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How to Get Rid of Ice Dams: A Complete Guide

Harsh winters are expected nationwide this year with heavy snowfall, cutting winds, and freezing temperatures. The snow and below-freezing weather create more stress on your home and can create ice dams that trap water on your roof.

Each winter, we here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore take care of water damage caused by ice dams in Chicago homes and businesses.

To help customers remove ice dams and avoid costly water damage during this season, we leveraged our knowledge to put together this guide on how to prevent ice build-up and get rid of dams after they form.

Let’s get started.

What Are Ice Dams?

ice dams on home

Ice dams are solid formations that build-up at the edge of your gutter. When heat escapes from the roof, it melts the ice and snow, which trickles down towards the gutter.

However, when the water reaches the colder part of the roof, it refreezes and prevents more water from flowing down and draining properly.

Poor attic insulation is typically the cause of ice dams. If an attic is not insulated enough, the heat warms up different parts of the roof. Water then collects and either creates an ice dam or stays in its liquid form.

Once an ice dam forms, the water on the warmer sections of your roof stays trapped and leads to leakage and water damage if left unattended.

Ice dams can cause damage to your gutters, siding, and the roof if you don’t act quickly enough to remove them. It can also lead to water damage if moisture seeps into the structure or begins dripping into your home.

It’s crucial to get rid of ice dams as soon as you notice them to prevent damage and avoid expensive repairs. If you wait too long to remove these dams, they may cause significant damage to your home.

What Damage Do Ice Dams Cause?

ice dam roof leak chicago

The major type of damage that ice dams cause is water damage. The ice lifts shingles over time and causes leaks. When water seeps into the structure of your house or starts leaking, it creates sagging or collapsing ceilings, peeling paint, and allows mold and wood rot to grow.

All of this becomes very costly to tear out and repair later on.

Ice dams naturally grow heavier as they build up over time. When the weather changes or the dam becomes too heavy, it can crash down to the ground, often bringing your gutters down with it. This can be a serious hazard not only for your roof but for your household.

If you have ice dams already building on your home, take a look at some effective ways to remove them fast.

How Do You Get Rid of Ice Dams Fast: 3 Effective Ways

Attempting to break up the ice with a hammer or shovel is dangerous and bad for your roof. There are several ways you can quickly get rid of ice dams without hurting your home or endangering yourself in the process.

Here are a few effective methods to remove ice dams before they can cause serious damage.

Use a Roof Rake

The safest way to remove ice and snow from your roof is by using a roof rake. This rake is typically made of aluminum and has a long handle so you can reach your roof from the ground. It generally costs about $30 to $50.

Using a roof rake is safe to reach the top of your home from the stable ground, and it does not damage your shingles when you pull snow or ice off. Make sure to move the snow on your roof around regularly, so it does not collect and cause ice dams to form.


  • Easy and safe to use from the ground
  • Doesn’t harm your roof shingles


  • Requires adequate physical strength to use

Toss Ice Melting Pucks

You can find calcium chloride pucks online, at hardware stores, or lumber yards. The solution melts the ice and snow around it, creating a pathway for water to flow through the ice dam. It is easy to throw onto your roof. However, it is less precise and may get blown off your roof during a windy day.


  • Easy to throw
  • Melts ice and snow around it safely


  • Requires several pucks to create a pathway
  • Difficult to place pucks accurately

DIY Calcium Chloride Socks or Pantyhose

If you have old socks or pantyhose around the house, you can fill these articles of clothing with the ice-melting calcium chloride. Tie it securely and lay it on the roof over the ice dam, so it hangs over the gutter. You may need a rake or another long-handled tool to push it into position.

Once it’s left alone, the calcium chloride will melt the ice and snow to create a pathway for water to flow. The ice melting calcium chloride does less damage to your roof shingles and the plants underneath, making it an effective solution for de-icing your home.


  • Precise roof placement to easily create a pathway
  • Effectively melts the ice around it


  • May cause some damage to your roof over time

Can You Put Salt on Your Roof to Melt Ice?

Using salt on your roof to melt ice is highly discouraged for several reasons. Though it’s an effective method on the ground, using salt can cause discoloration. It also causes the nails holding down your roof’s shingles to rust and corrode, which may lead to unstable roofing later on.

