Ice Dams 101: Understanding and Dealing with Winter Hazards

As winter blankets our homes with a serene layer of snow, it also brings along some less picturesque challenges, such as the formation of ice dams. These icy barricades can wreak havoc on our roofs, causing damage to both the exterior and interior of our homes. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricacies of ice dams, exploring what they are, why they form, and most importantly, how to prevent and address the issues they pose.

Understanding Ice Dams

What are Ice Dams?

Ice dams are ridge-like formations of ice that occur at the edge of a roof. They obstruct the natural flow of melting snow and ice, preventing proper drainage. As a result, water can accumulate behind the dam, finding its way into your home through cracks, joints, or other vulnerabilities in your roof.

Why Do Ice Dams Form?

The primary factors contributing to the formation of ice dams are inadequate insulation, poor ventilation, and fluctuating winter temperatures. When warm air from your living spaces rises and meets a cold roof surface, it causes the snow on the roof to melt. The melted snow then refreezes when it reaches the colder eaves, creating a dam of ice.

Recognizing the Signs

Exterior Signs

  1. Icicles: While icicles may look charming, they can be indicative of an underlying ice dam issue. If you notice large icicles forming along the edge of your roof, it’s time to investigate further.
  2. Visible Ice Dams: Keep an eye out for the formation of ice dams. These ridges of ice can be seen along the eaves and may signal potential trouble.

Interior Signs

  1. Water Stains on Ceilings and Walls: Discoloration or water stains on your ceilings or walls may suggest that melting snow is finding its way into your home.
  2. Dripping Water: If you observe water dripping from your ceiling during or after a snowfall, it’s a clear sign that an ice dam is causing water infiltration.

Prevention Strategies

Adequate Insulation

Ensuring proper insulation in your attic is crucial for preventing ice dams. A well-insulated attic helps maintain a consistent temperature on your roof, reducing the likelihood of snow melting and refreezing at the eaves.

Proper Ventilation

Proper attic ventilation is another key factor in preventing ice dams. Adequate ventilation helps regulate the temperature on your roof, allowing warm air to escape and reducing the risk of melting snow forming ice dams.

Roof Raking

Regularly removing excess snow from your roof with a roof rake can be an effective preventive measure. By keeping the snow load to a minimum, you reduce the chances of it melting and forming ice dams.

Ice and Water Shield

Installing an ice and water shield beneath your roofing material provides an additional layer of protection against water infiltration. This membrane helps prevent water from seeping into your home even if an ice dam forms.

Dealing with Existing Ice Dams

Use a Roof Rake

If you notice the early signs of an ice dam, such as the formation of icicles, using a roof rake to remove excess snow can help alleviate the issue. This is a proactive approach to prevent the dam from growing larger.

Create Channels for Drainage

Carefully creating channels through the ice dam to allow water to drain can be a temporary solution. This can be done by filling a sock or pantyhose with calcium chloride and placing it perpendicular to the ice dam. This will help melt channels through the dam, allowing water to escape.

Professional Removal

For more severe cases, especially if water has already penetrated your home, it’s advisable to seek professional help. Roofing experts equipped with steam machines can safely remove ice dams without causing further damage to your roof.


Ice dams are not just a winter inconvenience; they can lead to significant damage if not addressed promptly. By understanding the factors that contribute to their formation and implementing preventive measures, you can safeguard your home from potential harm. Regular inspection, proper insulation, and ventilation are key components of a comprehensive strategy to combat ice dams and ensure a cozy and leak-free winter for your household.