We recently visited an ice dam removal project completed by some ice dam removal guys in 2014. What we found was a bit shocking but not unusual. Specifically, there was a tremendous amount of granular loss from the asphalt shingles done during the ice dam removal process. This is exactly what happens when the wrong equipment is used.
It is imperative to understand what equipment should be used for removing ice dams. There are two types of machines commonly used; ice dam steamers and high-temperature pressure washers. This may seem like an esoteric point, but the hiring the wrong ice dam removal guys, i.e., those who use pressure washers, can be a grave mistake and one that is often not noticed until years later. Unless you are quite educated, knowing the difference between a high-temp pressure washer and a steamer is virtually impossible. Adding to the challenge faced by homeowners is the fact that two of the largest ice dam removal companies in Minnesota outright misrepresent the equipment they use. Yes, they lie. They call their machines steamers when in fact they are pressure washers. Here is a link to a deeper discussion on the topic if you are interested. You can also visit the Ice Dam Steaming Association for Education if you would really like to geek out. For the sake of total simplicity, however, there is one very easy question to ask that determines which machine is scheduled to show up at your home for your project:
Does the machine have a triggered gun or not? It’s that simple. If it has a trigger it is a pressure washer. If it doesn’t, it is a steamer. Period.
Attached here is a letter from one of the countries largest ice dam steamer and pressure washer sales company, American Pressure. In a effort to debunk the falsities being spread by greedy and unscrupulous ice dam removal guys, we asked for a clean answer to the trigger question. They have no incentive whatsoever to lie because they sell a ton of both types of equipment.
How Does Eave Style and Construction Method Affect Ice Dam Formation and Severity?
Eave Construction and Heat Transfer
We have discussed the relationship between eave depth and ice dams previously (Case Study #10). Now let’s look into how different construction methodologies affect the likelihood and severity of ice dams in residential and light commercial construction.
For obvious reasons, eaves are a central topic in the world of ice dams. After all, that’s where 98% of ice dams occur, with the other slice of happening in areas including valleys, flat roofs and low pitch roof pans. There is a reason why older homes are affected more by ice dams then newer homes. That relates primarily to the nature of how the eaves are assembled.
Our grandparents didn’t understand the importance of insulation and ventilation as it relates to the eave. (They were busy thinking about wars and famine). In short, there needs to be enough room between the top plate of the wall and the underside of the roof decking to allow for adequate insulation and ventilation. We know that ice dams are created in large part by the escape of heat from the interior, conditioned spaces of a home into areas where that heat is not supposed to be. Namely, it is not supposed to be in the roof cavity next to the roof deck. Homes with less insulation near the eaves are troubled with ice dams far more than those with adequate insulation and ventilation. In Diagram B, we see an example of common eave construction in modern homes. Notice that the distance between the top plate and the roof deck is quite generous. This is commonly referred to as the heel height. In Diagram A, which shows a hand-framed eave, there is virtually no space for insulation or ventilation. Consequently, heat can easily pass from the room below to the roof system, melting the snow above.
Don’t despair if you have old school eaves. There are options to help prevent or at least minimize the likelihood of ice dam problems in the future. Those can be broken down into two broad categories; Architectural and non-Architectural Solutions. In short, Architectural solutions involve modifications to the thermal performance of the home, including insulation, ventilation and, most importantly, sealing air-leaks into the attic or roof truss cavities. The most effective Non-Architectural solution is simple, cheap and effective. Install a high-quality, self-regulating heat tape system on affected areas.
Ask any experienced residential designer, classic architectural styles are difficult to execute with adequate heel heights. Talented designers can pull it off, but they need to think outside the box. High-end, architecturally refined homes don’t look right with clunky, new construction eaves.
How to Tell if You Have Adequate Roof Ventilation in Your Soffits
Proper roof ventilation is an essential component of ice dam prevention. It is possible to get ice dams even when you have normal or even above average insulation in your attic. Passive heat loss will build up in your attic due to the stack effect (tendency for heat to rise). Therefore it’s important to let the attic breath so that warm air can be evacuated properly. Here is a quick way to check your attic for proper soffit, or eave ventilation:
Go up into your attic and look around in the dark. Here is what you should see:
If you can see a lot of light through your eaves (A) you have half of your attic ventilation addressed. The other half is the ventilation up near the peak of the roof either in the form of box vents mounted to the roof deck or an open ridge vent along the majority of the ridge. It’s common to see the eave ventilation clogged with blown in insulation. Another common hindrance to proper eave ventilation is compressed or collapsed air chutes. This Eden Prairie home had problems with air-sealing and attic ventilation. We fixed the problems.
Here is why it makes sense to hire professional roofers to remove your ice dams. It’s true. Most of our competitors are not roofers, nor do they understand residential construction.
Ice dam company professional roofers, professional results
Today one of our guys found a massive install error on a low-pitch rolled asphalt roof in Minneapolis. The client had no idea, and nor would any of our competitors who are not construction pros. The original roof installer failed to use adhesive between the roofing plies! (Photo 3, Point E) and no ice and water membrane whatsoever (Photo 3, Point F). That’s a major no-no. They also had all of the penetrations negatively lapped (sequenced into the asphalt improperly) (Photo 4, Point D). Good catch Paul!
The client with the roof leak in Minneapolis illustrated here called due to water pouring in through a light fixture under Point A, Photo 1. This by itself is not unusual. Roof leaks caused by ice dams often manifest many feet away from the source; sometimes a full story or two below the source. My initial theory was that water was traveling down the exterior wall of the shed dormer shown in Photo A. As it turns out, there was something more pernicious happening. The water was being pushed under an improperly flashed plumbing stack (Photo 2, Point B). While exploring the area our crews also noted the lack of lap sealant between the roofing plies (Photo 2, Point B and Photo 3, Point E).
This homeowner had used one of our largest competitors in town in 2014 to remove an ice dam (see highest ranking Google result). Guess what? They said nothing about the roofing defect. No big surprise because frankly, how would they know? They aren’t construction professionals, just ice dam removal guys who squirt ice off roofs with high-temperature pressure washers (not steamers!) (Click here to see the difference). We have seen this exact scenario play out countless times and to be honest, it’s frustrating to watch.
Ice dam company finds roof leaks
The Ice Dam Company is in fact the only company in the country with the in-house chops to diagnose and address problems with insulation, ventilation, roofing, sheet metal and other exterior envelope components. We also install miles of self-regulating heat cable each year on homes where the aforementioned architectural solutions are not appropriate or feasible. Most ice dam removal guys just use their pressure washers to squirt ice off the roof and that’s the end of it. For us, ice dam removal projects are often just the beginning of a longterm relationship with our clients. We end up remodeling their kitchen or adding onto their house through our sister company Kuhl Design + Build, a nationally recognized, award winning remodeling firm. The Ice Dam Company is a division of Kuhl’s Contracting, the third largest residential construction and remodeling company in Minnesota. There is a huge amount of cross-pollenization between the organizations. Each benefits from the resources and talents of the other. It’s fun to witness.
Ice dam company fixes roof leaks caused by ice dams and construction defects
How to Prevent Ice Dams on Your Home – Answers from the Experts
To be frank, the entire concept of ice dam prevention is a little bit disingenuous. There are certain circumstances where even the most well constructed, well insulated and ventilated roof system will get ice dams. Those situations are rare, but they do occur. When we talk about ‘prevention’, what we are realistically discussing is the field of work aimed at either reducing the likelihood of ice dams or minimizing the impact of ice dams if they do occur.
Two Approaches to Ice Dam Prevention:
We break ice dam prevention into two broad categories; Architectural and Non-Architectural. Architectural solutions involve modifications to the existing structure to alter the problematic thermal characteristics that are contributing causes of ice dams. In contrast, Non-Architectural solutions are comprised of the work done to minimize the impact of unwanted roof and gutter ice accumulations when they are likely to begin.
It’s seldom the case that a single home medication, once implemented, will permanently fix an ice dam problem. More often than not ice dam prevention involves a combination of changes in order to have a significant impact.
A very standard ice dam prevention project for The Ice Dam Company might involve enhancing or replacing the insulation in the attic or roof system, adding ventilation and sealing all of the air-leaks between the heated spaces and the attic and roof framing. Usually, this combination of endeavors yields good results. Sometimes it is necessary to alter the roofing system itself. Normally, this means installing a single ply roof system such as hand-soldered copper pans or a rubber membrane. Single ply roof systems are quite resilient in the face of ice dams but they will to work in all areas due to aesthetics. We will dig further into each of the three basic architectural solutions in other Case Studies.
Certain ice dam creation factors cannot be addressed through Architectural solutions such as insulation, ventilation, air-sealing or roof system enhancements. Case Study #19 discusses the relationship between the sun and ice dams. We recently installed heat tape on a 6 year old, $3.8 million dollar home. The homeowner had spared no expense relative to energy efficiency in the original design and construction. That was not the issue. The problem was simply that the sun was melting the snow on an exposed roof plane higher on the home which resulted in melt water running down to a cold eave area that was hidden from the sun. There it would re-freeze in cycles to create an ice dam that kept coming back year after year.
