COVID-19 Update: Structure Tech Home Inspections is still open for business. To see what we’re doing to help keep everyone safe, please see COVID-19 and Home Inspections.

Reuben Saltzman

How To Get Rid Of Ice Dams

While I’ve already written about how to prevent ice dams from happening, I’ve found that I get far more inquiries about how to get rid of ice dams.   There are plenty of ‘hack’ methods out there, so I decided to try them out and blog about it. The methods I’m going to discuss involve axes, ice picks, pantyhose, salt, heat cables, and a blowtorch.  Of course, the most effective and safe way of getting rid of ice dams is to hire a professional ice dam removal company.

Ice Dam 3

Axe

The most obvious way to get rid of ice dams is to just take a blunt instrument and hack away at the ice dams.  I tried an axe.

Axe

Pros: Fast results – I hacked through several feet of six-inch thick ice dams in a matter of minutes.

Cons: Unsafe and cumbersome.   I had to set up a ladder on the icy ground and swing an axe while standing on a ladder.  The ice also really flew in my face – I should have been wearing goggles.  I was only able to remove the ice down to the gutter, and only able to get close to the surface of the roof without risking damage to the shingles.

Verdict: This is a high risk, but fast and effective way of getting rid of a lot of ice, but leaves the job incomplete.  You’ll probably damage your roof doing this.

Ice Pick

This sounds like a natural choice, doesn’t it?  I actually used my awl, but close enough.  I gave it my all.

Reuben's Awl

Pros: Very fast results, very little effort.  It’s as though this tool was made for picking at ice.  Oh, wait…  Still, I was genuinely surprised at how fast and accurate this method was.

Cons: Unsafe.  Again, I was jabbing at ice dams while standing on a ladder, which was sitting on the icy ground.  I also had to be very careful to not damage the roof.

Verdict: This is definitely my method of choice.  Nothing else worked nearly as well… but again, you’ll probably damage your roof doing this.

Roof Tablets

Yes, this is a product designed specifically for preventing damage from ice dams.  Contrary to the name on the container, the product doesn’t actually melt your roof (whew).  The instructions say to toss the tablets on to your roof and they’ll melt through the ice dams, allowing for “water to drain safely”.

Roof Melt Tablet Container

Roof Melt Tablet Instructions
Roof Melt Tablets

I tried tossing the tablets on the roof like the instructions said to do, but it didn’t work out very well.  I consider my tablet tossing skills to be above average, but I still couldn’t get the tablets to end up in a good location – they all just slid together in one place.  If I didn’t get a ladder out to take pictures, I never would have known that the tablets didn’t end up in a good spot.

Roof Melt Tablets Tossed

Just to give the roof melt tablets the best possible chance for success, I hand-placed them on the ice dam and I used about four times as much as the directions called for.

Roof Melt Tablets Placed Day 1

By day two, I had some pretty dramatic results – the tablets had melted all the way through the ice dam.  btw – for anyone in a southern climate that might be reading this blog, that white stuff on the ice is snow, from a very light snowfall the night before.

Roof Melt Tablets Day 2

By the third day, not much change.  There were definite holes in the ice dam, and some channels had formed for water to drain through, but the majority of the ice was still there.

Roof Melt Tablets Day 3 #2 Roof Melt Tablets Day 3 #1

Pros: If you had perfect aim and tablets didn’t move after you tossed them on to the roof, this would be very safe.  Some channels were created for water to drain through.

Cons: The tablets don’t stay where they land, which negates the whole safety thing – I still had to set up a ladder on the icy ground and move the tablets around myself.  This method was also pretty ineffective – it created a bunch of holes in the ice dam, but so what?  Most of the ice dam was still there in the end.

Verdict: This might be a nice way to get down to the roof surface, and it would be nice to follow up with an ice pick after a day or two, but the tablets alone aren’t great.  Sure, it’s safe… but so is sitting inside a warm house.  Neither gets the job done.