As the snow melts and runs the water and salt down to your landscaping, it harms plants and contaminates the dirt, making it more difficult for plants to grow.

The salt is also highly corrosive, meaning it will damage your gutters and siding as well. It’s crucial to use calcium chloride or other corn-based formulas to avoid damaging your home, lawn, and plants.

How Much Does Ice Dam Removal Cost?

Ice dam removal can be costly if you don’t compare prices for a professional. If you are less able-bodied, you may benefit more from hiring a professional than removing the ice and snow yourself.

The average cost for a professional ice dam removal is about $400-$600. A professional asking for less than $350 may not do an adequate job, while a company asking for higher than $650 is most likely taking advantage of your situation.

Most companies will charge by a minimum number of hours to remove the ice dams. Larger roofs will take longer than shorter ones, so keep that in mind if you seek to hire professionals.

If you choose to remove the ice dams on your own, it simply costs as much as the material you use to remove it yourself. Depending on what tools you choose, you may spend between $30 to $100 on materials. The size of the ice dams will also affect the number of materials you may need to buy.

You can always expect to pay more for a professional to remove ice dams, but you will most likely avoid any long-term problems or costly mistakes.

3 Ways to Prevent Ice Dams

Now that you know how to get rid of ice dams, you might wonder: “Can ice dams be prevented?” There are a few ways to keep ice dams from forming to give you more ease of mind during the winter season.

Heated Cables

Ice dam prevention products are also a great investment if other methods don’t work. These products may also make it easier for you to prevent ice build-up without breaking a sweat.

If only one part of your roof is warmer than the rest, you can use cables to evenly distribute the heat from the outside to prevent ice build-up. In preparation for the winter season, attach the cables to your roof in a zigzag pattern using clips.

It’s most effective if you turn them on about an hour or two before snow is expected to fall. That way, the roof has enough time to warm up to melt away the snow immediately before the ice has a chance to start forming. If you’re searching for how to prevent ice dams on low-slope roofs, this method is particularly effective.

On average, it costs about $300-$400 to install about 100 feet of heat cable on your roof if you use a contractor, excluding the materials. When you add the cost of the materials, 100 feet of heat cable may cost around $200 for $2 per square foot.

In total, it will be about $500-$600 if you use a professional to install heated cables. Though this tool is effective as a long-term solution, using them will add to your energy costs.

Increase Ventilation

If heat gets trapped underneath your roof, you want to ensure your eaves and ridge are properly ventilated. Having roof and soffit vents allows cold air to circulate underneath your roof, dispelling the hot air that might escape from your home.

This method may get somewhat complex because you need to measure your existing vents and ensure you meet the minimum ventilation requirement. Some roofs are also more difficult to vent, particularly if they have angled ceilings, no attics, or low slopes.

However, be careful to place the vents appropriately, so water does not seep in through them when the ice melts. If the vent holes are too large or not installed correctly, they only create more places where water can enter. Hiring a professional to increase ventilation is often the safest way to avoid crucial mistakes or misplacements.

Add More Insulation

Your attic is where the heat escapes, and you want to ensure heat doesn’t rise through the attic floor. You may need to ask your local building department how much insulation your attic requires to prevent heat from escaping.

Check your attic’s insulation to see if you have at least 12-14 inches of fiberglass or cellulose. You can add more insulation by blowing in cellulose or fiberglass. These insulation methods are typically better than batts, which are hand-placed and leave too many gaps.

Hiring a professional to increase your attic’s insulation is usually better since you will not save much more doing it yourself.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Ice Dams?

Yes, homeowners’ insurance does cover ice dams, but there are a few things to consider before filing a claim.

Homeowner’s insurance only covers damage caused by ice dams, not ice dam removal itself. Your insurance will help cover the repairs if your roof falls through due to excessive snow and ice. However, if your deductible is more than the cost of damages, it may not be worth filing a claim.

Dealing With Ice Dam Water Damage in Chicago or Suburbs? We Can Help!

Ice dams need immediate attention before water spreads into the walls and ceilings, damaging your home with rot and mold. We’re here to help with the messy cleanup and repairs.

Here at ServiceMaster of Lake Shore, our team provides professional water damage restoration services to customers all throughout Chicagoland. Our services cover homes, condos, businesses, municipal facilities, and industrial sites.

Call us today for an estimate if you’re dealing with ice dams: 312-707-8597