Ice dams are formed when melting snow collects along your roofline and refreezes. When an ice dam gets large enough, it prevents water from running off your roof, forcing it underneath the shingles and inside your home.
Ice dams can lead to significant moisture damage if you don’t catch them early on. Worst-case scenario, they can cause your roof to collapse. Luckily, there are steps you can take to both prevent ice dams from forming and remove existing ones.
There are two immediate steps you can take to prevent ice dams: making sure the area around your downspouts is clear and removing snow from your roof after every storm. You can do this work yourself, or you can hire a professional.
Using a snow rake is the only safe way to remove snow from the roof yourself. Snow rakes are usually long enough that you can reach the entire roof without a ladder (using a ladder is extremely dangerous in winter conditions). Some rakes extend up to 20 feet, and some have angled poles to give you better reach.
If you have a flat roof that requires shoveling, or a tall or steep roof that can’t be completely cleared with a rake, hire a professional. Doing the job yourself is not worth the risk. Too many people are injured or killed each year trying to climb on snowy or icy roofs.
In the longer-term, you can prevent ice dams by making it difficult for them to form in the first place. Make sure your attic is properly insulated, which helps prevent the melting and refreezing cycle that causes ice dams. Also, your roof should always have a water-repellant membrane underneath the shingles.
If you haven’t taken preventative measures and ice dams have already started to form, the ice dams need to be removed to prevent water from seeping below the shingles and damaging the interior of your home. You can attempt to knock down the ice dams with a roof rake, or you can cut a channel through the ice that allows water to drain. Some people also use ice melt (but never salt - that can damage the roof).
Again, if you have to use a ladder to do any of these tasks, leave the work to a professional. Resting a ladder against an icy roof is a recipe for disaster. Removing ice dams yourself can also lead to roof damage if you’re not experienced.
Many roofing contractors, landscapers and even some homebuilders offer ice dam removal services. Or there are companies that specialize in snow and ice removal. Contractors charge anywhere from about $25 to $150 per hour, according to the Better Business Bureau. The rate depends on the amount of snow or ice, the difficulty of the job, the pitch of your roof and your geographic location.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re planning to hire a contractor:
- Always seek quotes from several contractors to compare prices, but never choose on price alone. The cheapest company is rarely the best.
- Do some background research on companies you’re considering. How long have they been in business? How experienced are they with ice dam removal? Do they have good ratings with the Better Business Bureau?
- Always ask for references - and be sure to check them.
- Make sure that any company you hire has current liability insurance. Ice dam removal is dangerous work, and if the company is not insured you could be liable for any accidents that occur on your property.
- Always ask for a detailed explanation of the fee structure upfront. Does the company charge by the hour? By the job? Is there a service fee just to come out? Does the service include removal of falling snow and ice from driveways and walkways?
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