Salt Filled Pantyhose

This is a simple, straight-forward approach.  Take off your pantyhose, fill ’em up with ice melt (calcium chloride or something similar), and toss ’em on your roof.  The idea is that the salt will leak through the pantyhose and eventually melt the ice dams away to nothing.   This is supposed to work better than just putting salt directly on the roof, because salt applied directly to the roof will just melt a bunch of tiny holes, much the same way the tablets melted large holes.

Salt Filled Pantyhose Day 1

By day two, there were several tiny holes in the ice dam.  Whoop-de-doo.  Salt alone would have done this.

Salt Filled Pantyhose Day 2

By day three, the pantyhose had started to melt in to the ice dam, and had completely melted down to the roof.   The part that hadn’t melted down to the roof basically had a hard, crusty layer of salt(?) formed on the bottom of the pantyhose, and nothing else was happening.  I picked up the pantyhose, broke up all the chunks of stuck together salt, and placed it back down.

Salt Filled Pantyhose Day 3 #1 Salt Filled Pantyhose Day 3 #2

On day four, I tried moving the pantyhose again to loosen up the stuck-together chunks of salt, and the pantyhose ripped apart, leaving a big mess of salt on the roof.  Yuck.

Salt Filled Pantyhose Day 4 #1
Salt Filled Pantyhose Day 4 #2

Pros: This is pretty safe.

Cons: Took way too long and didn’t do much.  Waste of time.  I wonder if I can return the pantyhose to Walgreens?

Verdict: Better than nothing.

A better alternative might be to apply salt directly to the ice dam.  Check out the difference in my blog about salt-filled pantyhose vs. straight-up salt.

Heat Cables

For the record, heat cables aren’t supposed to be placed directly on ice dams, but some people might try it anyway.  My friend did this at a house he owns in Saint Louis Park… so I took pictures.  These photos all show the heat cables after about one day.

Heat Cables #2

Note the creative way of keeping the cables from touching each other.  Pretty cool, huh?

Heat Cables #3
Heat Cables #4
Heat Cables #6

Pros: Gets the job done, and will prevent the formation of ice dams throughout the rest of the year.

Cons: Heat cables aren’t made for this, and I’m sure the manufacturer would tell you that this poses some type of safety hazard.  Stringing up the cable was also very unsafe.  It’s a good thing my friend owns a jet pack.

Verdict: Don’t do this.

Blowtorch

I received a request to use a blowtorch on an ice dam, so I tried it.  You can see the video below.

Pros: You can tell your wife you tried everything, even a blowtorch.

Cons: Cold fingers, waste of propane, waste of time.

Verdict: I think you get the picture.

Summary

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  My favorite method was definitely the ice pick, but this was also very unsafe, and there’s a good chance that the roof surface could get damaged this way.  I’d rather not have to deal with ice dams at all.

After a good snowfall, rake the snow off your roof.   This takes the least amount of effort and it’s safe.  I’ve been asked whether a roof rake will damage the roof, and the answer is no.  A good roof rake will have little wheels at the bottom of the rake , which prevents the bottom of the rake from even touching the surface of the roof.  Rake away.

Roof Rake Head

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, hiring a pro is certainly the best way to get rid of an ice dam.  The Ice Dam Company uses steam to get rid of ice dams, which is fast, safe, effective, and complete.

RELATED POST: How To Prevent Ice Dams

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – Email – Minneapolis Home Inspections

Facebook Reuben's LinkedIn Page Follow StructureTech on Twitter ASHI Certified Home Inspector - Click To Verify Click to subscibe to Reuben's Blog

No responses to “How To Get Rid Of Ice Dams”

  1. June
    December 17, 2010, 8:10 pm

    Thank you for this information! Tomorrow my husband is going to carefully hack away at the ice dam with his awl and NEXT year we’ll try to prevent it!

  2. Kenny
    December 25, 2010, 10:02 am

    Every winter, I say I’m going to install some heat tape to prevent this, and I always forget. This year, the ice dams are really bad. I have a leak in the middle of the kitchen.

    Any recommendation on a good and inexpensive professional to remove ice dams?

