How to Melt Ice on a Roof?

Ice dams and icicles that hang off the roof can be unsightly and dangerous. However, they can also be a red flag that water is seeping back from the eaves and damaging your home.

Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent ice dams and icicle formation on your roof without climbing on the roof and risking your safety. Ice dam prevention is key to avoiding the need for ice dam removal, as addressing the issue before ice dam forms is the most effective approach.

Use a Snow Rake

Snow might look pretty when it’s piled high on the ground, but it can cause serious problems for homeowners. It is essential to keep up with removing ice dams and snow from the roof to prevent damage that can lead to leaks, mold, and more. It’s also important to be cautious with ice dams, as they can pose a safety hazard if not dealt with properly.

While you might have a shovel or snow blower at your disposal, one of the best tools for attacking ice dams is a “roof rake.” These are specifically designed to pull away from the roof rather than push the snow. When paired with a ladder, they can be used to safely remove the snow that forms ice dams. Using a roof rake, you should try to remove the snow up to 4-6 feet from the edge of the roof to avoid damaging the shingles or other roof coverings. If you're looking to melt ice quickly and efficiently, you can also consider using ice melt products specifically designed for ice dam formation prevention.

Alternatively, you can use calcium chloride granules or ice melt tablets (also known as hockey puck-like tablets) to melt the ice dams. However, many experts recommend that you not use them directly on the roof because they can corrode the nails and discolor the roof coverings. Instead, you can place the ice melt product in a tube sock and hang it on the roof, with its end perpendicular to and over the gutters.

This will create a channel through the ice dam, which will allow additional water to run off the roof. You can also purchase a special garden hose nozzle that heats the water and use it to spray down the ice dam. This is a temporary solution, but it can help to loosen the ice dam and make it easier to break up. In addition to using these methods, be sure to remove snow from your roof regularly to prevent the formation of ice dams.

Use Calcium Chloride Granules

Many people use calcium chloride granules to melt ice on sidewalks and driveways, but it also works well on roofs. You can simply scatter it on the ice dam, and it will quickly melt away some of the ice dam and make it easier to remove manually. Before applying it, be sure to wear rubber gloves and have a partner to help hold the ladder and monitor your safety. Don’t try to chip a large ice dam with an axe or chisel, as this could damage your roof and lead to leaks down the line.

Unlike rock salt, which is often used for de-icing and can damage shingles, calcium chloride does not corrode metals. It’s best to avoid rock salt altogether, though, as it can rust your gutters and if it gets into plants and grass it can damage them as well. Instead, look for ice melt that is calcium and sodium chloride free and made specifically for roofs. Also, remember that good attic insulation and exterior wall insulation can help prevent ice dams from forming in the first place, as they reduce heat loss from your home and keep your roof cooler, especially when the weather warms up. When removing snow and ice dams, using a lightweight roof rake can be a helpful and safe tool to reach those higher areas of your roof.

Another great option is to buy ice melt tablets that contain only calcium chloride and are safe for both your roofs and the surrounding plants. These roof melt tablets can be applied to individual ice dams and are especially effective when the temperatures drop into double-digit negative numbers.

One of the best options is to buy the Eco Living Snow and Ice Melt Tablets, which are a great choice for roofs because they start working the moment you toss them on the problem area. They can be used to prevent ice dams and are effective on both black and shingled roofs. They’re also odor-free and chloride-free, so they won't harm the environment, pets, or vegetation around your house while helping to remove ice dams.

Use an Ice Pick

Ice dams aren't just unsightly; they're a serious hazard that can lead to leaks and structural damage. Failing to remove ice dams can also lead to water traveling behind the shingles and refreezing in places you don't want it, like the eaves and gutter troughs. This water can seep back into the house and can also cause rot and staining of shingles and gutters as ice dams form.

A common DIY approach is to use a roof rake to try to pull off the ice. But, a rake can only pull snow off the top few feet of the roof, and is unlikely to break through any existing ice dams. Plus, any remaining ice that’s bonded to the shingles won’t come off without taking a few shingles along with it.

