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Defeating the New England Ice Dam

Ice dam season is around the corner and many homeowners begin to prepare for their yearly battle with ice dams and leaks as a result. What to do once an ice dam is discovered. Removal, prevention, insulation, ventilation, ice melt, and metal roofing, are just some of the ways homeowners have and continue to wrestle with the ice dam paradox.

“It is true that the attic floor insulation (R- Factor) and the amount (Net Free Air) venting an attic has and can be instrumental in limiting the amount of ice dams that form. However, there is a difference from merely limiting the amount of forming ice dams and completely ridding them. Many homes are positioned in a north facing or tree covered area where the only sure fire way of eliminating ice dams is by proactively removing them before they form”, states Mike St. Pierre (Senior Diagnostic Systems Specialist) at O’LYN Roofing.. A structure that faces the south will leave its back side vulnerable to shaded areas that will result in ice dams due to the lack of sunshine available to melt the snow on a roof during and after a snow storm. The same can be said about overgrown trees that block the heat from the sun.

In these cases, it is safe to say, the only effective way to eliminate ice dam damage and formation, is to have a proactive ice melting solution in place prior to ice dam formation. Homeowners have used a variety of concoctions to do this in the past such as; ice melt in nylons, ice melt tablets strategically placed on the roofs eaves every few hours, adding metal at the roof eave, zig zag cables, and of course insulation/ventilation. In some cases the hammer is used to tap away existing ice dams as well. Although some of these methods can provide a very temporary fix, it is not long before the ice dam is back during the next storm.

While the zig-zag method is providing heat to the areas of concern, there is not enough heat to continuously remove the forming ice during the winters in the Northeast. Also, the sheer amount of snow during any given storm will over power these fragile cables. In addition, the clips used to install these zig-zag wires prevent damage to asphalt shingles.

The O’LYN Ice Melt System is a proven way to make sure that the formation of ice dams cannot occur. By using a plate system along eave areas, a valley system along wall areas and a heavy duty commercial grade heat cable to run along the treated areas in associated gutters and downspouts, the ice dam is unable to form. The system is wired directly into your existing fuse panel and a thermostat set at 34 and 36 degrees comes on when needed. It is a completely hands free unit. According to Mike St. Pierre, “there is no need for electrical outlet(s) on or near the roof that homeowners need to pug in or be concerned with. Even the heating element is self-regulating (heat increases and decreases depending on the outside temperature) keeping the system energy efficient.”

Below are some areas of concern regarding ice dams that will help as home owners tackle ice damming:



    Attics should be well-insulated to prevent heat loss from the living area and heat gain in the attic. Not only does insulating the ceiling below your attic prevent one of the biggest sources of heat transmission. It also significantly lowers your heating costs in the winter and cooling costs in the summer.


    One of the biggest and most common mistakes homeowners make is stuffing insulation into the eaves of the attic blocking soffit vents, or not having soffit vents at all. Soffit vents are just one more critical component in preventing ice damage by maintaining necessary airflow in your attic.


    Use a fire-stop sealant to seal gaps around pipes and cables that penetrate the top plates of the walls in rooms below. Weather-strip the attic door, or insulate and weather-strip pull-down attic stairs. This is also sometimes referred to as “Air Sealing”.


    Make sure that the ducts connected to the kitchen, bathroom, and dryer vents all lead outdoors through either the roof or walls, but never through the soffit.


    Use only Type I.C. (Insulated Ceiling) light fixtures. Older types of recessed ceiling fixtures produce tremendous amounts of heat that is transmitted directly into the attic and some of them CANNOT be insulated without creating a fire hazard. Type I.C. fixtures are sealed and allow proper and safe insulation to prevent attic heat gain.


    Attic and Ridge Vents remove unpreventable heat that builds in the attic and maintain a more consistent temperature with outside air, preventing ice dams. This relatively small investment will also significantly prolong the life of a roof by preventing the deterioration caused by excessive ice, water and heat.


    Ice & Water Shield is a waterproof membrane that prevents water infiltration from ice and wind driven rain. Some roofing professionals believe six feet is necesary in New England due to the extreme climate, as opposed to the usual three feet most roofers wil install. It is not too unusual for it to be left out altogether.


    Installing a brand new cool roof may not be an option for everyone. But more and more people are considering it as awareness and availability grow. A cool roof is any solar reflective ENERGY STAR rated roof. Generally, they consist of lighter color asphalt shingles that reflect the sun rather than the more traditional, dark colors that absorb it and cause heat to build in the roof. This is a very fast-growing segment of roofing that is seeing a tremendous increase in the amount and type of energy efficient, cool roof products that are available.


Maintaining a cool roof is the only way to avoid Ice Dams. There are some steps you can take to keep them from forming even if you have ventilation and insulation issues.

First, make sure your gutters are clear and clean and in good working order. This should be done every fall before snow and freezing temperatures set in.

Second, as soon as snow falls, safely remove snow from your roof’s edge with a roof rake. Keep in mind, if you have any roof areas that are extremely high or hard to get to, you should NOT attempt to do this yourself. Any kind of roof work can be extremely dangerous. If you have doubts, call a professional.

This information should arm homeowners with possible fixes to ice dam problems. Mike St. Pierre can be reached at 1-855-280-6691 or here for further discussion and/or an appointment.