  3. Reuben Saltzman
    December 26, 2010, 6:47 am

    Hi Kenny, I think ‘good’ and ‘inexpensive’ are mutually exclusive when it comes to ice dam removal. The only great way to remove ice dams is to have them steamed off, and the equipment required to do that isn’t cheap. I’ll be posting a blog or video on the process of professional ice dam removal soon.

  4. Bridget
    December 26, 2010, 4:23 pm

    Hey Reuben!
    What would you say to hot water? If you start from the bottom. Bad idea?

  5. Reuben Saltzman
    December 26, 2010, 7:19 pm

    Bridget – hot water will work, but it will take a long time and create a ridiculous mess.

  6. David
    December 26, 2010, 7:44 pm

    I have a hot tub with 350 gallons of water at 104F. If I had a pump to pump it up about 18 feet to the roof would that work????? The tub has to be emptied anyway – I’m afraid the ice on my roof has gotten under the shingles.

  7. Reuben Saltzman
    December 27, 2010, 5:35 am

    David – yes, that would eventually work, but it would take a long time and you would also end up creating a huge mess.

    Cbh – yes, laying the sock perpendicular to the ice dams will create channels for water to drain, which helps to minimize damage caused by ice dams.

  8. cbh
    December 26, 2010, 10:00 pm

    The sock should be used vertically, or perpindicular to the gutter, not laying it on top of the gutter ice. That cuts a channel to drain the water behind the dam.

  9. How To Prevent Ice Dams | Reuben's Home Inspection Blog
    December 28, 2010, 6:28 am

    […] ice dams.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, the only completely safe and effective way to get rid of ice dams is to hire a professional ice dam removal company; they’ll use steam, which will completely […]

  10. Clare
    December 28, 2010, 8:50 am

    Hi Reuben,

    I found your blog and am not surprised to see so many Minnesotans with the same problem. We too have terribly large ice dams on our house in the front and back, and we too have a leak in the middle of our kitchen which has already prompted us to remove part of the ceiling. It is not really possible to ice-pick this crap. Do you recommend the ice dam removal folks as our one and only way to remove these and prevent further damage? Of course, we have scheduled an attic sealing for January, so it couldn’t be worse timing. The question I have is, what is a ballpark range for what they charge? I am terrified at the thought of this running into thousands of dollars.

    Thanks for your help.

  11. Reuben Saltzman
    December 28, 2010, 2:07 pm

    Hi Clare,

    You can try removing the ice dams yourself, but you’ll risk damage to your roof and injury to yourself. Professional ice dam removal companies charge $300 an hour, and will get through about 10′ of ice an hour, on average.

    Tossing salt-filled pantyhose on to your roof perpendicular to the ice dams will help to create channels for the water to drain. You might want to start with that.

  12. Donna
    December 30, 2010, 10:13 am

    We had some success with the pantyhose, and it had the added bonus of getting some ice melt into the gutter. It’s very temporary, though. As water runs through the channel it freezes if it’s cold enough, and fills it back up with ice. Still, that’s all water that would have been up behind the ice dam otherwise.

    Also, I’ve heard that if you have actual damage, your homeowner’s insurance will cover part of the cost of stopping and repairing the damage.

  13. Salt-Filled Pantyhose On Ice Dams: Not That Great | Reuben's Home Inspection Blog
    January 11, 2011, 5:23 am

    […] to the ice dam in an attempt to get rid of the ice dam entirely.  As I mentioned in my blog about how to remove ice dams, this didn’t work well at […]

  14. Kristi Bennett
    January 14, 2011, 6:32 pm

    Hi Reuben,

    Do you recommend a company who can give me advice about ventilation/insulation in my attic? I would like someone reputable and trustworthy. Thank you!

  15. Reuben Saltzman
    January 14, 2011, 9:34 pm

    Hi Kristi,

    Yes, WE offer advice :). Give me a call and I’d be happy to talk to you about it. 612-205-5600.

    – Reuben

  16. Donna
    January 29, 2011, 12:08 pm

    Hello, Your blog is most helpful. I do have a question for you. We had our roof replaced approx 3 years ago.
    In past years we did have problems with ice dams leaking into a window. Since have the roof replaced we have not. But here in Massachusetts we have had so much snow this season that I am starting to see dams on the whole roof.
    The roofer told us that he “rubberized” the ends of the roof and we should be allset. Is this true?

  17. Reuben Saltzman
    January 29, 2011, 9:52 pm

    Hi Donna,

    I’m guessing your roofer installed ice and water shield at the eaves. This will make your roof more resistant to leakage from ice dams, but it’s definitely not a guarantee that your roof won’t leak.

  18. Rob
    January 31, 2011, 5:03 pm

    What about using a heat gun?

  19. Reuben Saltzman
    January 31, 2011, 5:19 pm

    Rob – using a heat gun would be a lot like using a blowtorch, but much slower. Don’t waste your time.

    – Reuben

  20. Mike
    February 1, 2011, 9:31 pm

    Here is what worked for me. I would never use an ice pick to easy to damage the roof and too slow. I used a hatched to chop V channels into the ice damn perpendicular to the damn. (wear eye protection) put one every few feet. Don’t go down to the shingles leave an inch or so of ice. fill the v channels with calcium chloride, sprinkle more calcium chloride or hockey puck ice melters on the damn. I had water running off of the roof in minutes, the leak got worse before it stopped but now I’m leak free.

  21. Don
    February 2, 2011, 3:41 pm

    Heat cables are the only way to go. But install them in the Fall, not after the ice dams form. Many have thermostats that test the out air temperature and turn on at a prescribed temperature. You can also optionally put heat cables that are designed for gutters. Usually these are also provided by the manufacture of the roof cables.

  22. Ed Rollins
    February 3, 2011, 12:01 pm

    Hello and help ice dams going to have pros come out and look.Calle done company that sayed they remove the ice dam but when i called them 300 dollars min. they only remove snow from the roof 8 to 10 feet up.BUT will not remove ice in gutter.Does useing alluminum sheet along the roof 3feet up would that help?

  23. roger
    February 3, 2011, 3:50 pm

    Hey Reuben:

    Thanks a lot for this article. Based on your experience, I got an awl for 4 bucks at Home Depot and started chipping away. I’m still surprised at how quickly it goes until I get close to the shingles and gutters, where I slow down and take care not to damage either.

    Even though it won’t help the damage that’s already been done, at least now I have a method for minimizing further damage..

  24. Reuben Saltzman
    February 4, 2011, 5:31 am

    Mike – that sounds like a quick, effective hybrid solution. Just be careful with that hatchet.

    Don – heat cables are definitely an effective way of *preventing* ice dams. I wrote about that method here http://www.structuretech1.com/blog/2011/01/preventing-ice-dams-from-the-exterior/

    Ed – I’m not sure what an aluminum sheet would do; I’d have to say no. Whatever you’re thinking of doing with an aluminum sheet probably wouldn’t be effective.

    Roger – I’m glad I could help. Please be careful.

  25. Steve in Vermont
    February 4, 2011, 6:28 am

    How about good o’l fashion ROCK SALT. Rock Salt eats through Quickcrete. You can hear it melting like pop rocks!

  26. Reuben Saltzman
    February 4, 2011, 7:11 am

    Steve – check it out http://www.structuretech1.com/blog/2011/01/salt-filled-pantyhose/

  27. Ed Rollins
    February 4, 2011, 7:52 am

    What i was thinking using the aluminum sheet from edge of roof three feet up (after snow is gone) thinking the sun would heat the sheet up a little maybe keep snow moving in that area.That maybe the snow would runoff keeping the area free of snow.

  28. Jason Loy
    February 4, 2011, 9:56 am

    What about something like a smaller camp axe for stubborn ice? More controlable and less unweildly than a full sized axe. thoughts?

  29. Bruce
    February 5, 2011, 10:25 am

    Your comments about pros using steam made me try something out of desperation: I bought a Wagner power steamer for $100 (the type intended for wallpaper removal) and tried cutting channels through my ice dams. Worked amazingly well, and was a heck of a lot safer than using axes and hammers.

  30. Mitch
    February 5, 2011, 2:27 pm

    We tried the ice pick and also one other idea. We have an indoor faucet with hot and cold water. We connected a garden hose to the nozzle, got up on a ladder, and sprayed the ice dam with hot water. It’s a little like what a pro company would do with steam. After a couple of hours a lot of ice was melted. It wastes a lot of hot water but I think it’s a little safer than the ice pick.

  31. Eriko
    February 5, 2011, 2:37 pm

    I connected a garden hose and a sprayer to hot water and sprayed for a while then used machete to break the ice. It worked really well. Once water gets back of the ice where it is touching the roof, big chunks comes off with hitting with machete. I hope I don’t need to do this from next year. I will use roof salt before it happens…

  32. william
    February 5, 2011, 4:21 pm

    Just finished two hours of chipping away at ice dams and for me, the masonry chisel and rubber mallet method works best. But hold the chisel by the blade so you don’t dig into the roof or gutter. You can pound on the roof with the mallet to break up thinner ice without worrying about damaging the shingles too much. Most likely your ladder will be icy so be careful! None of the salt/pellets/pantyhose tricks has ever worked for me. I have a ton of insulation but the roof over the woodstove always gives me trouble when we get heavy snowfalls.

  33. Mike
    February 5, 2011, 6:07 pm

    I’ve got one ice dam that built up in an inset corner on the roof so that it was at least 10″ thick. I tried using a hatchet today and created channels through the ice dam similar to what one of the other readers posted. I worked pretty well, but was exhausting. Before the hatchet, I actually tried several other cutting/chipping/chiseling instruments and found that the hatchet worked best. While I was pounding away though, I couldn’t help thinking about a construction crew clearing a quarry or rocky hillside. How about drilling several small holes along the ice dam and filling them with some good sized firecrackers? I don’t know if it would work, but if I could have created cracks/fissures in the ice first, I think that it would have cut my job in half.

  34. Teresa
    February 9, 2011, 4:48 pm

    I removed about 30 feet of ice dam by waiting for a big thaw that softened up the ice (temps about 40 degrees), then used a large size aquarium pump to take hot water from the bathtub and slowly ran that over the ice like a saw blade, cutting it into pieces. It didn’t create a mess at all. While the water was softening up the ice, I used different size crowbars to break it up. As a bonus, the hot water cleared out the gutters, which then ran free. It didn’t create any kind of mess because I did this on a warmer day.

  35. Jamie
    March 16, 2011, 8:06 pm

    Salt and pantyhose may or may not work. Gutterhelmet.com has some tips and tricks to help you with your gutter problems. It also explains your salt and pantyhose problem, Here’s how http://www.gutterhelmet.com/blog/ice-dams-do-pantyhose-and-salt-really-work/

  36. Peter Kusterer
    March 28, 2011, 10:53 am

    I’ve enjoyed following this Post as much for the innovative solutions as to the best outcome for the problem at hand.

    In doing some product and innovation research for a client today, I stumbled upon some material I had filed and put away titled: “Snow rakes help small business weather rough economic climate” – story here: http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/worklife/01/07/snow.rakes/index.html

  37. Olympic Roofing
    May 11, 2011, 1:07 pm

    Great Article. I work for a roofing contractor in New England – Olympic Roofing. What a rough winter we had here in New England. I recently wrote an article on the damages on ice dams on roofs. You can check out my article here; http://www.olympicroofing.com/roofing_ma/the-dangers-of-ice-dams/

    Thanks,

    Olympic Roofing

  38. Home Inspections on Townhouses | Structure Tech Home Inspections
    September 20, 2011, 3:51 am

    […] Ice dams have been a major problem for townhouse associations these last two winters.  Who is responsible for ice and snow removal – the owners or the associations?  This is an issue many townhouse associations had to determine this year, and in most cases the associations determined that it was the owner’s responsibility to have snow and ice removed. […]