Another option is to use calcium chloride granules, the same stuff you can buy for melting ice and snow on driveways and sidewalks. But don’t sprinkle the ice melt directly on the ice dam. Instead, fill tied-off tube socks or pantyhose legs with the granules and position them along the edge of the roof.

The ice melt will slowly release the ice dams and allow water to flow off the roof. But, you’ll need to address the underlying issue that’s causing the ice dams in the first place. A thermal analysis of your attic can often uncover what’s allowing the temperature of the attic to rise higher than the cold roof edges, and leading to ice dams. Sealing air leaks and adding insulation in the attic can help prevent future ice dams. You can also use a box fan to blow cold air down on the attic floor, and direct it over the areas where ice dams are concentrated.

Use Chemicals

While ice dams may seem like pretty ice sculptures, they can cause serious damage to your home. Moisture from melting snow backs up behind ice dams, damaging walls, ceilings and insulation. It can also allow mold and mildew to grow inside your home.

Non-uniform roof surface temperatures are a leading cause of ice dams. Warm air from your attic transfers to the snow on your roof, warming it and sending running meltwater down the roof. This water then freezes when it reaches the cold eaves of your roof, creating an ice dam. This prevents the melting water from flowing off your roof and into your gutters and downspouts.

Ice dams can be difficult to remove, even for experienced roofing contractors. They are also dangerous to get on, requiring the use of heavy machinery or climbing equipment. Attempting to break an ice dam with a hammer, sledge-hammer, pickaxe or other tool can damage your roof, strip protective granules and possibly pierce the shingles.

Some homeowners and some roofing companies promote a method to prevent ice dams by putting calcium chloride (the same kind of de-icer that is used on sidewalks and driveways) in a pair of panyhose and laying it across your eaves. This technique is not recommended, as it can damage your roof, cause shingles to separate from their base and kill the bushes or shrubs underneath.

Some people think that you can stop future ice dams by putting heat cables in your attic. These cables are supposed to melt channels into the ice dams, releasing the trapped water and melting the ice. However, it's not a permanent solution. The temperature in the attic must be consistently above freezing for this to work, and it won't stop existing ice dams from forming.

Use Heat

Ice dams can cause extensive home damage when they form at the eaves. They can rip off gutters and tear at shingles, as well as allow water to back up through the roof into your house. This can result in warped floors, stained ceilings, and soaked insulation that loses its R-value. Fortunately, you can use a simple stop-gap measure to promote heat transfer and melt the ice dams, allowing trapped water to flow off your roof.

Many homeowners try to break apart ice dams with hammers or chisels, but this is usually not a good idea. Not only is it dangerous to try to knock away ice from the roof, but it's difficult to remove the resulting shingle granules without also breaking the underlying shingles. Instead, consider using heat tape to prevent heat transfer into the attic, thereby preventing ice dams from forming in the first place. This is a safer and more effective method for ice dam prevention.

A safer alternative to tearing at the ice dams with a hammer or chisel is using heat to melt them. A box fan aimed at the source of a leak in your house can rapidly freeze the water and allow the ice dam to melt back and flow off the roof.

Another method that uses heat to melt the ice dams is putting calcium chloride ice melt (the same material you'd use on sidewalks and driveways) in an old pantyhose or tube sock and laying it across the eaves of your house. This can help prevent ice dams from forming, and it's easier to apply than snow melting chemicals that are spread with a hose or shovel. However, be careful that the calcium chloride doesn't contaminate the gutters or shingle surface. Salt typically doesn't melt ice, and it can corrode gutter nails and stain or discolor shingles.

You can also use a small hand-held fan to move the melting ice and water, or you can manually chip at the ice with a hammer or mallet (be careful not to use anything that might cause additional roof or shingle damage). As the ice melts and is forced off the roof by the directional flow of the fan, it will leave behind drainage channels in the resulting runoff.

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