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.
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
How Much Should it Cost to Have an Ice Dam Removed: Ice Dam Steaming Costs Explained by The Ice Dam Company
Ice Dam Removal: Pricing Vs. Cost
As mentioned in Case Study #05, there is a big difference between price and cost when trying to figure out how much your ice dam removal project will cost. The price is what someone tells you over the phone, normally relating to what they charge per hour for their ice dam removal services. We made a list of the 8 most common factors in determining the cost of ice dam removal in Case Study #05. Here is an examination of one major driver in ice dam removal cost: The depth of the ice dam.
Which takes longer to remove?
Intuition might suggest that thicker ice dams (A) take longer to remove then thinner ice dams (B). Not true. The main factor in the ice dam removal cost is how far up the roof the ice has grown. We refer to this as the ‘depth’ of the ice dam. Deeper ice dams take much longer to remove than those that are thick but shallow.
Estimating the Cost of Ice Dam Removal by Steam
You might think that after having removed thousands of ice dams around the country over the past 25 years we would be able to provide an accurate estimate over the phone as to how long a project might take. Sadly, we can’t. Anyone offering a guaranteed timeframe for ice dam removal projects over the phone is frankly full of it. We know that we can often remove between 10-15 feet of ice dam as measured along an eave every hour after the equipment is set up (C), below left. We know that there are many factors that determine the ultimate length of the ice dam steaming time, as discussed in Case Study #05. One of the main project timeframe drivers is ice dam depth and it can not be known until an experienced eye sees it and that can’t be known until the snow has been removed from the area. Until the ice dam is fully exposed it is impossible to know how long it will take to remove it. In the photos below, the ice dam on the right took three times longer to steam off than the ice dam on the left, even though it was 1/3 the thickness and the roof was a ‘walker’. It’s all about how far up the roof the ice has grown.
We have spent a lot of time discussing the finer points about ice dams over the years. This Case Study is about pulling the focus back to the most global understanding of why ice dams happen.
What Causes Ice Dams
There are over a dozen factors that contribute to the formation of ice dams, all of which have been discussed in previous Case Studies. Fundamentally, only one condition MUST be met in order for ice dams to form: A temperature differential from one area of a roof assembly to another area, with the upper area being above 32° and the lower area being below 32°. See below.
How it Works
This diagram demonstrates the basic concept behind ice dam formation. Snow melts in the area above 32°, water runs down to the area below 32° and refreezes. This cycle continues until an accumulation of ice forms that is large enough to block water from flowing naturally off the roof. The resulting ‘ice dam’ forces water to back up under the roofing materials and into the structure. There are many intersecting variables that cause the phenomenon described here. See below.
List of 7 Contributing Factors to Ice Dam Formation
A period of outdoor temperatures ranging between 0°-10° at night followed by daytime temperatures between 10°-20°.
Repeated snow falls that keep the roof loaded with new snow resulting in at least 6″ of coverage at all times.
Thermal inefficiencies in the home that allow warmth to heat up the roof deck from the underside.
Homeowner lifestyle that results in excessively heated spaces (More heat equals more roof snow melting).
Roof pitch: Flatter roof pitches tend to be more affected by problematic ice dams.
Eave depth: Smaller eaves tend to be more affected by problematic ice dams than deeper eaves.
Age and construction style of home: Older homes tend to be more affected than newer homes.
I’ve been working on a new graphic to describe the basics for homeowners in Minneapolis to identify a problematic ice dam. It’s true that some ice dams cause no problems. The key consideration in determining whether or not an ice dam is a current problem is all about where you see ice. Study this drawing closely and you will see that any ice behind the facia is a bad sign. Ice through the soffit, down the exterior wall or through the window frame is very bad thing. Leaks caused by ice dams minneapolis
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 number of companies 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 granules 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 Absolutely Clean Window Washing. I’ve been around this industry 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 over the entire course of the job 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: