In many regions across the US, accumulating snow means ice dams and roof leaks.
The resulting damage can be quite extensive and costly to repair. It ranges from torn off gutters and falling shingles to peeling paint, ruined flooring and stained ceilings, if the water gets into the house.
Another highly undesirable consequence is wet attic insulation, which will likely loose its R value, and cause serious mold issues.
To avoid all of the potential problems, it is essential to focus on preventing ice dams. This can be a difficult task for homeowners and roofers alike.
Here are some of the best products that you can use to eliminate or minimize damages.
If you are a DIY homeowner, you can buy and install most of these products yourself, or hire a contractor.
What are Ice Dams and what causes them?
Ice Dams happen when you have snow on the roof and the heat that escapes form inside your house / attic melts the snow.
As it melts, water runs down the roof, and when it gets to the edge (eaves) which are unheated, it once again freezes.
As more and more water freezes along the eaves, ice builds up, creating ice dams. As even more water runs down, it now has nowhere to go, so it backs up under the shingles, and leaks into your roof.
In general, the steeper your roof, the more thick a dam would have to be to cause damage. Conversely, the flatter your roof, the more susceptible it will be to ice dams.
The main cause of ice dams is lack of proper attic insulation AND roof ventilation, so it is ideal to improve both, before you resort to the solutions listed below. However, it is not always possible to fix insulation / ventilation issues, and that’s why we list other solutions and products.
From the list below, my favorite are 4, 5 and 6 – adding insulation, ventilation and installing Ice Belt metal panels or a whole metal roof. However, these are costly capital improvements and will in most cases require hiring a professional. But, unlike other solutions, these are permanent and will not cause ongoing expenses.
Moreover, there are a few immediate solutions that you can use to get rid of ice dams for a short time. Let’s take a look.
1 – Using Ice Melt Socks (immediate solution)
Ice Melt Socks are much easier to make and use, as they don’t require hiring an electrician or a roofer (in most cases). All you need are some supplies and a ladder to reach your roof (with a stabilizer bar for safety).
Here is what you will need:
1) A few pairs of nylon stockings.
2) A bucket (bag) of Calcium Chloride ice melt.
Cut the “leg” part off the stockings, and fill them up with 2-3 pounds of ice melt and tie the ends. That’s it.
Next go up on the roof, and put ice melt socks vertically, one end onto the gutter and the other end up the roof slopes, spacing them every 3 feet. The socks will create (melt) a channel in the ice to allow the water to run off your roof, instead of building up along the eaves and leaking inside.
You can also place the socks into the gutters to prevent ice build-up there.
2 – Snow Rake (immediate solution)
Removing the snow off your roof before it melts and freezes along the eaves will minimize the effect of ice dams. The trick here is to remove as much snow as you can without causing any damage to shingles.
This snow rake is on sale on Amazon, and it has two rollers on the bottom edge as well as plastic sheet to help snow slide off roof fast, so when you remove snow, it won’t damage the shingles.
The lightweight solid aluminum construction makes this rake sturdy and easy to use by most people. If you are feeling like having a little workout, check this one out.
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3 – Ice Melting Heat Cables (requires installation)
60ft. Roof De-Icing Heat Cable – $49 with Shipping on Amazon
This is probably the most “popular” or most sold type of ice melting heat cables, as practically every big box store sells it. HardwareWorld.com sells it for $61, while big boys like Home Depot, Lowe’s, WallMart, etc sell it for around $85 – so if you are up for paying an electrician, and saving some money along the way, grab this one.
Keep in mind though that you WILL have to go up on the roof and install these in a zigzag pattern, on the lower 2 feet of your roof, and maybe along the gutters. So chances are you may need a roofer and / or an electrician.
If you plan to do this yourself, make sure there is no snow on the roof, and use a ladder with a stabilizer bar (so it won’t slip on you). Also, take precautions not to make a short circuit.
Your power outlet would be out of the water (preferably under the roof overhang). If you do not have an outlet, get an electrician to run a wire or two for you.
When you attach ice melting cables to the roof, be sure to place fasteners UNDER the overlapping shingles – or you will make holes in the roof where water can leak.
