What to do if you have an ice dam

During a cold and snowy winter, ice dams can form quickly, staining ceilings and walls, dislodging shingles, decaying structural framing and causing water to back up into your home. In fact, water damage and freezing that can result from ice dams and other winter weather disasters account for almost 20% of all homeowners insurance claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Know how to spot the signs of ice dams and how to remove them to prevent potential damage to your home during the winter season.

What is an ice dam?

As the sun melts snow sitting on the upper part of your roof and heat rises into your attic, the water flows down to the lower, colder part of your roof. Snow and ice in this area doesn’t melt as quickly, forming melt water pools over the eaves of your roof. Some of this water then refreezes, forming a thin layer of ice. This happens repeatedly, and can cause a thick ice dam that holds back a large pool of water, preventing it from draining off the roof and forcing the water under your shingles, into the attic and down the walls of your home.

How to tell if you have an ice dam

Outside the house, look at your roof. If your gutters are layered with thick ice under the snow, an ice dam has formed. Inside the house, look for water stains or signs of moisture in the attic or along exterior walls. Your roof has an ice dam if there is water leaking from the ceilings or pooling along exterior walls.

How to remove an ice dam

If it’s safe to do so, remove an ice dam as soon as you see it to prevent damage to your home. If you can safely reach the roof, use calcium chloride ice melt to melt the dam yourself. Fill a nylon stocking with calcium chloride ice melt, typically sold at any hardware store. Place the nylon stocking vertically across the ice dam, and it will melt a channel in the dam through which water can flow. Make sure the channels extend all the way to the edge of the roof.

When to bring in a professional

According to Consumer Reports, there were an estimated 1,600 emergency room visits between 2014 and 2016 related to homeowners attempting to remove snow from their roofs without professional help. If you cannot reach the roof safely from the ground or are at all questioning whether you need assistance, contact a professional to remove the ice and snow from your roof. If you see water damage, a restoration service can dry out the walls and ceiling, preventing decay, mold and mildew from forming. Your independent insurance agent can help in finding a professional through the Select Contractor Network.

How to prevent future ice dams

  • Keep your gutters clean, so melting snow can flow off the roof.
  • Monitor your roof in cold weather. Check for icicles, as their presence means the conditions for an ice dam to form are present.
  • Use a snow rake to remove snow from your roof or hire a licensed professional snow remover or roofing contractor.
  • Use heating cables on eaves and gutters to create channels for water to drain.
  • Ensure proper attic ventilation and insulation so warm air doesn’t rise to the attic.

Coverage options that can protect you

Contact your independent insurance agent to review your existing insurance coverage protection and determine if you have the proper coverage and limits in place to protect should an ice dam damage your home.


Consumer Reports

Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety

Insurance Information Institute

LC AUG 2018-360