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Ice Dam Steaming: What Is It and How Does It Work?

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A roof is a home’s primary defense against weather conditions. If damaged during a severe storm and left unchecked for extended periods, it can lead to a number of problems that affect not only the roofing system, but also the indoor and outdoor spaces of the house. 

Ice Dam Steaming

Ice dams are one of the most common roofing issues residential owners face. 

What Causes Ice Dams to Form?

An ice dam, or a ridge of ice, generally forms when melted snow refreezes on the eaves of sloped roofs. To form an ice dam, the presence of three elements are required: snow, heat to melt the snow and cold to refreeze the melted snow.

Heat from inside the home naturally rises through the ceiling and into the attic space. If the attic is properly ventilated, the heat is distributed, leaving the attic and roof deck as cold as the air outside the house. Without adequate ventilation in the attic, however, the heat accumulates under the roof deck and causes the snow sitting on the roof to melt. Melted snow drips down the slope of the roof to the eaves and then refreezes. As this cycle persists, the layer of ice at the eaves becomes increasingly thicker, eventually causing a dam that traps the melted snow behind it and causes the water to stagnate.

What Damage Do Ice Dams Cause?

Ice dams can bring about all sorts of problems that require roof repair. If the water from the melted snow continues to run off, the water will pool and back up onto the roof surface. The water can seep underneath the shingles and leak into the home, causing water damage to the interiors, such as damaged ceilings, wet insulation, peeling paint and damp floorboards. There are times when an ice dam causes damage to the roof covering itself as well as other parts of the exterior. For example, when water continues to refreeze, there is a high chance of large ridges of ice building up in the gutters. This ice buildup can become too heavy to the point where gutters gradually detach from the roof. When unaddressed, basement flooding, soil erosion and foundation damage can occur.

What Should You Do When Your Roof Has Ice Dams?

For the regular homeowner, the removal of an ice dam can be quite dangerous. Experts strongly advise against walking on a snow-capped roof and putting rock salt on the roof. When large icicles are extending from your eaves and gutters, consider contacting a professional roofer to remove snow and ice from your roof.

What Is Ice Dam Steaming?

Ice dam steaming is the quickest method to remove 100% of the ice without inflicting damage to the roofing materials. Ice dam steaming devices are designed to be as safe and gentle as possible. Countless hours of research has been devoted to optimizing these machines and determining the most appropriate pressure and temperature.

Ice dam steaming refers to the process of converting cold water into gentle low-pressure steam and directing the spray of steam through a specialized nozzle to melt ice dams. Because it utilizes low-pressure steam, it does not cut through or break roofing materials like asphalt shingles like a hot water pressure washer which uses high pressure and high temperature and, therefore, will not cause further damage and need for roof repair. At the very least, a pressure washer will take the protective granules off the shingles and potentially shorten the lifespan of the roof.

How Does Ice Dam Steaming Work?

Ice dam steaming is the safest and most effective method of removing ice dams from a roof. In fact, this technique is preferred by many roofing manufacturers and insurance companies. So, how does it work exactly?

Inside the ice dam steamer, cold water runs through many feet of metal coils. These coils are heated by a kerosene burner, which turns the water into steam. With low pressure, the steam is then directed through the hose up to the roof. From the roof or a ladder, the roofer will melt through the thick ridges of ice to loosen them from the roof or gutters.

How Do You Prevent Ice Dams?

Here are a few things homeowners can do to help minimize the risk of ice dams:

  • Make sure the attic is adequately insulated. Simply, ice dams can be prevented by regulating heat loss. When the attic floor is adequately insulated by roofing contractors, it keeps the heat from within the living space from rising and melting the snow and ice on the roof.
  • Have the attic inspected for proper ventilation. Proper ventilation in the attic helps address excess heat and moisture that can wreak havoc on your home. It also assists in preventing the formation of ice dams on the roof. If you are planning on re-roofing your house, install a water-repellent membrane under the roof covering as an additional measure against roof leaks caused by ice dams.
  • Consider eliminating recessed light fixtures. Recessed lighting is installed directly inside a ceiling, wall or other surfaces. Unfortunately, ice dams may be unavoidable if your home has recessed light fixtures near the roof. Heat produced from these lights contributes to the melting of snow, which then leads to a buildup of ice ridges.
  • Seal off any gaps. By sealing off gaps in the roof, it reduces the likelihood of heat successfully rising into the attic. Any leaks caused by cracks in the drywall, gaps around skylights, chimneys or vents, and unsealed attic hatches can all lead to heat loss.
  • Remove snow from the roof after a snowfall. After a mild snowfall, snow and ice will often melt and clear itself. However, if you are concerned about your roof and a heavy snowstorm hits your town, you will need to take additional steps to remove the accumulated snow. Six inches or more of snow will need to be removed from your roof since ice dams can form at this depth. Use a roof rake to safely clear snow off your roof, or hire roofing contractors with the proper equipment to perform the removal.
  • Install heat cables along the eaves of the roof. If heat cables are correctly installed, they can be useful in minimizing water buildup behind ice dams. While they are not a long-term solution, they are a cheap and effective choice if you need a quick fix. Heat cables also protect your gutters from filling with ice and breaking off the roof. Keep in mind, however, that these cables require electricity to operate, and if you leave them running all winter long, your energy bills will surely increase.
  • Clean gutters ahead of time. If your area is expecting a torrential downpour or a snowstorm, make sure that your gutters are clean. In the winter, gutters are usually still clogged from leaves and other debris from the fall months. By cleaning out your gutters, you can ward off any water backup that may increase the chances of ice dam formation.

Contact Us for Quality Ice Dam Removal Services

Neumann Construction uses specialized high-pressure steam equipment to remove ice dams in a safe and efficient manner. You can count on our team of skilled roofers to deliver exceptional workmanship and personable customer service every step of the way. To work with us on ice dam removal or roof replacement, call (218) 217-4892, or fill out our contact form. We work with residents of Brainerd, MN, and other neighboring areas.