There are many things you need to be aware of when installing this, so first read the installation manual and watch some YouTube videos on how to do this the right and SAFE way.
Also, it will use a good amount of electrical power, and it is not the best solution overall.
If you hire a contractor that installs professional grade heat cables (240v) you are looking to spend $45-60 per linear foot of roof eave + around $500 electrician fee.
An average home with a gable roof has 70 to 100 feet of eaves so it would cost you anywhere from $3650 to $6500 to have a heat cable installed professionally, plus the electricity cost to operate them.
4 – Add Blown-in Roof / Attic Insulation (requires installation)
As we discussed earlier, the best way to get rid of ice dams is to eliminate the root cause, which is heat loss in your attic. Moreover, you will make your home more energy efficient, and save money on heating and cooling. The easiest way is to add blown in insulation.
You can go to any Home Depot / Lowe’s / Menard’s store, buy 20 bundles of insulation and they will give (lend / rent) you a machine to install it for free. 20 bags is what it takes to insulate an average attic, and sometimes more. Also, insulation itself is not expensive.
You can buy GreenFiber Blow-in Fiber Insulation for $12.15 at Home Depot and $12.76 at Lowe’s, per 19 lbs. bag, which has 40 sq. ft. coverage at R13 or 17.4 sq. ft. coverage at R30 which is standard for roofs / attics.
Thus, to cover 1000 sq. ft. of attic space (horizontal) with R30 cellulose / fiber insulation, you will need 58 bags, costing you $705 + tax.
You will also need baffles / flutes to preserve soffit air intakes, for proper roof ventilation. For a hypothetical 25 x 40 attic footprint (1000 sq. ft.) you will need 60 baffles, costing $1.95 each.
Alternatively, you can use Fiber Glass blown in insulation (such as the Owens Corning shown in the DIY video below), which costs $29.68 per bag at Home Depot. Similar John Manville (a Berkshire Hathaway company) fiberglass insulation sells at Lowe’s for same $29.68.
I personally like the Pink brand (Owens Corning) better, because it’s not as irritating on your skin as JM (in this case, I mean the rolled pink insulation with paper backing).
The fiberglass insulation has 65.4 sq.ft. coverage at R30, so you will only need to purchase 16 bags, which will cost $475 (vs $705 for Cellulose fiber).
However, to get the free machine rental you will still need to buy 20 bags, so your cost will go up to $600. But, on the up side, you will get an extra R value!
Thus, your total cost for insulating the attic yourself for a hypothetical 1000 sq. ft. space is $720 – $825 + tax. Now if you call a roofer to fix Ice Dams, you will likely pay much more, depending on the actual issues and scope of work.
DIY Installation of Owens Corning AttiCat Blown-in Attic Insulation
5 – Add / Improve Attic Ventilation (needs pro installation)
The reality is you can’t stop heat loss completely. To preserve, maintain and prolong the life of your roof system and wood substrate you need the ventilate the attic space. Most roofs have poor, inadequate ventilation, utilizing static box vents, gable vents, ridge vent only, or ridge + soffit vents with blocked soffit intakes (see portion in the Insulation section, talking about baffles). A few roofs have proper ventilation, while some have no ventilation at all.
The most notorious roof types with poor or no ventilation are Hip and Gambrels. My own home has a hip roof with ZERO ventilation, but I used a breathable synthetic underlayment and a metal roof, so poor ventilation is not an issue.
When it comes to ventilation you probably won’t be able to DIY this one, and will need to hire a roofer. Ask your friends if they know a reliable contractor, or you can use our Free Roof Estimate form to get matched with pre-screened local roofers.
To install a new ridge vent (40 ln. ft.) with matching Ridge Cap shingles and 80 ln. ft. of soffit intake vents, will cost you about $1500, give or take. Note that if the space between your rafters is blocked, the soffit intakes will not work. Unblock them, and install baffles, to make sure they don’t get blocked again.
Improved ventilation combined with adequate attic insulation should solve and prevent most ice dams, but even these two won’t work 100% of the time. That is why we list the 3 most effective (and pretty expensive) methods to combat ice dams.