  39. Home Inspections on Townhouses | Fair and Square Remodeling
    September 20, 2011, 8:42 am

    […] Ice dams have been a major problem for townhouse associations these last two winters.  Who is responsible for ice and snow removal – the owners or the associations?  This is an issue many townhouse associations had to determine this year, and in most cases the associations determined that it was the owner’s responsibility to have snow and ice removed. […]

  40. Matt Johnson
    February 15, 2012, 4:52 pm

    We manufacture an amazing and innovative way to prevent ice dams. They are panels that you attach directly on the eve of your roof and they use the heat cable inside to warm and melt any ice formation. The website is http://www.thermaltechusa.com. Beats risking your life knocking ice off.

  41. Kevin Guanzini
    December 12, 2012, 2:49 pm

    Believe it or not the stockings work but they need to be set perpendicular to the ic to create a channel instead of parallel. I create a zig zag with them running accord the ice dam.

  42. Kevin Guanzini
    December 12, 2012, 2:50 pm

    Believe it or not the stockings work but they need to be set perpendicular to the ic to create a channel instead of parallel. I create a zig zag with them running across the ice dam.

  43. Roof MA
    December 14, 2012, 2:53 pm

    This winter has been really warm and I can see that we are going to have a problem this year. But you never know. Great roofing blog!!!!

  44. Www.Kvijay.net
    January 2, 2013, 9:52 am

    Good day! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a
    quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading through
    your articles. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go
    over the same subjects? Thanks for your time!

  45. Reuben Saltzman
    January 2, 2013, 5:48 pm

    Here’s an excellent document to read – http://mn.gov/commerce/energy/images/Building-Envelope-Guide.pdf

  46. Steve r
    January 2, 2013, 3:09 pm

    Hey I live in st Louis park mn and do professional roof snow removal and ice dam services. Call me at 61two-758-0160 for free estimates I service all tc metro cities and st cloud

  47. Ben
    January 4, 2013, 9:53 am

    The heat “tape” (more like a cable) is supposed to be installed in the warm months and attached to the shingles in a zig-zag pattern. Another cable is laid down in the gutter. It works for the most part, but I still have issues. I’ve tried everything. Soffit vents, a peak vent, insulation, baffles, roof rake, sledge hammer to remove ice and now heat tape. The pitch of my roof is kind of low and I’m in Syracuse and we get a lot of Lake Ontario lake effect snow. The ice dams have never leaked into my house, but the water has dripped down the outside shingles and I had my house repainted 3 times and my insurance company dropped me. Like I said, the roof tape helps, but I still have issues, None of my neighbors seem to have this problem!

  48. Dave
    January 5, 2013, 12:53 pm

    Just got back in the house from banging away with a small hatchet with a handle about 14 inches long. In about an hour I got through about four feet of ice and created several additional channels for the water to flow through. I got up on the roof through a window. Wouldn’t want to do this from the top of a ladder and definitely wouldn’t want to be swinging a full-sized axe. Fairly effective solution, but not a fun job.

  49. Bernadette {CT}
    January 6, 2013, 7:07 pm

    Thanks for the info. I live in a little converted cottage and have always had problems with ice dams. If I could have paid someone else to remove them it so would have been worth it!!!!
    To remove the ice dams in the past, I have tried axes, ice picks but the best method was using a garden hose attached to my hot water heater. It metled away the dams much faster! It uses alot of water but it worked. VERY SLIPPERY so BE SMART AND SAFE when you do it.
    I have since installed the heating cables. An ounce of prevention is a much better idea!!!

  50. The Weekenders: Winter = Ice Dams « Upstater
    January 11, 2013, 11:00 am

    […] them we had to figure out how to fix them before they caused any damage.  There are, of course, several different ways, theoretically,  to deal with […]

  51. Tudo De Axé
    February 9, 2013, 1:39 pm

    Tem como colocar um jeito de compartilhar por email?VAleu!
    *____________*

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a Reply