How to Prevent An Ice Dam

ice dam

By Peter Schick

After last winter, it would be hard to find a homeowner who is not familiar with ice dams and the associated problems.  The damage and headaches they caused throughout the northeastern United States kept handymen and contractors working overtime.  Despite all the damage that ice damming can cause, it is easily prevented, but not as easily fixed.

What Is An Ice Dam?

An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms around the edge of a roof, sometimes on or near the gutters, that prevents melting snow from draining off the roof.  Since the melting snow cannot effectively drain off the roof, the water often leaks through the roof causing damage to the insulation, walls, and ceilings.  The moisture left by this leaking water often causes long term mold and mildew issues, which can lead to respiratory problems.

How Do I Prevent An Ice Dam?

Ice dams form due to excess heat in your attic that melts the snow on a portion of the roof.  Areas of your roof that are not as warm, typically near the gutters or the edge of your roof, are colder and these areas do not melt.  In order to prevent ice dams you need to reduce the level of heat in your attic and make the temperature of the roof more uniform.  There are three ways you can do this:

ice dam

  1. Add ventilation to your attic. Ventilation to your attic will help maintain consistent temperatures along all parts of the roof.  As shown in the picture above, have a soffit vent and a ridge vent on the top of the roof will allow outside air to freely flow underneath the roof.  This will help prevent an ice dam from forming.  Be sure to check these vents to ensure they remain free of debris, snow, or ice throughout the winter or they will not work as desired.

ice dam

  1. Increase insulation in attic. This will prevent heat from inside your house from rising up into the attic and warming the roof.  Special attention needs to be given to any vents that are in the attic.  These vents can directly heat the attic if they are not properly insulated. 


  1. Remove snow from the roof. If snow is removed from your roof, the primary ingredient for an ice dam is taken away.  This is only a short term solution and can be dangerous, so be careful!


I Have An Ice Dam Right Now, How Do I Fix It?

Do not succumb to the temptation to simply knock down the icicles with a hammer or shovel!  This can cause more damage to your roof.  A roof rake or push broom should be used to remove any snow on the roof.  As mentioned before, be careful!  You can also melt through the ice dam with calcium chloride ice melter, but do not use rock salt as this will cause damage to your roof and gutters.  One way to do this is to fill an old sock with calcium chloride and place it perpendicular to the ice dam.  This will melt the ice underneath the sock and allow the built up water behind the ice a place to drain.



University of Minnesota

This Old House

Home Partners

Annual Home Improvement Checklist: Exterior


By Shannon Roxborough


With fall in full swing, now is the time to give your home a yearly check-up before Old Man Winter comes knocking.  In this, the first of a two-part series, here’s a roundup of things around the exterior of your property that may need attention, maintenance and upkeep:




-Check trees around the exterior of the house to be sure branches are not encroaching on power lines or other wiring.


-Check the asphalt or concrete on the driveway, sidewalks and walking paths for cracks, which can be trip hazards allow water in that will do more damage over the winter.


-Inspect porches and decks for loose railings or boards, damaged steps and sagging ceilings, being sure to make sure the posts are not loose or rotted and are still firmly in or mounted to the ground.


-Examine retaining walls for loose areas or bulges, which could collapse with heavy rain or snowfall. Make sure drainage holes are clear of debris.


-Make sure fences, stone/brick walls and gates are not leaning or damaged in any way, something that will become worse during storms and freeze-and-thaw cycles.


-Check for stains on your home’s siding, which could be a sign of water damage or a gutter or roof issue.


-Make note of any peeling paint, missing brick mortar or cracked stucco on the outside of your home.


-Check the gutters and downspouts for debris and pitch problems, preferably on a rainy day. Listen for gutter spill-over and look for stains on the soffit that indicate signs of leakage.


-Look for signs of insect, bird or bat nests in soffits, eaves and attic vents.


The Foundation


-Make sure the foundation is free of cracks and bulges.


-Scan the sill for signs of rot or insect activity. Be on the lookout for raised mud channels, a sure sign of termites. Use a sharp knife or other sharp object to check for wood damage.


-Check for signs of leaks in areas where pipes run through the walls or foundation and on all pipes exposed to the elements.


-Be sure the grade of the ground around the foundation of your home slopes away from the house.


The Roof

-Take a look at the roofing. Are there any cracks, missing shingles or crumbling pieces? Check asphalt shingles for dry, blistering, alligatoring or curling; wood for rot and cracks; slate and tile for broken pieces; and flat roofs for holes that may let in water.


-Pay special attention to areas under trees, where falling branches or animals (like squirrels) can cause damage. Once the leaves have fallen, look closely at spots where branches touch the house.


-Check the roof flashing, vents and chimney caps for damage or corrosion.


-Examine the roof for moss, mildew and debris.


-Make sure the chimney isn’t leaning on the chimney and check that the flashing around it is in good condition and doesn’t need sealing.


-Keep an eye out for any signs of potential animal activity or entry points for critters (including bats).


Water Systems


-Send a sample of well water to your county cooperative extension to test it for chemicals and bacteria, and make sure that the well cover is tightly sealed while ensuring the pump is still accessible.


