What you should know about ice dams in Minnesota

Oddly, most Florida homeowners seldom encounter a newspaper headline like The Star Tribune’s Ice Dams: Prevention and Removal.” Minnesota homeowners? Most of us could probably write the article ourselves. Yet the typical Minnesota ice dam is more than a cycle of freezing and thawing, and the best solution is to stay off your roof. Look to trained professionals for the hard work of preventing ice dams.

Ice Dam Anatomy

A steep-pitch roof can suffer from ice dams. Even the best-insulated Minnesota home can fall victim to massive ridges of ice down low on the roof. In fact, no home in Minnesota is immune from ice dams and their destruction.

An ice dam gets its start much as glaciers do, with ample snowfall at higher elevations (the ridgeline of your roof). As heat escapes your home near the top of the roof and sunlight warms the snow, the snow melts and runs down the roof. If the sunlight stayed long enough, the meltwater would drain into your home’s gutters and be gone.

Yet winter sun, especially in Minnesota, is in short supply. Though your home continues to send out escaping warmth, it is not quite enough to keep the whole roof free of snow and ice. The sun’s brief warmth does not last, so as temperatures plunge, the water turns to ice. A dam forms across the bottom edge of your roof as the cycle repeats with liquid water now sitting behind the ice dam.

The other component necessary for an ice dam to continue building is a temperature differential between the upper part of your roof (above freezing) and the lower part (below freezing). So long as the lower part of your roof never gets temperatures rising above freezing, you will probably suffer from ice dams.

Ice Dam Destruction

Ice dams wear a roof down season after season with at least as much force as high winds and hard rains. Because the ice dams prevent melted water from reaching your home’s gutters the liquid water seeps under shingles, often permeating the underlayment and saturating your home’s sheathing.

From the sheathing, water infiltrates into your attic, between your exterior and interior walls, and onto your attic insulation. In winter this soggy mess may not be too bothersome, but as temperatures rise, all that moisture will lead to big problems:

  • Mold
  • Mildew
  • Musty smells
  • Invitation to insects seeking water and warmth

Ice dams accelerate a shingle roof’s aging. Though they may leave behind lovely long icicles, ice dams are extremely destructive.

Home Remedies

Some creative Minnesotans have, over the years, come up with novel solutions to ice dams. You can scatter rock salt or calcium chloride on the lower edge of the roof (if the pitch is not so great that it falls right off). You could pack the salt into old pantyhose to let it sit and perform its melting task over the winter. The salt, of course, will also erode your shingles, breaking down the asphalt of your shingles.

Another option is to go at the roof with some sharpened tool like a hoe, snow rake, or ice chopper.

How skilled are you? The difference between hitting only ice and cutting into your shingles is paper-thin. Add to that the sheer danger of trying to work on a slippery roof, either from above or from beside it (on a rickety extension ladder), and you have a terrible recipe for homeowner injury.

Stay off your roof! Keep sharp implements and salt off your roof! Consider better alternatives.

Good Intentions

An ice dam solution may seem to arrive on your doorstep in the form of a “handyman” with a pressure washer. For some bargain price, these folks will use a pressure washer to break up and remove the ice dam, even in the dead of winter.

What you will not see until the spring, though, is the destruction to your bottom three or four rows of shingles wrought by a pressure washer’s angry stream. The granules will be gone. The asphalt will be etched. Your home’s roof will have aged a decade in just one winter.

Avoid the door-to-door neighborhood helpers. Seek out highly trained professionals if you need wintertime relief from ice dams. The right solution is steam, not pressure. Steaming the ice dams off the roof will do no harm to the shingles beneath.

Prevention is better than a wintertime struggle. Contact the trained experts of LB Solutions, LLC before winter hits hard. We can inspect your home’s roof, determine solutions to prevent ice dams, and even schedule a return in the spring to do more extensive work. A long-term solution is only a telephone call or a mouse click away.