The icicles that hang from the edge of your roof may be pretty, but they could also be an indication of a serious problem with the roof of your building. Ice dams form at or near the edge of roof decks when melting snow and ice collect and refreeze. This in turn can prevent melt water from flowing into gutters and away from the building. An ice dam can instead direct water up under the roof covering. The insidious flow of water may not be visible until the moisture has lead to rot, mold or worse and can cause a lot of damage.
The most common cause of ice dams is a roof that is too “warm.” Inadequate insulation allows heat from the structure to warm up the roof deck, causing a trickle of melted snow and ice to flow and re-freeze where the roof is cold. Clogged gutters or damaged roofing, such as loose shingles, can contribute to the formation of an ice dam.
Fixing an ice dam after it is formed can be dangerous to both persons and property. Large chunks of ice falling from overhead can cause serious injury or death. Using blunt instruments to break up ice can cause substantial damage to your roof. Employing ice melt chemicals can be effective, but some forms are corrosive and can cause damage to painted surfaces, concrete, plants and pets. When dealing with an existing ice dam, employ a great deal of caution, or better yet, get the help of a qualified professional.
The best cure for an ice dam is prevention. Consider having a contractor examine your roof and attic space for adequate insulation and look for various places where heat may be escaping. Many companies will perform an energy audit and can identify exactly where heat is escaping. Keeping your heat inside living and working spaces has the added benefit of saving your energy dollars.
Other solutions include adding heat tapes to the edge of roofs. This keeps the edge of your roof warm enough so that ice does not form. The obvious downside is the additional use of energy, but in some cases this is the most viable solution.