We came across an article giving a basic overview of ice dams on About.com. One particular part of the article rang out in familiar tones:
Rows of icicles along the roof of a house look very pretty but they are often a symptom of an ice dam. An ice dam is caused by snow melting from the roof of a house, but then freezing in the gutters creating a dam. (our emphasis)
It’s a common misconception that gutters are somehow a required ingredient to the ice dam recipe. It’s understandable why this falsehood perpetuates: a gutter is a basin that will catch running water, it’s typically a metal-material so in cold it conducts low temperatures, and gutters live on the edge of the overhang, where ice dams form. –But it’s not explicitly why they form.
Why do Ice Dams form then?
The temperature in your attic should be as close to the temperature outside as possible, but when heat escapes your house, snow on your roof can melt. Even when your attic houses a higher temperature then it should (you have some home performance issues), when that melted water on your roof gets to the overhang, it can refreeze, because there’s no heat source directly below it.
Looking at the illustration, you can see we aren’t even showing a gutter, and it’s definitely not uncommon for an ice dam to form in this situation.
Although gutters are not a requirement for an ice dam to form, and having no gutters is not an ice dam prevention solution, gutter ice can cause major damage, simply because of the way a gutter attaches to the overhang facia, and can collect a lot of weight in ice.
This past week, we were called out to a Fairview Hospital to resolve an ongoing roof leak in their EPDM roof or rubber roof. The roof leak, they suspected, was being caused by an massive ice build up on their flat roof. The area covered in ice was approximately 1200 square feet and ranged between 3-5″ thick. They had gotten another bid from acompetitor to remove the entire ice field for around $8,000.
Upon visiting the site, we quickly determined it was not necessary to remove the entire ice field in the area. Our experience as professional roofers and our use of thermal imaging quickly pointed us to a bad corner flashing detail as shown here. This area was completely covered by ice and was the main source of their leak.
The job was quite simple. We used our commercial steamers to cut through the ice and clear a channel from the area around the leak to the nearest roof drain. This allowed any melted snow/ice to run directly to the drain, instead of being dammed up and leaking into the hospital.
We also removed a the large section of ice that surrounded the leak area to allow for proper repair of the roofing and flashing that had failed. Fairview was so happy with our work that they ended up having us remove rest of the ice in that surrounding area. In the end, our cost for all of the work was half that of our competitor’s estimate. We pride ourselves in doing business under the philosophy that we’re trying to build lasting, honest relationships. Not just trying to earn the quick buck. Our guess is that we will be called for all ice removal needs by the Fairview Hospital network going forward. A lot of ice removal companies in the Minneapolis area are allergic to honesty. Perhaps Fairview has an ointment for that?
Minnesota and the Twin Cities are having another lighter snow season this year. We are on pace to be well below our average snowfall of about 50″ of snow per winter. When there’s less snow there generally are less ice dams to remove, though snowfall isn’t the only factor that contributes to ice dams forming. Elsewhere there has been more snow that is causing ice dam problems, and we’d thought we’d do a quick round-up of the current status of ice dam formations accross the counrty.
Wisconsin has gotten quite a bit more snow then we have, and ice dams are in the news lately.
More than two weeks after the blizzard that paralyzed southern Wisconsin, homeowners may be paying for its effects — broken, snow-heavy limbs and ceiling-spotting ice dams — far into the spring.
“When there is 10 inches of snow, it’s critical you remove snow from the bottom three to four feet of your roof”
We know from our extensive experience with ice dam removal and ice dam prevention that removing only the bottom 4 feet of snow from your roof doesn’t always solve the problem. In fact, assuming it has solved things can set you up for double the disappointment. Because Ice dams can still form, and even take on a more damaging form. See our case study on “Double Dams”.
To prevent an ice dam, don’t heat the roof, keep it cold. That way, the snow on the roof eventually dissipates without making large amounts of meltwater. The underside of the roof deck should not exceed 30 F. The best way to maintain low temperatures is by ensuring that there is adequate insulation and sealing gaps that let warm air pass into the attic from the house. The attic must also be ventilated, so that cold air is introduced into it and heated air escapes rapidly. Some remodeling contractors are under the impression that heat passing through the attic helps prevent ice dams, when just the opposite is true. Although excess heat moving from the attic through the roof rapidly melts snow, once the meltwater touches the cold eaves, it quickly freezes and forms an ice dam.
