This winter in Connecticut has been mild so far, but the last several have been humdingers. We had no sooner bought our old farmhouse in September 2008 than an early December storm dumped huge amounts of snow which promptly started melting the next day then refroze in the gutters. Next thing I know I'm watching water drip around the beams inside the house! I've tried everything from raking snow off the roof as far as I can reach, to pouring hot water onto the ice to laying stocking full of ice melt in the gutters. The only real solution seems to be not to let ice dams form in the first place. What are solutions that others have come up with?

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It depends on the house and roof.

Air sealing the attic space and ventilation can reduce the ice dam forming. Ice and water shield membrane under the roofing, or a metal snow belt at the eaves, can help prevent leaks due to ice backup. Sometimes, other than costly rebuilding of the structure, gutter de-icing cables are the solution.

We just had our roof redone and never seeing it before, but the roofer was putting something under the first run or so and when I asked him what it was he said it was an ice shield, code required.

I guess that was good to know as we still have gutters to consider.

well my house has a cedar shake roof - not sure you can put snow and ice shield under those as they sit on a plastic mesh right on top of the roof sheathing boards. So there is an 1/2 - 1" gap at the edge of the shingles where the ice backs right in and goes into the soffett then into the house.

If there was any possibility of ice damming, the roofers should have installed ice and water shield under the "cedar breather" plastic mesh.

I have a short piece about ice shield / ice guard on my MOH blog here.

After the nasty snow in late 2010/2011 a lot of the stores this fall started selling those electric gutter/roof heaters. They were everywhere and I had never seen them prior. I have no idea if they work well?   

Personally, I think they are ugly as all get out. 

Additionally, when I had the roof done we had a membrane installed  (default) under the synthetic slate.  We also had some snow guards installed which prevented snow loads from falling on our heads, but subsequently provided more surface area for the ice dams to grab onto!!!   

If the ice dams get too big this year I might be calling the roofers to get off the ice dams, or will get up on the extension ladder and use a propane-powered weed killer to melt off some of the ice.  All told - what a pain!!! 

Hi Ken, 

Yes, de-icing cables are ugly. I use them as a last resort.

A local roofing company tried propane torches on an ice dam a few years ago near here. The resulting fire nearly burned down a beautiful historic mansion. 

There are now companies with steam machines similar to power washers that can get the snow off. But at a pretty hefty price.

A competent roofer can relieve ice dams with a small ax and ice melt, and temporary heat cables.

Thanks Dennis for the heads-up!!!  Very scary to know that professionals nearly burned a mansion down.  :( 

I will not be using a propane weed killer to remove ice unless it's on my driveway.   I think the option of calling my roofing contractor sounds like the best policy vs. me cobbling together a home-grown recipe for  disaster.  

From the sounds of this discussion you may have design issues or at least fabrication issues. The original design of our house had the built-in gutters (I am not sure what the offical name of this type of gutter is) at the four corners of the house which collected all the roof runoff. When we bought it there was only one working (sort of) gutter, the others had been roofed over. This last one was well rotted and had damaged not only the interior walls, eave, but the roof joists as well in and around it. So we repaired the eave and roofed over this one as well.

We thought about fixing all of them. My roofer knew what to do and how they worked, but I could only imagine that there would be leak problems sometime in the future, just like that last one. My feeling was just because they did something 110 years ago, did not make it the right thing to do. To me, mounting the gutter outside the roof leaves the water on the outside, even if it overflows.


Bill - around here we call them Yankee gutters and they are the bane of every roofer/remodeler. Oftentimes you dont know they're there until you step on the edge of the roof and your foot goes through! I would roof right over them and install real gutters.


That is exactly what we did. Though the idea is a neat look, it  seems to me it exposes the interior roof and walls with the potential of water/misture problems.

well my thoughtful wife got me a much coveted roof rake for Christmas and we finally got a good snow so I tried it out. It works awesome! Lightweight, long reach and very sturdy. I pulled snow down as far as I could reach with it ~12 ft and cleaned out the valleys especially. Unfortunately I waited too long after the snowfall and ice had already formed in the gutters but it wasnt thick and at least no more snow will melt into it.

In years past as a last resort I poured non-toxic antifreeze (also called RV antifreeze) onto the worst sections and it melted through pretty quickly but it was out of pure desperation.

Roof rakes rock!

Very often the ice dam is caused by insulating without thinking.  

With energy costs being what they are homeowners have fallen in love with insulating the attic floor as much as they can for maximum R value.  This turns the attic into a climate zone unto itself, and Mother Nature just loves to jump in and help out.  Evidently the Ol Girl thinks of the roof as her ice machine for her 5:15 pick me up.

A small fan and a section or 2 of duct pipe in the attic will keep the air in the attic circulating and the roof temperature fairly constant.  This generally keeps the snow blanket at the top of the roof from melting and running down to become an ice dam.


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