Check the sump pump by pouring water on it, to see if it turns on automatically.


-If you have a septic system, look around the tank or field for soggy ground or too much greenery, which could mean the tank is either full or failing.


Doors and Windows


-Check the doors and windows for smooth operation, signs of swelling and sticking points.


-Examine the weather stripping around exterior doors and windows for wear, tear and potential infiltration (wind, water and animals) points.


-Check all windows for cracks in the glass and/or loose or missing glazing around panes.


-Look for peeling paint and other signs of wear on window frames and stools, especially in the bottom corners. Check that weep holes in the bottom of the windowsill outside haven’t been caulked over, blocking drainage.


-Take a look at thresholds for cracks that could let water reach the sill.




-Check the garage door’s opening and closing action while scanning for cracks in its surface or dents in the tracks.


-Be sure tool storage and hanging racks aren’t create a fall or trip hazard.



Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.


8 End-of-Summer Tasks for Homeowners

By Shannon Roxborough

Summer can wreck havoc on your home, both outside and in. Soaring temperatures and high humidity cause surfaces to crack, chip and separate, contribute to dust, dirt and debris build-up, and create a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, mold and mildew.

With the season winding down and fall just around the corner, now is the time for homeowners to get ready for the cooler months and avoid potentially costly fixes down the line.

Here are eight preventative maintenance tasks to keep your home in tip-top shape as summer fades:

Protect the Porch, Deck or Patio

Give outdoor areas a good general cleaning then inspect them for signs of damage or deterioration. Repair holes and cracks in wood with a quality epoxy-based filler. For brick and stone surfaces, use the proper mortar or sealant to keep damage to a minimum. Sand or scrape flaking or chipping paint or stain, then recoat the surface before fall rains arrive to keep moisture at bay.

Repair Outdoor Surfaces

Fill any cracks in your paver, concrete or asphalt driveway, walkways and paths to minimize trip hazards and prevent the coming rain (and eventual snow and ice) from causing more damage. For concrete cracks less than a half-inch wide, run a bead of acrylic latex repair compound into the seam then smooth with a putty knife. For larger cracks, trowel on a vinyl concrete patching compound and let it cure (a full day before foot traffic; three days for vehicles). Repair blacktop with asphalt filler or patch. And remember to always start with a clean, dry surface.

Weatherproof Windows and Doors

Use latex or silicone caulk to seal gaps larger than ⅛ inch around windows and doors to keep the elements out and reduce your seasonal heating bill by up to 15 percent. Use foam weather-stripping on the sides and top of doors, and install a door sweep on the bottom to keep drafts out. For windows, use adhesive-backed closed-cell foam on the bottom of the sash. For looses sashes, install plastic V-channel weather-stripping in the groove the sash fits into, then secure it with finish nails.

Inspect the Gutters, Roof and Attic

end of summer projects home improvement rochester ny

Leaky gutters and overflow due to debris clogs can result in water damage to the foundation and basement or crawlspace walls. So, Take a good look at the gutters and downspouts and repair problem areas with a waterproof sealant. Check your roof for leaks and water damage before the rainy season to keep minor issues from becoming major ones. Address small roof leaks with tri-polymer elastomeric sealant in a caulk tube. From inside, inspect the attic on a bright, sunny day or during a steady rain to look for rays of light or water infiltration.

Check Your Appliances

Thoroughly clean your stove and oven, being sure to use a degreaser to remove any build-up from the range hood or vent fan. Vacuum behind and underneath the fridge to remove dust, dirt and pet hair from the coils, which can interfere with performance. Check the washer to make sure that it is level and plumb, and clean the dryer vent of accumulated lint with a long-handled brush.

Tend to the Air Filter

Summer humidity causes moisture that spawns bacteria, mold and mildew on dusty air filters. Wash your reusable HVAC filter and leave it to air dry in the sun. For disposable furnace filters, buy a replacement at your local home improvement or hardware store (be sure to write down the size printed on it) or order an upgrade—a hypo-allergenic, mildew resistant filter—online.

Give Bathrooms the Once Over

Pathogens tend to build up faster in bathrooms during the humid summer months. Use a strong soap scum remover on your sink, tub, tile and shower surfaces. Spray any mold or mildew with a bleach-based killer (or 10 percent bleach solution—1¼ cup of household bleach per gallon of water). Allow cleaned grout to dry completely then repair any cracks with new grout or reseal with silicone caulk.

Clean the Kitchen Sink, Garbage Disposal and Dishwasher

Pour garbage disposal cleaner down the drain to remove small clogs and disinfect the line. Tackle any food stains or rust in the sink with bleach or a calcium, lime and rust remover. Take out the dishwasher filter and soak it in warm, soapy water for 15 minutes. After replacing it, add two cups of distilled white vinegar to the bottom of the dishwasher and run it empty for one heavy cleaning cycle.

Shannon Roxborough is a widely published freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines, newspapers and websites. An avid home improvement enthusiast, he has more than a decade of DIY experience and previously ran a property maintenance business.