What to do about ice dams

Many people discover their roof has an ice dam only when they see water dripping inside their home from a ceiling.  That’s a bad feeling!

roof leak

Your first impulse may be to immediately call a roofer to have your roof fixed.

But ice dams are caused by poor roof ventilation or improper insulation, not by faulty roof shingles or defective gutters.

There may be nothing you need to do to stop an active roof leak due to an ice dam except to have the ice dam removed as soon as possible.

How to tell if you have ice dams BEFORE there’s a leak

It’s best to remove your ice dams before they cause a roof leak.

The tell-tale sign of ice dams are long icicles on the exterior of your home.

ice dam - signs

The icicles frequently hang off the roof’s eves or gutters.

If you see such signs of ice dams, it may be best for you to call a professional to have the snow removed from your roof and the ice dams opened up.

DIY remedies

If you are a dedicated do-it-yourselfer, your goal is to open channels in the ice dam to allow water to flow off your roof.

ice dam - up close

Under no circumstances should you go up on your roof in icy conditions.

Your best DIY approach to ice dams seems to be to stay on the ground and throw ice melt up on the roof.

The preferred de-icing agent appears to be calcium chloride.

calcium chloride pellets

There are hockey puck-sized tablets of ice melt you can throw up on the roof to thaw out the ice dams.

You can also use several homemade “throw socks” to do the melting work.

ice dam - throw sock

Here’s how to do it:

Fill an old tube sock with ice melt granules.

Tie the sock closed and leave a long “retrieval rope” attached to the sock.  Throw the sock up on your roof and position the sock on the roof above the ice dam.

The ice melt approach may take time to work, but it is much safer than going up on a high roof to manually eliminate the dam.

What to do if an ice dam causes an active roof leak?

The big problem comes when you have an ice dam that is causing water to come inside your home.

You may have to put up with the leak until professional help arrives.

If the weather has been bad and there are a lot of other homeowners seeking emergency ice dam work, you may end up waiting hours (if not days) for someone to come help you.

That may mean there’s a lot of water dripping into buckets in your house!

Easily accessible roof

If the ice dam is on a low roof that you can safely get at via a ladder, you may want to see if you can quickly stop the water leak by removing the dam yourself.

See the video below on how you might accomplish this:

Avoid the temptation to hack away at the ice dam.  You can inadvertently cause a lot of damage to your roof by being rough.

Go easy on hammering and be very careful with any pointy objects.

The bottom line with all DIY ice dam projects: when in doubt, stop and call a professional – and don’t go up on the roof!

Root causes of the ice dam problem

You may have to wait until warm weather comes to MA to address the causes of your ice dam problems.

Here are some links to sites addressing the common problems with poor ventilation and inadequate insulation that lead to ice dams; the sites provide tips on how to prevent dams from occurring in the first place:




So the next time after a major snow storm in Massachusetts you marvel at all the pretty icicles hanging down from area rooftops, think of ice dams and the steps homeowners can take to prevent the damage ice dams can cause!

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