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Ice dams are a scourge. What can you do to get your home ready?

Eric Heald from Squegee Squad shovels off snow before ice dams are melted on a house in Stillwater, Minn., on Feb. 27, 2014. Ice dams are a problem and the Squeegee Squad of South St. Paul has doubled its workers and bought more steam machines to handle the hundreds of calls flooding in. (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)

Ice dam season is upon us.

An annual headache for local homeowners, ice dams can be costly — causing damage to homes — and dangerous. But there are ways to prevent and treat ice dams before they pose a risk.


Ice dams are ridges of ice that sometimes form on the eaves of sloped roofs in sub-freezing temperatures, according to the University of Minnesota Extension office. If they are tall enough, ice dams block snowmelt from running safely into the gutter, causing it to pool behind the dam and leak through the roof. Homeowners are often tipped off the the existence of ice dams by massive icicles hanging from their eaves.


Ice dams form when warm air inside a home heats part of the roof above 32 degrees in sub-freezing weather, the U extension office says. As the snow on top melts, it runs down the roof to the eaves (which have no heated house beneath them) where it refreezes. Over a long winter, this effect can leave a house with massive ice dams along the edges of its roof.


There is no shortage of professional ice dam removal services in the Twin Cities, who will steam your problem away for a few hundred dollars an hour.

If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, a roof rake or a push broom can clear the snow off your roof (although climbing around on a ladder in winter can be dangerous). You can also create a channel in the ice dam to drain the snowmelt. This can be done with calcium chloride tablets, which are available at local hardware stores. For a temporary channel, the U extension office recommends hosing the dam with (relatively) warm tap water.

To prevent ice dams from forming in the first place, you can insulate your attic to reduce heat loss through the roof. This is especially important in older homes.