How to Best Resolve Roof Ice Issues

Let’s be frank. Most of the information available through an internet search for solutions to roof ice problems is either outdated, incomplete, or comes with business bias. This blog is likely to be the most informative source for unbiased, accurate and updated information you will find that addresses roof ice problems on all roofs; commercial or residential, new or old. If you decide to hang on every word in this blog, you will be more informed and educated about solving roof ice problems than most. If you do not believe me, search the internet outside this blog for unbiased information! We kept this blog short and factual with the objective to give you enough information to best help you with your decision-making process for your own roof ice dilemas; specifically, preventing hazardous ice dams and icicles from developing on roof edges, in valleys, gutters, and downspouts.

 

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What causes hazardous ice dams and icicles to develop on a roof?

  1. Think of your roof like an umbrella. It is designed to shed water and not hold it! Roofs are great at shedding water until you introduce freeze and thaw conditions.   When snow melts on a roof, the snow melt water trickles towards the roof edge. Everything is fine until that snow melt water re-freezes before it reaches the ground. And since a coldest spot on the entire roof is typically the roof edge, most ice problems begin there. When ice develops on a roof, it then has the capacity to hold water; an ice dam! Again, roofs were not designed to hold water.
  2. Heat escapes a commercial or home structure through ceilings and/or vents.
  3. Ambient temperature changes, i.e. effects of the sun, elevation, wind, and shade.

So, of the three causes of hazardous ice on your roof listed above, what can we control?

ROOF STRUCTURE

Once a roof structure is built, the roof architecture is the roof architecture. Unless unlimited access to funds are available, I think we all can agree that we cannot control the design of the roof already built.

HEAT ESCAPES

We can control heat from escaping from a home or business. Millions of dollars are spent adding insulation to attic spaces or constructing a “cold roof”. And although these measures can help mitigate roof ice problems, they typically cannot alone solve roof ice problems from developing. You might ask, how do you know this? We receive countless calls from frustrated consumers on a continuous basis complaining about how they were promised that their investment to have their attic space “super insulated” would solve roof ice problems. All the best insulation money can buy or a “cold roof” cannot address the impact of the third cause; ambient temperature changes.

AMBIENT TEMPERATURE CHANGES

We obviously cannot control ambient temperature changes or heat on a roof surface caused by the sun, wind, elevation, and shade. Well, we could cut down a tree that shades the roof most of the day, however, that is not a desirable decision for most. So, no matter what measures we take inside (insulation, “cold roof”, keep the heat low, fewer fires in the fireplace, etc.), I think we can agree we cannot control that happens outside (sun, wind, elevation, and shade).

Since we cannot control ambient temperatures from creating snow to melt and causing snow melt water to re-freeze on our roof edges, etc., let’s quickly dig into information for understanding and preventing ice dams and icicles problems from developing.

HAZARDOUS ICE DAMS ARE BORN

When snow melts on a roof, it either stays warm long enough that all the snow melt water reaches the ground (this is GOAL!) or it re-freezes before it reaches the ground. When snow melt re-freezes before it can reach the ground, problematic ice develops. Downspouts clog with ice. With nowhere to go, snowmelt water freezes in gutter troughs. With nowhere to go, snow melt water refreezes on roof edges. Even if gutters and downspouts were working properly, snow melt water can refreeze on roof edges; ice dams and icicles! And they can develop quickly! You know you have an ice dam forming on your roof when you look up and see a small wall of ice on your roof edge. This seemingly harmless wall of ice prevents snow melt water behind it from reaching the ground and begins to pool behind the growing wall of ice. Again, since roofs were not designed to hold a pool of water, the pooled water seeks the path of least resistance. Unfortunately, this path is typically beneath/between shingles or cracks in seams between metal panels, etc. and into your home or business (often undetected!).   Since most of the time these leaks can go unnoticed for long periods of time, costly repairs are required to mitigate structural rot, remove dangerous mold and mildew, etc. etc.

 

HAZARDOUS ICICLES ARE BORN

Icicles can develop anywhere on a roof edge where it a freezing temperature. Period. Again, all the best insulation or “cold roof” cannot control this. Most dangerous icicles develop at the bottom of roof valleys. However, dangerous icicles can develop any

where on a roof edge. Icicles can be very destructive to property below, i.e. patio decks and accessories, windows, etc. Life threatening when icicles develop over walkways, driveways, etc.

