Ice dams are an all too common occurrence here in Minnesota, when bi-weekly snowfalls give snow just enough time to start melting before everything refreezes again. This year in particular has offered prime conditions for ice dam formation, with up and down temperatures mixed with sporadic snowfalls. The best way to prevent damage from ice dams is to prevent them from forming, but if one does take shape on your roof, the next best thing is to remove it as quickly as possible.
There many DIY methods of ice dam removal out there, but make sure you do your research before trying any on your own roof. Some methods of ice dam removal have unintended consequences that make the problem worse, and some just don’t work at all. Today we’re exploring and debunking some common “de-icing hacks.”
The salt-filled pantyhose method is a popular old wives’ for deicing a roof. The idea is that you fill pantyhose with salt or another deicing compound and space them out along the edge of your roof so that the pantyhose drapes across the eve and over the gutter. The deicer inside the pantyhose will melt the ice beneath it, creating an open channel for water to slide into the gutter and down off the roof.
It’s a good idea in theory, but those who’ve tested this method in the field on their own roofs report mixed results. The pantyhose method seems to have some effect, but works very slowly. If you have a serious ice dam problem on your roof, this is not the solution for you.
Hammer, Axe, or Ice Pick
This is the most hands-on method for removing ice dams: climbing up to the roof and just hacking away at the ice with a hammer, axe, or ice pick. When you’re really frustrated with your ice dams and you’ve tried other methods to no avail, this method might be appealing. It might even be pretty effective.
However, perching a ladder in the snow, climbing up to your roof, and hacking away the ice with a sharp object is a pretty dangerous endeavor, with great risk of doing serious injury to the roof or yourself—or both. Ice cracks unpredictably, and you might quickly find yourself hacking at the surface of your roof before you even have time to react. Ice chips will also fly like tiny glass missiles when they break off. This is not a safe option.
Chemical Deicing Products
If the problem is ice buildup, it seems like the solution should be as simple as melting the ice. The reality is not quite so straightforward.
The biggest obstacle for chemical deicing products such as salt, magnesium chloride, or Snow Melt is the size and overall thickness of the ice dam. If you have an ice dam that stretches the length of your roof and has built up to a depth of several inches thick, you’re looking at a section of ice that contains upwards of 150 gallons of water. It would take hundreds of pounds of deicer to melt a dam of that size—no exaggeration. And the result may be that the deicer simply “burns holes” in the surface without melting it through.
Another downside of using chemical deicers is that they can cause their own damage to your roof. Depending on your roofing material, deicers can leave residue, stain the shingles, and cause corrosion. The chemical runoff from the melted ice can also be damaging to any plants below.
It’s up to you as the homeowner to weigh your options and choose the lesser of two evils: damage from ice dams, or complications from chemical deicers? If your roof isn’t showing active signs of damage (such as leaking), your other option is simply to wait until temperatures rise and the ice thaws on its own.
When it comes to choosing the best ice dam removal method, it really varies by circumstance based on your roof, the severity of the ice dam buildup, and current weather conditions.
Our best advice? Worry less about fixing the ice dam itself (unless it’s actively causing a problem) and more about fixing what caused it. Fix the problem, and you’ll prevent damage from ice dams during future winters.