…Then the article falls short at really looking at solutions to identify root problems (other then proper insulation) and determining solutions. Instead it looks at situations where there’s a furnace in the attic, and then turns it’s focus to cosmetically hiding symptoms of ice dams. Before you go this route, you really should determine what the underlying problem is, and fix it.
Our friend Reuben Saltzman at Structure Tech did a nice round-up of ice Dam prevention general knowledge, with examples he’s come across while inspecting homes in the Minnesota winter.
Minnesota got dumped on this weekend with nearly fifteen inches of snow in some areas. With hardly any snow last winter, we almost forgot what a real snow storm looked like. I haven’t heard about any concerns over ice dams yet, but I suspect they’ll be coming very soon. The perfect conditions for ice dams are large amounts of snow and temperatures in the teens and twenties, which is what we’re expected to have this week.
Ice dams cause leaks in Minneapolis homes but not usually until later in the ice dam season. I received a call earlier today from a client in Edina with water pouring through her ceiling. The water was coming through a smoke detector (B) and soaking her floor. One interesting but not entirely surprising thing was that the water affected a much larger area than was obvious from below (also showed at location C). Slight cracking in the door frame also indicated water problems (B).
When I looked up I notice a ring of discoloration around the smoke detector (seen in photo, above). The thermal imager revealed a 6′ x 6′ area of wetness around the smoke detector. The client had a hard time understanding why the water had not shown in a larger area until I explained how her ceiling assembly worked. Because there was unconditioned space above the drywall there was also a code required vapor barrier, i.e, plastic sandwiched between the drywall and the ceiling framing. When the ice dam above caused water to back up and leak into the home it collected on top of the ceiling until it found the path of least resistance in the vapor barrier. In this case that was a smoke detector but it is often a light fixture, a vent or a seam in the plastic itself.
Ice dam removal in Edina
A quick look at the thermal image shows a large dark purple area (photo left, point B). This is wetness that has not yet manifested visually from below. It is damage nonetheless and should be repaired.
We take immense pride in being industry leaders in ice dam prevention, insulation and ice dam removal. There isn’t another ice dam removal company in town that has thermal imaging technology in-house or guys like Tom, who are certified geeks in all things relating to home performance technology.
Okay, I have have seen it all now. I’ve kept quiet for the last two years but I can’t do it any longer. I just spoke with a woman whose roof was scarred up by a ‘professional’ using a ‘steamer’. The only catch was that the guy wasn’t using a steamer; it was a pressure washer . A few companies, including the Roof-To-Deck franchise, are using high-temperature pressure washers instead of steamers to remove ice from homes. At first glance it might sound like a distinction interesting only to ice geeks. But alas, it is a pretty big deal. In short, pressure washers rely on pressure to remove ice (go figure), not on heat. ‘High-Temperature’ pressure washers operate at slightly higher temperatures than a typical water heater (120-170 degrees). A steamer is an entirely different machine. It converts cold tap water into true steam, which can only be achieved at 250 to 300 degrees. Again, why care? In short it comes down to the fact that steam remove ice much, much faster than high-pressure water. This translates in to time and money (less of both if you use a steamer). Steamers are not only the fastest choice, they are the safest. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that using high-pressure water near frozen roofing materials may not be the best plan. Invariably, regardless of the user, such machines strip off the granuals on asphalt composite shingles. This voids manufacturers warranties and it reduces the lifespan of the shingle.
We own three high-temp pressure washers but would never consider using them to cut ice. To the average dude they don’t look much different than a steamer. Use one to cut ice and the difference becomes clear right away. For this reason, conscientious, ethical contractors use actual steamers. Besides The Ice Dam Company, there are a number of outfits in town that use true steamers, including Garlock-French and The Gopher Company. I’ve been around for over 20 years and I have never heard a complaint about those shops. My point is, no matter who you hire to remove your ice, make certain their machinery is as advertised. It must be running at a minimum of 250 degrees to function safely and efficiently.
Here’s a great image taken by out friend Reuben Saltzman of Structure Tech, showing what kind of damage a pressure washer can do to an asphault roof when it’s used to remove an ice dam:
Removing Ice Dams in Minnesota: We Serve Many Areas in the Minneapolis Metro
The Ice Dam company based out of Hopkins, Minnesota, about 5 miles west of Minneapolis. We've done gutter ice removal, roof ice removal and ice dam removal all over the Twin Cities, on new houses and old ones.
Some of the more frequent places we've done ice dam services are: