How to Deal with Ice Dams in Your Gutters

If you live in an area where snow falls each winter and the temperature dips below freezing this time of year, chances are you may have to deal with ice dams at some point. Not sure what ice dams are? It’s when ice builds up in your gutters forming a dam that prevents water from flowing off your roof and forcing it to find other places to go – likely inside of your home.

If you live in an area where snow falls each winter and the temperature dips below freezing this time of year, chances are you may have to deal with ice dams at some point. Not sure what ice dams are? It’s when ice builds up in your gutters forming a dam that prevents water from flowing off your roof and forcing it to find other places to go – likely inside of your home.

What makes me an expert on ice dams? Well, let’s just say I’ve felt their wrath this past winter and have exhausted all avenues to try and deal with them.

The biggest issue with ice dams is that because water can’t flow off of your roof it finds any crack or crevice to go in which often causes leaks in your home’s ceilings, water to flow from windows and even the insides of your walls. I’ve experienced all three this past month and it is zero fun. Zero fun.

To help you avoid my own painful homeowner experience here are some questions and answers to consider when winter wields its frostiness at your home’s gutters.

How do I know if I have ice dams?
Easiest way to tell is if you look up at your gutters and see a string of icicles hanging off them. While they look picturesque, this is a tell-tale sign that ice dams might be a problem.

How do I prevent ice dams from forming?
There are a couple of things you can do. Some are easy. Some take some preparation:

  1. Clean your gutters – gutters with leaves or debris in it freeze faster than clean gutters.
  2. Insulate your attic – ice dams can form faster when your attic isn’t well insulated and the roof actually melts the snow faster than the snow in your gutters. A properly insulated attic can help with that and also keep your home warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
  3. Check the age of your gutters – a lot of newer gutters have built-in measures to help avoid ice dams from forcing water to flow back into your home. If you have gutters that are 20+ years old, you may want to consider updating them if ice dams continue to be a problem for you each winter.

I have ice dams! What can I do?

  1. Fill a tube sock with rock salt and lay it across the ice dam so a part of it hangs off the gutter. What this hopefully does is form an avenue for water to flow off the roof.
  2. DO NOT try and chip the ice away. You will likely ruin your gutters or worse your roof.
  3. If water is coming in your home at a particular spot and there’s an attic above where it’s leaking, try taking a box fan into your attic and having it blow air at the point where it is leaking. The cool air can freeze the leaking water if it’s cold enough outside. Not a guarantee that it will work but worth a try if you’re desperate.
  4. If you have a tankless water heater, try hooking up a hose to it and spraying hot water on a specific portion of your gutters. This can help loosen the ice and hopefully form a pathway for water to flow off the room. A tankless water heater is key because you’ll should be able to have a continuous flow of hot water.
  5. Shovel your roof. It sounds dangerous and ridiculous but it works. If you already have ice dams, but still have snow on your roof, the snow will melt faster than the ice and cause a serious flow of water into your home if you wait for nature to take its course.

I’ve got a waterfall coming in through a window but a bucket can’t catch it!
This is the most useful trick I’ve learned. Get some garbage bags and tear them in half to create basically a slip ‘n slide type of tarp. Use painter’s tape or duct tape to pin the garbage bags underneath where the water is coming in. The garbage bags can help you direct the flow of water away from running down the walls and into a nearby bucket or plastic storage bin.

My home has damage from ice dams. Does insurance cover it?
This is a question for your home insurance company, but I know that many do. Mine even covers shoveling a portion of the roof to help stop the leaks faster. Depending on your deductible and coverage, your insurance may also cover a portion of fixing the water damage on your ceiling or walls.

Ice dams are a royal pain. While this winter may soon (hopefully) be over don’t let the warmer temps blind you. Take measures to prevent ice dams while it’s nice out so you don’t have to deal with it when the weather is less friendly.

 

Header image courtesy of Flickr user dcbprime

Husband. Father. Socializer. Mets Lifer. TV Afficianado. Consumer Engager.

David Marine is the Vice President of Brand Engagement for Coldwell Banker where he oversees the brand’s content strategy including acting as managing editor for the Coldwell Banker blog and heading up video production efforts. While Vice President by day, David runs a three ring circus at night as he is the father of 4 boys. He also happens to be married to Wonder Woman. True story.

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