  1. By now you might ask; if I cannot control largely what creates snow melt water on my roof in the freeze and thaw region where I have a full-time or part-time home or business then what are my options to eliminate roof ice?

Let’s explore.

SOLUTIONS

The obvious solution is to identify a remedy that prevents snow melt water from re-freezing before it reaches the ground.   The operative phrase is preventative; it is easiest and requires the lowest amount of energy if you and simply keep snow melt water in a liquid state and never allow snow melt water to re-freeze before it reaches the ground!

AVOID BANDAID APPROACHES

Unless you are not bothered with the ongoing task of removing ice from your roof throughout the winter months year in and year out, a band-aid approach can work for you. Band-Aid approaches are any action that only deals with roof ice problems AFTER they develop! These actions have to occur on a continuous basis throughout the winter season year after year. The principal problem with “Band-Aid” approaches is that they damage roof surfaces and/or landscaping. Typically roof damage is not realized until after a Spring thaw or until it is too late. Companies that offer only Band-Aid approaches are further rewarded when repairs are needed and/or, better yet, a new roof is needed because of excessive damage as a result of repeated Band-Aid approaches. Manual snow/ice removal services are especially damaging to a roof surface.

To summarize Band-Aid approaches and predictable damage:

  1. Hire companies to manually remove snowpack/ice
    1. Damage: shovels and piks penetrate roof singles, metal panels, etc.
  2. Rakes
    1. Whenever you repeatedly scrape a roof deck, the integrity of a roof surface is in jeopardy of reaching its useful life.
  3. Calcium Chloride “Socks”, etc.
    1. Damage: concentrations of chemical degrade roof surfaces and kill landscaping and dis-color walkways, etc.
  4. Laying Down Heat Cable On Roof Edge In A Zig Zag Pattern
    1. Very high energy costs to operate
    2. Cannot heat edge on a continuous basis
    3. High Maintenance Issues; in the Springtime, snowpack and ice slowly migrate to the roof edge and pull heat cable from roof clips. This pulling can tear heat cable by ripping it from roof clips.
    4. Void roof warranties as clips used to secure heat cable penetrate shingles, etc.

 

BEST SOLUTIONS

 

First of all, ANY “system” that is designed to heat 100% of a roof edge is effective and has earned a position in the “solution “ category. There are many companies manufacturing or offering roof ice melt “solutions”. Now, what makes a “solution” system the best solution can be based on many factors or personal preferences. The major decision making factors are as follows:

  1. Energy Cost
  2. Appearance
  3. Maintenance Costs
  4. System Costs
  5. Performance rankings
  6. Warranty
  7. Accreditations/Affiliations

What order you place on the major decision-making factors is where decisions can be based on personal needs and preferences.

 

THREE SOLUTIONS AVAILABLE

  1. Aluminum Metal Tracks
  2. Heated Mat Panels
  3. Heated Aluminum Panels
  4. You may have thought laying heat cable on the roof edge in a zig zag pattern should be listed here since your neighbors use it and the electrician you spoke to recommended it. The truth is, this concept cannot heat 100% of a roof edge, hence, it is a flawed concept.

PROS & CONS FOR EACH ARE PROVIDED BELOW:

ALUMINUM METAL TRACKS

PRO’s                                                             CON’s

Effective                                                        Expensive

Appearance                                                 Energy Cost

Established                                                   Maintenance

 

ALUMINUM METAL PANELS

PRO’s                                                 CON’s

Cost                                                    Newer Concept

Effective

Accredited

Energy Cost

 

SILICON MATS

PRO’s                                     CON’s

Appearance                         Energy Cost

Effective                                Expensive

 

Maintenance (If anything were to go wrong,       it is an impractical proposition to have to remove your roofing material that covers the mats to replace or repair them. If this option is the option you like most, then get it in writing that the company selling the silicon mats will pay for all expenses around repairing or replacing silicon mats.

 

To summarize, no matter what decision you make to avoid property damage and injury associated with roof ice build-up is prevent snow melt water from re-freezing before it reaches the ground. Period. With any concept you feel is best for your own circumstances, it is paramount that a melt path to the ground is maintained throughout the freeze and thaw cycles for snow melt water. Most common problem areas are roof valleys, roof edges, gutters and downspouts.