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Icicles vs. Ice Dams

26 February 2019

An ice dam is a layer of ice that most often manifests itself near a roof’s edge.  Their presence is serious because ice dams do not allow melting snow to leave a roof. Over time, an ice dam can cause water to back up on the underside of your shingles, eventually leaking into the interior of your home.  Many homeowners wrongfully assume that icicles always mean ice dams.  This is only sometimes the case.  Here’s how to determine the difference between icicles and ice dams.


Like ice dams, icicles need cold temperatures, snow, and warmth to cause the snow to melt.  Once the melted water comes in contact with the eave of the roof, the water again freezes.  Icicles hanging from your roof can signal an ice dam. However, ice dams can be present without the existence of icicles.  Icicles that exist only on home’s gutters without water trapped behind it are a normal winter occurrence, not a warning sign that an ice dam has formed. While icicles can prove problematic in high traffic areas, such as walkways, they often do not pose a significant threat to the exterior or your gutters or the layers of your dam

Ice Dams

The place an ice dam forms on your roof is dependent on its style and slope.  Most often, they commence growth on the roof edge and begin to back up from there.  Two of the most telltale signs that your home has an active ice dam are if moisture is present in your attic or if there are damp area on your home’s ceilings.  If either of these occurrences are happening, it means that the ice dam has compromised the membrane of your home’s roof.  However, there are less obvious signs of ice dams that homeowners often miss, allowing for substantial damage to occur. If there is an abundance of snow on the ground and on a porch roof, but minimal snow on the home’s main roof, it’s a signal that heat is escaping your attic because of subpar insulation and ventilation.

ice dam

A Temporary Solution

Attempting to remove an ice dam through chipping away at the ice will only damage your shingles and likely void your roof’s warranty. The best way to remove an ice dam is through low pressure steaming.  This technique utilizes tap water and brings it to 300 degrees.  A technician then uses the steamer to heat up the ice so that it is no longer affixed to the roof.  However, failing to address the core issue will only result in a roof needing to be frequently steamed to remove ever-present ice dams.

 A Permanent Solution

The underlying cause of an ice dam is inconsistent roof temperatures.  Diagnosing the core issue should be done by a reputable contractor that is able to perform diagnostic testing such as a heat map analysis, blower door testing, and FLIR imaging.  These tools allow them to create a custom plan that considers your home’s need for additional insulation, ventilation, and attic air sealing.

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