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6 – Metal Ice Belt Roof Panels (requires professional installation)
The truth is, the best solution for ice dams is removing the weak point – asphalt shingles roof. It is the design and the way shingles are installed that make them prone to ice dam leaks. Shingles are a water shedding system, which means water runs down the roof, and in that case, shingles work. As soon as water starts traveling UP, the roof leaks. This is exactly what happens with ice dams (water trapped by ice, travels up).
If you switch to a continuous metal roof system, you will eliminate a way for water to get into your roof! But, metal roofs are expensive. If you do not want to install an entire new metal roof, you can put metal only where it is really needed to prevent ice dams – along the eaves. This is called Ice Belt Metal Panels.
Ice Belt metal panels are typically short (3-4′) and wide (2.5-3′), and are made of thin gauge aluminum. They can be field formed out of 24″ wide aluminum trim coil, used for siding, or professional made is a sheet metal shop. This does not affect the quality.
The only purpose of Ice Belt panels is to shed ice and snow off the roof edge, and if Ice Dams do form, they can’t leak into the roof.
The Ice Belt can be installed either directly over your shingles (not recommended) or by removing several rows of shingles along the eaves, installing synthetic underlayment (or ice shield), and then installing the panels.
The first way will cost about $30-40 per linear foot of eave, while the second will be more like $45-60. This is the same or LESS than installing heat cables, does not involve an electrician and you won’t have to use electricity. So no ongoing expenses and no risk of short circuits or other “fun” electrical stuff.
However, if your roof is pretty old, we don’t recommend installing an ice belt without replacing the whole roof. Otherwise in a year or two, when the roof is replaced, the old shingles will be torn down, and the ice belt will get damaged in the process.
7 – New Metal Roof
The most solid solution is to install a new metal roof. While this is also the most expensive option, it will last the longest (50+ years typically). A metal roof does not need to be a continuous standing seam panel (like the one shown in the picture below). Stone coated tiles, metal shingles and corrugated (R-Panels) exposed fastener systems are all “Ice Dam Proof” with some exceptions (rare metal roof systems that do not have reverse lock on the bottom or sides).
Unlike the other products on this list, a metal roof over the entire home WILL cost over $10,000 for most people. So it is not an economical solution at all, but it is well worth the extra expense in the long run.
8 – Specialized, integrated roof edge heating / ice melting systems (requires professional installation)
An eave integrated heating / melting panels are effective at melting the ice dams, and the heating element is completely concealed. This is a professional grade product that will not break in 2-3 years. However, these are super expensive, will require at least an electrician, and in some cases an “authorized installer”. Finally, they will cost you more and more in electricity costs (same as ice melting cables).
I’d only recommend these in cases such as “required for architectural purposes” or if no other solution works, and you need a long term integrated system, while burning electricity is not a big concern for you.
Here are some of the different products:
Hot Edge heated drip edge – sold direct or installed by “approved contractors”.
ZMesh – heated strips installed UNDER asphalt shingles. Sold by “Ice Dam Solutions” and installed by a network of local dealers.
Here is what installing an integrated roof de-icing system looks like:
9 – Ice Melting Pucks
This product is the same as ice melting socks above. It is made from Calcium Chloride, and is sold online, or at home improvement stores. We put these as #9, because they are not very effective. They do not work as well as the “sock” and can easily be blown off the roof.
These pucks do not require any work, except from actually putting them on the roof. Unlike the sock, they just melt ice around themselves, and do not create a path for water to flow down the roof. You will need to use many pucks to get the desired effect.
10 – Steam, Blow-torch, Propane flame – something you SHOULD NOT DO
This method is used by “ice dam removal” contractors. It is for extreme cases only, and should not be used on a regular basis. Moreover, it definitely falls into the category of “do not try this yourself”.
Check out this ice dam removal with steam – it’s quiet dangerous:
Bonus – most common locations of Ice Dams
Here is a map of where ice dams are most likely to occur.
Image credit: http://www.kuhlscontracting.com/
The number one place for ice dams is your roof eaves, but it can happen in many other spots.
Note: Ice dams never happen over unheated spaces, such as sheds, garages, porches, etc.
Good luck! Please let us know if this was helpful, and if we’ve missed some great product.
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I've been a roofer for 13 years, and specialize in Metal Roofing and Flat Roofing.
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