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Everything to Know About Ice Dams

Updated: Dec 24, 2021

It's that (ice) dam time of year again...

Icicles are hanging from the roof, the ground is slick beneath your feet, and you can spot snow, ice, and debris above your head. The signs all point to a destructive byproduct created by the clash of nature and architecture: an ice dam. Especially within Grand Rapids, MN.

So What is an Ice Dam?

An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms on the edge of your roof, caused by a combination of snow, heat loss from your house, and cold outdoor temperatures. They prevent melting snow from draining off your home’s roof, allowing the surface area and weight to grow exponentially.

Severe ice dams can weigh many hundreds of pounds, compromising the structure of the roof eaves; while even more critically, they can cause melted snow to back up under the shingles, where it can flow down and ruin ceiling and wall surfaces. If ignored, ice dams can cause serious damage to your roof, gutters, paint, insulation and interior drywall.

When warm air escapes from your home, it melts the snow on your roof surface and then refreezes on your roof’s edge as it prevents proper run off. The more snow and colder temperatures, the greater the chances you have of ice dams forming on your eaves; and as more snow melts, the dam continues to grow.

How are Ice Dams Created?

1. Indoor heat rises through the ceiling, into the attic, and warms the roof. The shingles get warm.

2. Snow that has fallen on the heated shingles of the roof melts. The melted snow then flows down the roof until it reaches the part of the roof that is lower than 32 degrees. This water freezes, and begins to form an ice dam.

3. The dam gets bigger and bigger as more snow melts and refreezes. Water now begins to pool behind the increasingly large wall of ice.

4. Eventually, the water works its way through the shingles (or other roofing material) and flows through the roof decking and into the attic. From here it can seep through the ceiling, the interior walls, and into the rest of the building.

How are Ice Dams Prevented?

There are ways to prevent against ice dams within the Spring, Summer, and Fall months - long before Winter hits - as well as prevention methods to take part in when the snow starts to fall and bitter cold hits.

Poor insulation can contribute to the heat loss that causes ice dams. It is important to check your attic space in order to determine if insulation needs to be added or removed; if you find the insulation is level with or below the floor joists, it is recommended to add more. Your attic insulation should be at an acceptable height and lay at a consistent depth throughout the entire space.

Increasing ventilation and minimizing the escape of warm air is another way to prevent ice dams. Proper ventilation keeps temperatures under the entire roof steady and balanced; having the correct soffit, box, or ridge vents can help your cause and assure air is being circulated as it's supposed to. Recessed lights, skylights, complicated roof designs, chimneys, bathroom exhaust fans, or heating ducts in the attic can all cause warm air to escape from your home and melt roof snow, increasing the risk of ice dam formation. Making sure any of these listed items are properly sealed will minimize the possibilities of complication.

As far as ways to prevent ice dams once Winter rolls around, removing the snow on your roof is an extremely helpful benefactor. Ice dams stand no chance of even forming if you continually remove the snow on your roof; it won't melt when warmer weather hits and then freeze once the typical Minnesota Winter weather comes back, causing the ice dam. At Northcliff, we specialize in keeping you, your family, and your house safe and clear from all possible complications. Especially those that can be caused from roof snow. Our roof snow removal service is performed with the utmost safety and quality; being able to complete almost 100% of our work directly from the ground. Keeping us out of danger, and you, without stress that an injury could possibly take place at your home. At Northcliff, we pride ourselves in providing you with "elevated" results and service, (haha, get it?) making sure we do our jobs right while adhering to your (the customers') requests. Let us take your ice dam worries away with our roof snow removal service.

How are Ice Dams Removed?

Attempting to remove the ice dam by yourself would be what I would recommend first. There are a number of DIY (Do It Yourself) remedies to remove the dam thing under safe conditions.

Removing the snow covering the ice dam is always the first step in the ice dam removal process. Again, at Northcliff, this is something we'd be more than happy to help you with as that roof snow gets really heavy and hard to safely reach.

Once the snow has been removed, you’ll see the ice formation underneath. Use a ladder or call Northcliff at (218)301-8020 to reach this area and apply an ice melt product like calcium chloride. If you don't have a ladder or you're not interested in climbing one, you can also use throw-able ice-melt solutions. These products, which are the size of small plates, are specifically designed to be thrown up on the roof to melt ice in hard-to-reach places. The calcium chloride will melt the snow and ice, allowing water to flow off the roof and gutters.

Applying an ice-melt product is the safest, most efficient way to remove an ice dam from your home. Avoid the temptation for a dramatic quick fix, like melting the ice with fire or chipping at the ice with an ax, pick, screwdriver or similar object. Doing so will only expose you to injury and your home to damage.

If you do need to call an expert, make sure they're offering a steam-based solution. The steam poses no possible damage to your roof, as opposed to power washers which can ruin the asphalt on the shingles.

We unfortunately aren't currently offering a steam based ice dam removal service at Northcliff, but do perform ice-melt solutions through calcium chloride based products. Creating a much cheaper option for you, that most often results in the same successful outcome!

Well, that's everything to know about this dam time of year again. I hope no one experiences home damage due to an ice dam, but if you're looking for ways to prevent against it, give us a call at (218)301-8020, shoot us an e-mail at, or book online to have your roof snow and/or ice dam removed. Also, check out our Facebook Page in order to receive up to date offers and news!

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