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How to Safely Remove Icicles and Ice Dams

Icicles hanging off a house roof
It's important to monitor your home for ice dams.

The freeze and melt cycle might make your lawn into a bit of a winter swamp, but it can also wreck havoc on your roof, too. Read this before you suffer through another season of icicles and ice dams on your roof and gutters. Those pretty wintertime sights could actually be doing serious damage to your valuable home.


How do ice dams form?

Ice dams can be dangerous! They are typically large blocks of refrozen snow on the edges of roofs. They can weigh several hundred pounds, and can also cause damage inside your home in addition to outside when pieces fall off the roof.

Ice dams form when there is uneven freezing after a large snowfall or after several storms. They are created by heat escaping the home through the roof (usually through an attic without enough insulation). The heat from below melts some of the snow on the roof, and a large block of snow-covered ice is formed. It can slowly travel down the roofline to the edge or to a shaded, colder spot, where the freezing air from below refreezes it in place.

Melted ice and snow form water that can also become stuck behind the edge of an ice dam. This water might leak back into the home through the roof shingles, causing water damage in the attic, ceiling and other areas of the house. This leaking water can not only damage drywall, paint and your carpet or furniture, but also can cause mold to grow inside your home.


How should you remove an ice dam?

Ice dams can be cleared by roofing professionals who can also check your roof, attic and home for signs of any leakage or damage. A professional contractor can discuss possible solutions to prevent another ice dam, like adding insulation to keep heat from escaping onto the roof, adding special membranes under shingles to prevent water leaking back into the house or adding special heating units on the roof to melt ice and snow so it runs off the roof completely.

The University of Minnesota Extension office recommends taking action to prevent damage when you have an ice dam, but to do so very carefully. You can use a roof rake to remove snow or make channels on the roof to let melt water drain.

Preventing an ice dam might mean inspecting many factors, including:

  • Ventilation
  • Insulation
  • Heat sources

Any of which (or all three at once) could contribute to the formation of ice dams.


What makes icicles on your roofline?

Icicles may be in our memories as pretty decorations on houses in winter, but in fact, they’re usually a sign of problems:

  • Your attic or home has too little insulation. This causes too much heat to rise from the home to melt snow that forms icicles.
  • Your gutters are clogged. Leaves and debris can keep any melted snow from draining, and it refreezes as ice.
  • You might have problems with ice dams forming.

A little bit of good home maintenance can keep your exterior from getting damaged in the winter. If you find yourself with problems mid-season, call a professional for advice on how to fix the issues.


Don’t injure yourself removing icicles!

Besides making an icy mess below, removing icicles can be tricky. Large icicles can weigh quite a bit, and hitting them can cause pieces to crash all around, or break off new pieces that can strike from above you.

For small icicles (less than a foot long and an inch wide), you can remove them yourself with something like a telescoping snow rake (available at hardware stores). Protect yourself by wearing safety goggles and gloves, and be careful where you stand so you’re not under the falling ice.

If you have large icicles (more than a foot long or two inches wide) or lots of them, it’s best to call a contractor or roofing specialist to look at your problem. First, you don’t want to damage your shingles, roof or gutters by removing lots of ice yourself. Second, you should try and figure out what’s causing so many icicles to form and address the problem sooner rather than later. And third, climbing up on an icy roof in winter isn’t for anyone not properly trained and equipped to handle the conditions.

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