In terms of ice dam prevention, there is a small set of options available that fall outside of the Architectural solutions. These involve systems to manage snow and ice accumulations as they develop on a roof. The most popular Non-Architectural ice dam solution is heat cables. Otherwise known as heat tape and roof deicing, heat cables are wires that warm up in response to electrical current. Typically, heat cables are installed in a serpentine or zig-zag pattern on a roof along the eaves. To be clear, heat cables do not resolve the underlying issues related to why ice dams are happening rather they help manage the issue of unwanted ice accumulations when the conditions are ripe for their formation. A common complaint about heat tape is that it does not address the real issues causing the ice dams. This complaint is justified because it is true. That said, heat cable systems can be installed on a home for a fraction of the cost of traditional Architectural solutions. Many homeowners are not in the position to spend $5,000 to $25,000 for Architectural ice dam solutions making the idea of a $1,000 heat cable system very appealing. We do both approaches every day.
We would be remiss in not mentioning the very most basic thing you can do to minimize the likelihood of ice dams; Roof shoveling. Diligently removing the snow from your roof can greatly reduce the likelihood of ice dams. Unfortunately, some roofs are too high or have areas inaccessible to the average homeowner, making roof snow removal an ineffective approach to guaranteed ice dam prevention. Removing all of the snow from the roof planes affected by the ice dams is very important. See the Ice Dam Company Case Study #3 that discusses a phenomenon called the ‘Double Dam’.
You may notice that the home shown below has some icicles (sarcasm intended). Obviously, when something like this occurs, it is quite likely that you have ice dams as well as a giant insurance claim from the subsequent water damage it has caused. The fact is, the vast majority of the ice dam steaming projects we complete are not on homes with monster icicles. When we arrive we often see quite modest icicles from the ground. The relationship between icicles and ice dams is not difficult to understand when you study the problem for awhile. This Case Study digs into the topic of icicles and ice dam life cycles.
Do icicles mean ice dams? The short answer is NO. While icicles on the edge of the roof are often a precursor to ice dams, they are not always present when ice dams begin to cause leaks through a roof system. Ice dams and icicles are part of the same accumulation but they are not the same thing by any means. This brings us to the normal life cycle of an ice dam.
The characteristics of ice dams change over time. The typical lifespan of an ice dam rangers from a few days to a few weeks. During that time it may get thicker or thinner, icicles may appear and disappear on its’ leading edge, and it may be almost completely hidden under snow or partially or completely exposed. For this reason, there is a big different between a young ice dam and an old ice dam in terms of the presence of icicles. Very young ice dams often have visible icicles on their leading edge. Over the following days most ice dams tend to grow more in depth than thickness, meaning the ice migrates higher up on the roof plane (refer to Case Study #06 for more information). Icicles on more mature ice dams tend to melt away from the affects of direct sunlight or warmer outdoor temperatures. However, while the telltale icicles may be missing, the mass of the ice dam is left behind, frequently hidden under a blanket of snow.
The photos above (A) and (B) demonstrate this phenomenon on two St. Louis Park homes. Virtually no traditional signs of an ice dam and yet you see water leaking down the exterior wall, through the siding and in the wall cavity itself. Bad news.
Case Study #16 examines the important topic of ice migration, from icicles to the interior of your home.
We are the only company in the Twin Cities that regularly installs heat cables directly after steaming ice dams off the roof. We have it down to a science. In fact, installing heat cables immediately after roof ice dam steaming is a great idea because our clients prevent same-season call backs for additional ice dam removal. Speaking of science, did you know that we are a direct-to-consumer manufacturer of heat cable? It’s true and we sell it to home owners and installers all over the country.
Heat tape installation project Edina Minnesota Ice Dam Company
We are the only company in the Twin Cities that is both a manufacturer of commercial grade self-regulating heat cable and an installer. Our product is ETL and UL Listed, comes with an industry leading 5 year warranty and is built to last. This is not your typical big-box retailer heat cable. Frankly, that stuff is a joke and you should NEVER allow anyone to install it on your roof. Our self-regulating heat tape runs on 6 watts per foot and, as the name suggests, demands more energy when the outdoor temperatures are cooler and less when it is warmer. Our products are sold all over the United States because people have come to recognize our company as an industry leader in the development and installation of the finest ice dam heat cable products in the world. Click here to visit our store. Or, simply go to Amazon. We sell a ton of it there as well under the brand name HeatTapePro.
