Ice Melt Is Best For Removing Ice Dams From Roofs

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Once winter arrives, most homeowners who live in a snowy, cold climate give at least a passing thought to the best kind of ice melt to have on hand. Another concern is the need for removing ice dams to prevent roof and rain gutter damage.

Ice dams occur when snow lays on the slant roofs of houses that do not have adequate ventilation and enough insulation in the attic. Because there is heat in the house, and warm air rises, the warmth comes up through the attic and warms the roof, melting the snow.

The water from the melted snow runs down the roof and into the rain gutter. Since the area of the rain gutter is colder than the rest of the roof, it refreezes and accumulates as ice on the gutter. As more snow melts, it cannot drain through the ice covered gutter, and it keeps freezing and building as layers of ice, creating a dam.

Danger to People and Property

Any water trapped behind the ice dam can back up under the shingles and leak through the roof into the home. It can damage the roof itself by rotting the wood and ruining whatever insulation is there. It can even go through the roof and stain the ceiling or eventually cause it to become waterlogged and collapse. Water running down walls can cause electric wiring to short out and start fires. This alone shows the importance of removing ice dams.

Not removing ice dams promptly with ice melt or some other method poses a danger if the water drips off the edge of the rain gutters and freezes into icicles. If they get large and heavy, they can break off and fall, which can be dangerous for a passerby. The blanket of snow can also break loose and slide from the roof in an avalanche. Because it is heavy and has ice underneath it, this can also be a danger to anyone walking close to the building.

While there are several ways of removing ice dams, many of them risk injury to the person attempting it or to the roof itself. Stories abound each winter of people who have fallen off roofs or ladders while in the act of removing ice dams or trying to push snow off roofs. Instead of relying on an ice melt product, some people try taking an axe or an ice pick and chopping away at the ice accumulation as a way of removing ice dams. Many do not discover until spring just how much damage they have done to the roof or the rain gutters.

Selecting the Best Ice Melt Product

Using ice melt would seem to be a better way to eliminate the problem. When using ice melt on a roof, however, it is important to do a bit of research to find the exact right kind for the purpose. While some people like using rock salt on their sidewalks, for instance, that is not the right ice melt for roofs, as it is likely to stain the shingles because of its iron content.

Almost all ice melt products are made from one of five materials, alone or in a blend of various combinations, which are urea, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, sodium chloride and calcium chloride. The difference in the various ice melt products is the temperature at which they work and how quickly they melt ice and snow. They work by either absorbing heat or releasing heat on contact with the snow or ice.

The exothermic ice melt substances release heat on contact, are the fastest working and are effective in a wider range of temperatures. Solid calcium chloride tablets, for example, release heat and work effectively to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Solid sodium chloride, on the other hand, absorbs heat and works at temperatures down to around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. When the ice melt is a blended product, then its performance depends on how much of each chemical is present.

The price of the ice melt is usually determined by its performance factors. If a product works fast at very low temperatures, it will generally cost more, but should only be used in areas where it is necessary. Magnesium chloride or calcium chloride, for instance, should only be needed in areas where the temperature drops to zero degrees or lower.

One method of removing ice dams from roofs is by filling cut off legs from panty hose with calcium chloride or an ice melt blend. Place the hose vertically on the roof so it crosses over the top of the ice dam and hangs over the gutter. Use several at about two feet apart and they will melt through the snow, making a channel for the water to run off the roof and into the gutters. Calcium chloride may be best overall for melting ice dams and will not harm the roof.

A product that is specially designed for removing ice dams are ice melt tablets that melt through the snow and ice and cause little rivulets for the water to run into the gutters. The manufacturer’s instructions state the tablets can be tossed onto the roof where the ice melt in them will melt the ice dams without damage to the roof or gutters.

Preventing Ice Dams on Roofs

Since ice dams on roof are caused by heat rising through the attic and warming the roof, the way to prevent this is to stop the heat from escaping. This is done by having adequate insulation in the attic to keep the heat in the living area. Proper ventilation also helps because it will keep the roof colder and prevent the snow from melting rather than evaporating in the sun. Once the snow and ice build up, however, then removing ice dams with ice melt is the best way to prevent damage.

Another way to keep ice dams from forming is by installing gutter heaters. The newer systems can be regulated to use less energy by turning them on only as needed. They cost about the same to operate as a hair dryer, although they run day and night. A dollar or two extra on the electric bill is well worth preventing roof damage or personal injury by removing ice dams, and offsets the cost of buying ice melt, as well.