be your lifeline, especially if you cannot afford to hire a professional ice dam removal company to steam away the ice dam. An ice dam removal service can save you from much larger repair bills, but the service is still costly.

Homes from Alaska to Arizona to Boston to Boise get ice dams under the right snowfall conditions, but not every home gets ice dams, and not every ice dam causes roof leaks. That is because in many cases the roof runs out of snow to melt or runs out of heat to melt it before an ice dam can grow or cause leaks. You can take advantage of that principle, and it may save you from an expensive service call or even more expensive interior water damage.

Ice Dam Removal Guys

via Ice Dam Removal Guys

These 10 tips can maximize your luck and minimize the damage an ice dam can cause:

1. Remove as much snow from your roof as possible, whether you have an ice dam or not.
Use a roof rake to remove the snow from your overhangs and any valleys, at least. If more snow falls, go back out and rake off the same spots again, and remove as much additional snow as you can. Ice dams cannot form without snow, and it is much harder for an existing ice dam to worsen if it doesn’t have new snow to feed its growth. Every flake of snow you remove helps you avoid damage and expense.

2. Turn the heat down as low as you can, and for as long as you can.
The cooler your living space is, the cooler your attic is, and the less snow will melt, pool, and leak. If you usually keep your home very warm (e.g. 78-80F) and you turn the heat down sharply (like to 64-68F), the more likely you are to reduce the leaking or avoid leaks altogether.

3. If you cannot hire a professional, at least don’t make the mistake of hiring an amateur.
Most companies that offer ice dam removal offer it only as a side hustle during some winters, are not properly insured for it, have inexperienced or untrained technicians, or do not use steam. If you find a company that seems to offer what you need, look for a business filing with your state’s Secretary of State, check the Better Business Bureau, scour its online reviews, and look for photos, videos, or similar demonstrations of the company’s experience and approach. If a company charges less than about $650 an hour, there is a high likelihood that it is cutting corners on training, performance standards, insurance, equipment, or other marks of professionalism. Be wary of too-good-to-be-true pricing and only work with a professional ice dam removal company.

4. Turn off any electrical circuits that run fixtures in your attic.
You want to prevent roof leaks from dripping down into lighting, outlets, and other fixtures, to avoid short-circuits and the chance of an electrical fire.

5. Try to pinpoint where water may be leaking in.
If safe to do so, go into your attic and look for active dripping or damp patches. Pay special attention to roughly the lower half of your roof, because that is where an ice dam is most likely to cause leaks. Also, look around your chimney. If you have a finished attic with dormers, look around the edges of the dormer (where the roof forms a “valley” on either side).

6. Set up buckets or towels to collect any active drips you find in your attic.
If your roof is already leaking, keep the water from trickling & seeping deeper into your home, where it can cause much more damage and breed mold. Be sure to empty the buckets or change the towels regularly.

7. Make sure your attic hatch is shut firmly.
Large gaps can let significant hot air into your attic, which can cause more snow to melt and more water to leak through your roof.

8. Clear your gable vents and soffit vents of snow and ice.
Any clogged attic vent can bottle up the heat in your attic and cause or worsen ice dams. If you cannot clear the vents from outside, you may be able to clear them from inside of your attic

9. Melt a couple of channels through the ice dam, to allow some of the water to drain off.
Whether you can do that safely or at all depends on how close you can get to the ice dam, how big it is, and other factors. The least-risky method is to use calcium chloride or a similar ice-melt product to melt grooves into the ice dam. You will need to use a lot of it in these spots, but you do not need to cover your roof with it.

10. Monitor the weather forecast and adjust your thermostat in a counterintuitive way.
Turn the heat UP on a warm and sunny day, and turn it down on a cold day or night. Turning the heat down at night will slow the rate of melting, leaking, or both. Turning the heat up when the outdoor temperatures are warmer and the sun is beating down will help accelerate the melting, to the point that the ice dam may very well pop free of your shingles and start to drain and shrink. Only consider this if you have already removed the snow from the overhangs and valleys and set up buckets or towels to capture leaks, so as not to worsen any leaking.

Even if you are not able to apply all 10 of those tips, any effort you put in may make a big problem smaller and a small problem smaller. Your ice dam will eventually go away, and when it does you can devote any money you saved to improving your attic insulation and ventilation (or other things) so that you don’t worry much about ice dams ever again.

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Written by on March 25, 2024

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