Ask Any Hour: Can Icicles Damage My House?


Dear Any Hour,

When I was a kid, my dad used to send us up on the roof of the cabin to shovel the snow off and chop down any icicles. As a kid, of course, I thought this was stupid. Not only did I have an aversion to chores (let’s be honest, I still do), but I also thought my dad was just creating busywork for us. But now that I own my own home, have snow on my roof, and have found many of my dad’s lessons to be pretty wise, (takes a lot to admit that…) I get nervous. Should I be shoveling my roof off and removing icicles? Is there any harm in leaving it on the roof?

- Jason N.

Ask Any Hour - icicles can cause damage to house

Sometimes, learning our parents were right can be hard to accept. In this case, was sending children up on a potentially slick and hazardous winter roof the right thing to do? We're going to say no. However, was removing the ice a good move? Actually, yes. When it comes to icicles hanging off your roof, they can be dangerous to occupants and potentially damaging to your roof and gutters. This can even cause leaks that could damage ceilings, walls, insulation, and more. But is there a much better and safer way to remove them? Yes!

First of all, it's good to understand how these icicles form. They form when snow on the roof melts, collects, and then freezes again in the gutters. The snow melts because heat rises from the inside of your home and warms the roof. However, the areas of your roof over the eaves remain cold, which causes the melting snow to freeze. As this ice accumulates, it forms ice dams that prevent melting snow from draining off the roof. The dam grows as more water runs from the roof and freezes, creating ridges of ice that encourage icicles to form.

But the icicles are only half the story. When this melting snow reaches the dam of ice in the gutters of your home, the water is kept liquid by the warmth of the roof. Eventually, the water finds cracks in the roof covering and seeps into the attic, where it could damage the ceilings and interior walls.

  1. Indoor heat rises through the ceiling into the attic and warms the roof surface.

  2. Snow on the heated portion of the roof melts and flows down until it reaches that part of the roof that is below 32° and the water freezes into an ice dam.
  3. The dam grows as it is fed by melting snow above, but water held by the dam backs up and stays liquid.

  4. Eventually, the water finds cracks in the roof covering and flows into the attic, where it could seep through the ceiling and interior walls, causing damage to the home.

Of course, you can keep your kids busy and potentially break their necks by sending them up on the roof in the winter, or you can just install something called heat cable or heat tape. Heat cable is an excellent way to prevent these ice dams from forming on your roof. The heat cable creates a good amount of warmth that keeps the snow near the gutters melted and draining properly. 

If you'd like to learn more, give Any Hour Services a call and one of our licensed electricians can come out and explain whether heat cable is a good idea for your home.

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Author: Amber Smith-Johnson
Copyright © 2019 by Any Hour Services


Dec 26th 2021

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