Ice Dam Company Heat Cable – Self-Regulating, Commercial Grade
We are often asked about heat cable and heat tape. Is it a good idea? Does it prevent ice dams? Are there better solutions. As with most topics, the answers are highly dependent on a number of variables. We are going to keep this post simple.
No other company in the Midwest does a higher volume of ice dam prevention work than The Ice Dam Company. Our association with Kuhl’s Contracting, a premier exteriors and insulation company in Minneapolis results in many jobs that combine home performance enhancements with top-notch roofing services. Likewise, The Ice Dam Company also installs a lot of heat cable here in our home town.
HeatTapePro is a premium brand of commercial-grade, self-regulating heat cable. We are strategic partners with the Radiant Solutions Company, the direct manufacture of HeatTapePro and all related installation accessories.
Ice dam roof deicing cable installation information
HeatTapePro self-regulating heat cable
HeatTapePro self-regulating heat cables are designed to be used for a variety of roof de-icing, gutter de-icing and pipe freeze applications. Self-regulating heat cable automatically calls for more energy when ambient outdoor temperatures are lower and conversely, less energy when outdoor temperatures are higher. HeatTapePro is pre-terminated in our factory for your safety and convenience. No field modifications will be necessary to the cable to use it for the described purposes.
It’s official. The 2016 ice dam season has begun. We had a number of crews out today removing ice dams from St. Louis Park, Minneapolis, Edina, Minnetonka and St. Paul. We have more ice dam steamers than anyone in the country and yet it always feels like a bit of a scramble the first day. Men, supplies and equipment all being organized and deployed from our headquarters in Hopkins. Our warehouse looked like a war zone today. Hoses, anti-freeze and kerosene containers, steamers, shovels, all scattered around as we assembled the trucks for duty. As hectic as operations are the first day of each season, our clients see none of it. I liken the whole thing to a duck moving across a pond. From above the duck glides seemingly effortlessly but under the water his legs are moving like crazy. After this many years in business, I know this is how most businesses happen.
Before and after of ice dam removal project in Minneapolis
Here’s something cool from today. Our guys are all professional roofers which means they understand exterior envelopes and construction assemblies. Today one of our guys found a massive install error on a low-pitch rolled asphalt roof in Minneapolis. The client had no idea. The original roof installer failed to use adhesive between the roofing plies! That’s a major no-no. They also had all of the penetrations negatively lapped (sequenced into the asphalt improperly). Good catch Paul!
The Ice Dam Company is in fact the only company in the country with the in-house chops to diagnose and address problems with insulation, ventilation, roofing, sheet metal and other exterior envelope components. We also install miles of self-regulating heat cable each year on homes where architectural solutions are not appropriate or feasible. Most ice dam removal guys just use their pressure washers to squirt ice off the roof and that’s the end of it. For us, ice dam removal projects are often just the beginning of a longterm relationship with our clients. The Ice Dam Company is a division of Kuhl’s Contracting, the third largest residential construction and remodeling company in Minnesota. There is a huge amount of cross-pollenization between the organizations. Each benefits from the resources and talents of the other. It’s fun to witness.
Ice dam removal project before and after photos from Minneapolis project 12-21-16
The Relationship Between Sunshine and Ice Dam Formation
Ice dams happen when there is a section of roof that is above freezing (32°) where roof snow melts which then drains to an area that is below freezing, usually the eaves, where it refreezes. The source of this temperature differential is usually the result of interior heat loss, specifically via air leaks and insulation issues. In fact, according to our experience, 95% of our client’s ice dam problems can be mitigated or eliminated altogether through the modification of the thermal characteristics of the home. Still, we see ice dams on certain homes for reasons outside the scope of it’s architectural deficiencies. Homes with what we might call nearly perfect air-sealing, insulation and ventilation still get ice dams. This Case Study describes such a situation.
The winter sun hits Minnesota homes (and all homes in this latitude) at a low angle during the winter. The result is that certain roof slopes never see direct sunlight while others get hit quite directly. The above illustration demonstrates an ice dam situation that relates to the heating effects of the sun. Solar radiation warms the roof slope on the dormer (1), the resulting melt water drains to an area of the home (2) that never sees direct sunshine where it refreezes to form an ice dam (3). These are particularly challenging ice dams to prevent. Often times heat tape, also known as heat cables, are the only affordable option.
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: