What’s the Best Ice melting systems for ice dam prevention? When it comes to ice dams you want to invest in prevention and not wait for the problem to occur.
Oh my! What’s the deal with these ice dams? While it may be a challenge for northern inhabitants to think of the arrival of winter when summer is still in swing, many homeowners will suffer the ill effects of ice dams upon winter’s arrival. Ice dams may look like an impressive array of icicles suspended from the edge of one’s roof, but as many homeowners know, ice dams are not fun dams. If you’ve encountered ice dams in the past, or want to make sure that you aren’t a victim of winter when it arrives, looking into various ice dam prevention strategies will help you stay ahead of the game and keep ice dams at bay. Below, we offer a guide so that you can better understand what ice dams are, what damage they can cause and what type of prevention strategies, particularly regarding gutter heaters and snow melting systems, will work best with your home’s ice dam prevention system.
What’s an ice dam?
Simply put, an ice dam is when snow or ice melt from the roof refreezes on the roof eave or within a gutter. Amplifying the situation is that as further melt drains towards the ice dam, it refreezes further up on the roof. The problem with ice dams is that, because of the temperature differential on the roof that is generally responsible for the original snow or ice melt, the accumulated snow or ice can melt and drain through the roofing material into your home.
Ice dams and associated drainage can cause a variety of problems. First, ice dams can potentially rip off gutters or remove shingles because of the excess weight of trapped and frozen water that accumulates on the edge of one’s roof. Second, ice dams can cause rotting of roofing underlayment and any beams or wooden supports directly underneath the drainage site. Third, the moisture that enters the indoor environment can cause a deterioration of drywall or any other water sensitive material where water leakage and contact occurs. The worst consequence of ice dam formation is that it can result in mold and mildew growth where leakage occurs in trapped environments. Such growth can be potentially hazardous for residents, particularly if the mold or mildew becomes exposed. Ultimately, ice dams are no winter treat and something that you definitely want to prevent or successfully remedy to prevent damage to your home.
What causes an ice dam?
Aside from the simple definition of an ice dam, there is a simple but ultimately complicated pathway that results in ice dam formation. When snow falls, the temperature is generally at least 32 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, though sometimes the temperature can be a degree or two higher, which leads to instant melting. When the temperature is sufficiently cold, snow sticks to and accumulates on various surfaces, including roofs. If your roof experiences any warming from internal sources, and the surface of the roof warms beyond the outside air temperature, the snow will begin to melt. Because roof eaves and gutters extend beyond the insulated and climate-controlled area of buildings and homes, they will almost always be the same temperature as the outdoor air temperature. The melt from the roof then refreezes along the eaves and in gutters which is particularly problematic because it prevents further meltwater from draining away from the roof.
There are a variety of ways that the roof can experience higher temperatures than the outside air temperature. First, if the roof is not properly vented or a shingled roof does not have a roof vent, heated air that enters attic or roof-adjacent spaces accumulates and warms the above roofing surface. Second, if the roof or flooring of the roof-adjacent area does not have sufficient insulation, it cannot prevent the natural convection of warm air from below from transferring to the above space, which also causes an increase in temperature that can affect a roof’s temperature. Even if the roof is properly vented and the space is insulated, if there are any leakages due to plumbing stacks, electrical cables or plumbing lines, heat can transfer through these means and contribute to the roof temperature differential.
In short, when it comes to ice dam prevention or removal, you either need to prevent snow from accumulating on your roof, prevent heat from coming in contact with your roof or prevent water from refreezing on the eaves and forming the actual ice dams.
VIDEO | Indepth Information on Ice Dam Prevention & Removal
What can you do to prevent an ice dam?
In general, the colder the outdoor air temperature is, the more imperative it is to have a sufficiently cooled roof since any heat leakage will have a more substantial effect on a roof’s temperature. If you are trying to keep your roof sufficiently cool, providing proper insulation, ventilation and sealing will substantially reduce the likelihood of ice dam formation.
Proper roof structure and maintenance
If you live in an area that experiences consistent and substantial snowfall, implementing an appropriate roof shape will prevent persistent snow accumulation that contributes to the melting and refreezing cycle. Most buildings are built to withstand expected snow loads for the respective climate, so the actual pitch of the roof will have a greater impact with regard to laying water-repelling underlayment on top of the roof, which will be addressed in a later section. While you probably don’t have much control over your roof’s shape unless your building is going to be custom built, ensuring that all gutters are clear of debris will allow any melt water to properly drain from the roof and down the gutters and lessen, if not prevent, ice dam formation.
While shingles are a popular roofing material, the gaps present in overlapping shingles invites meltwater to penetrate under the roof. Metal roofs can offer a slight improvement with regard to improving snowmelt and run off as the smoother surface inherent to metal roofs allows water to run directly into gutters rather than back up underneath shingles. That being said, metal roofs are still susceptible to transferring the heat changes that cause snow melt to create ice dams in the first place. Metal roofs will also not prevent ice from refreezing in gutters, which can lead to gutter detachment, and there is still the potential that water can move through capillary action underneath a metal roof. So, while metal roofs will help to reduce the possibility of ice dam formation, they will not prevent them completely. Most importantly, you will need to replace your entire roof, which can cost 1.5 – 2 times as much as replacing an asphalt shingle roof.
VIDEO | Ice Dam Prevention : A Closer Look
One improvement that can be made to reduce ice dam formation is to improve the ventilation beneath one’s roof. There are various points along or adjacent to one’s roof that are critical to regulating one’s roof temperature. Most soffits are sealed with some sort of plastic or aluminum siding to prevent water, animals and debris from entering and accumulating beneath the eaves. Since soffit material is perforated to varying degrees, clearing these holes regularly, but especially before winter and when large snow fall arrives, will allow cold air to flow through the soffits and towards the rest of the roof. Another area to improve ventilation is through vents located in the side of attics. If your space is a loft or penthouse that occupies a typical attic space, including baffles in the roof underlayment will also help to ensure proper air flow and that the roof does not heat up beyond the outdoor air temperature. If you have a shingled roof, ventilation is also improved by including ridge vents in your roof. Ridge vents, which can also be used with metal roofing, allow the warm air that naturally accumulates in the peak of a roof to escape, preventing warm air buildup that can lead to snow melt.
Insulation and sealing openings
It is generally recommended that attics are sufficiently insulated with insulation possessing an R value of 30 or higher to provide maximum resistance to warm air flow towards the roof. Insulating in the space between the ceiling of the space below the attic and the attic floor is recommended to prevent warm air from flowing into an attic space and warming the roof. You can also add another layer of insulation directly beneath the roof to prevent any heat from directly coming in contact with the roof.
VIDEO | INSULATION — Ice Dam Prevention
It is always wise when adding insulation that you avoid any adjacent wiring or lighting that could potentially come in contact with the insulation and cause a fire. In this vein, lighting, skylights, chimneys and plumbing vents can also pose potential pathways for heat transfer. Properly insulating and caulking areas where these pathways meet the roof are satisfactory means of ice dam prevention that prevents heat from penetrating towards the roof and causing snow to melt.
Slightly more intense methods for ice dam prevention
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but you can’t prevent snow from falling, and it’s difficult to identify and prevent all pathways of air flow. Paying for an energy assessment or audit, where a professional assesses your home with an infrared sensor to identify where warm air is flowing, will definitely help you to identify and improve ice dam prevention. Snow rakes are another means that can help to prevent ice dam formation. Snow rakes are as simple as they sound: contraptions that allow you to reach up and onto the roof to sweep and remove snow that’s accumulated on your roof so that it won’t melt and form an ice dam.
What do you mean by Insulation R-Value?
Interestingly, snow itself provides some level of insulation, with each inch of snow providing between. 5-1 R-value of insulation. This insulation is not enough to prevent snow melt and percolation, though, so investing in a roof rake will allow you to remove the snow within 6 feet of your eaves that is most likely to melt and contribute to ice dams. Another method you can use to prevent ice dams from forming directly in your gutters is to use calcium chloride or any other type of ice-melting compound. You can fill pantyhose or other permeable material and place this salt in your gutters.
As water comes in contact with the salt, the salt dissolves and lowers the freezing point, allowing the water to continue to drain through the gutter. It’s always a good idea, especially if you live in ice dam country, to install a water repellent membrane or ice barrier membrane to prevent water and ice from penetrating beneath the roofing material and towards the underlayment. It’s also important to add sufficient material relative to the pitch of your roof, anywhere from 47 to 60 inches of material depending on how steep your roof is.
Chart : R-Value of Common Insulation Materials
|Insulation Type||R-Value per Inch|
|Fiberglass (loose)||2.2 – 2.9|
|Fiberglass (batt)||2.9 – 3.8|
|Cellulose (loose)||3.1 – 3.8|
|Stone Wool (loose)||2.2 – 3.3|
|Stone Wool (batt)||3.3 – 4.2|
|Cotton (batt)||3.0 – 3.7|
|Cementitious (foam)||2.0 – 3.9|
|Polyicynene (foam)||3.6 – 4.3|
|Phenolic (foam)||4.4 – 8.2|
|Polyisocyanurate (foam)||5.6 – 8.0|
|Polyurethane (foam)||5.6 – 8.0|
Product Reviews : Ice Dam Prevention
Gutter heaters / Roof heating systems
If you’re like most homeowners in cold climates (oh, Canada!), you probably don’t want to have to go out before every snowfall to ice your gutters and after every snowfall to remove snow. Likewise, you’re probably hoping for a more reliable and sure-fire way to prevent snow melt from turning into an ice dam. If you’ve taken care of improving insulation and ventilation within your roof and you still experience ice dams, the following gutter heater and roof heating systems will help to ensure that your roof is ice dam free.
Review : Grip Clip Heat Tape Pro
- USES: Allowed for use on flat roofs, metal roofs, asphalt roofs, rubber roofs and more.
- HEAVY DUTY: Heat Tape Pro is a commercial-grade self-regulating heat cable that substantially outperforms cheap cables such as EasyHeat, Heat-It and Prime Wire.
- WARRANTY: Best-in-Industry 10 year warranty – ETL Listed – WILL NOT short or burnout if cable is overlapped and can be used on flat roofs and metal roofs, unlike cheap cables.
- AMERICAN SUPPORT: Knowledgeable, Minnesota-based company with expert support staff you can actually speak to about ice dam prevention. We are excited to help!
Using electrical, radiant heating systems to prevent snow accumulation around eaves has long been a popular method for ice dam prevention. The Grip Clip Heat Tape Pro is considered one of the premier brands among radiant heating systems. The Grip Clip system uses simple clips to fasten onto shingles and is also suited for use with rubber, flat and metal roofs. With the Grip Clip, you can install the system onto any roof surface, whether in a valley of a roof or on the eaves directly. Since it is a plug-in system, you can use the system with an outdoor outlet and don’t have to have the heater wired directly into your house.
The Grip Clip system can be used in 110-120 Volt or 220-240 Volt services and is insulated with the self-regulating conductive core which helps to keep a safe flow of current flowing when you need to melt snow and ice. At 0 degrees Celsius, the heat tape produces 9.6 Watts per foot which is a considerable amount of heat to keep your eaves snow free. It can also endure temperatures up to 85 degrees celsius/ 185 degrees Fahrenheit, which means that you can leave it on your roof year round without having to constantly monitor it and reinstall it for every snow season.
The Grip Clip comes in a variety of sizes, from 6 feet to 150 feet, and is easy to lay out in the zig-zag configuration commonly used to ensure adequate heating of roof eaves. Beyond its performance features, the Grip Clip offers a variety of safety features that outperform similar models. You don’t have to worry about the risk of fire or electrical shortages if cables are overlapped in adjoining eaves or valleys. This system works regardless of how cold the weather gets and doesn’t require yearly maintenance to ensure proper conductivity and insulation. Backing up its top-rate performance is a 5-year warranty. If you’re looking for an easy to install, reliable, and effective heat tape and clip system that can also be used to secure holiday lights (to bring cheer while you melt snow), then the Radiant Solution Roof Clips is a sound purchase for the price.
Review : Frost King Automatic Electric Roof Cable Kits
- 120V x 500W x 30 Ft. to 200 FT.
- Pre-assembled – ready to install
- Easy to follow instructions inside
- Keep Gutter and downspouts flowing
- Prevent roof damage and leaking
If you’re looking for another reliable system to keep your eaves and gutters ice free, then the Frost King Automatic Electric Roof Cable Kits are a sound option for ice dam prevention. These kits come in a variety of dimensions, from 30-200 feet, to allow you flexibility in how large of a span you need to cover. All models provide 5 watts per foot of heat output, which is slightly less than the Grip Clip system but still effective in keeping ice from accumulating. This system can only be used with 120 Volt connections, so it is slightly less versatile than the Grip Clip heating tape. Also, this system is not intended to experience any overlap or to be used on metal, rubber or wood-shingled roofs, which may limit its application in certain settings. In general, the Frost King kits should be kept away from any flammable materials.
There are many benefits of the Frost King Cable kits. They include pipe insulation, which allows you to reduce heat loss through piping in addition to ensuring that your roof eaves are sufficiently heated. This system is also designed to be used with a a clip attachment system that makes the kit very easy to install, and these kits can be easily plugged into an outdoor, GFCI-protected outlet (GFCI being short for ground fault circuit interrupter, a necessary component for any system that might be exposed to moisture). Since these kits can be used on circuits rated up to 20 amps, they allow a little more freedom than the 15 amps permitted for the Grip Clip system.
As with the Grip Clip system, they can be bent within 1 inch radius to allow for a zig-zag pattern along eaves and they cable can even be run in gutters and along downspouts to ensure proper melting and drainage during snow and ice events; in such occasions where the gutters are the primary site of ice buildup, the cable can be double run for maximum ice dam prevention. The kits come with an on/off switch that allows you to control when and how much heat is being provided to the roof, and the optional roof cable deicing control offers even more control as it only turns the system on when moisture is present.
While the Frost King system is not as versatile as the Grip Clip system and only comes with a 2-year warranty, it is a great value buy, with 80 feet of cable costing slightly less than $61 for the cables and additional clips costing an extra $8.70. If you have a shingle roof and are looking for consistent and easily controlled ice dam prevention, the Frost King Heating Cable kits are for you.
Review : HEATIT HIRD Roof & Gutter Snow de-icing cable
- Designed to prevent ice buildup, known as ice dams, from forming on roofs and in gutters and downspouts. Protect your roof from damage and leaking, keep the water flowing in gutter & downspouts. When properly installed and operated, this product creates a path for melted snow or ice (“melt water”) to drain from the roof to the ground.
- Used for Metal or plastic gutters/downspouts, Inclined roofs Roofs with noncombustible shingles (Ex.: asphalt shingles) that meet national building codes. Different lengths are available; Suitable for most roof and gutter configurations. HIRD roof heat cable cannot be used on slate, stone, metal and ceramic roofs.
- Test the cable before installation. Uncoil the heat cable completely so it does not touch, cross over or overlap on itself. Do not plug in the cable until it has been completely uncoiled. Plug cable in, and in approximately few minutes, it should feel slightly warm to the touch. Then unplug the cable.
- Both CSA and ETL approved. 6 ft 18/3 cold lead with plug ; 5 watts/ft. Pre-assembled, ready to install, no maintenance required; Easy instruction manual, clips and spacers are included.
- Tough XLPE as inner insulation and weather resistant PVC (high-low temperature) as out jacket. 100% screen rate with the Aluminum foil and tinned copper braid. More safe and more healthy. Three year limited warranty- If you are not completely satisfied with HEATIT heating cable, please don’t hesitate to contact us in any time.
- Sufficient heating cable inventory in warehouse of Chicago area. Normally order are shipped within 7 days after order released. Expediting delivery service is available.
Another solid roof de-icing system is the HEATIT HIRD Roof & Gutter Snow De-icing Cable. Like the other models already mentioned, this maker provides multiple sized models to cover a variety of roof dimensions. Similar to the Frost King system, the various cable lengths provide 5 watts of heat output per foot and operate off of 120 Volt systems. The HEATIT HIRD model also is only compatible with asphalt shingles and should not be used on metal, rubber, wood or ceramic roofs. Unlike the Grip Clip, it cannot be overlapped at all in order to prevent potential short circuits and fires, and unlike other HEATIT models, it produces a constant wattage that cannot be regulated relative to ambient temperature. As with other de-icing models, it should be installed before any snow or ice accumulates on the roof and should not be used to melt pre-existing snow or ice since the clips that are used to secure the cables will not be able to properly attach to the shingles.
The HEATIT HIRD has its own advantages. It comes with a 3-year limited warranty for any manufacturer defects. Unlike the Frost King kit, this heating cable comes with shingle clips and cable spacers in addition to a ready-to-install heating cable that can be plugged into any GFCI outlet. As with other systems, the triangle heights of the laid cable will vary on the length of the eaves, but the cable is equally effective triangle dimensions from 12 to 72 inches in height as well as being laid along gutters and around dormers. With the simple clip system, the heating cable can be attached to any shingled roof and only requires an occasional maintenance inspection to ensure that the clips are properly attached and the cable has retained its integrity. Given that the cable is manually operated, turning it on or off will allow you to control when heat is supplied to ensure ice dam prevention.
With an online purchase price under $60 (at the time of this writing) for 80 feet of cable, including clips, the HEATIT HIRD Roof & Gutter snow de-icing system is an excellent value buy for a simple-to-use and effective ice dam prevention setup.
Review : RHS Snow Melting System
- RHS Valley Heater roof snow and ice elimination systems are good looking and cost effective. They ensure that the house owner will not have the frustration, property damage, and costs associated with water damage caused by the inability of roofs to drain water during winter months.
- Melts 2 inches of snow per hour, UL listed components are made to sustain the most harsh environments. RHS Valley heaters have a complete waterproof system which serves for the most demanding environments including hazardous and non-hazardous areas, as well as areas where corrosives may be of concern. The valley heaters provides 40 watts per foot at 120 volt.
- Easy installation, valley heaters are 8 feet length (can be made in 10′, 15′, and any other size up to 50′ ft. for custom orders) roofing grommet screws included with the system are 100% waterproof and easy to insert on the valley heaters.
- No more climbing on a ladder to shovel your roof, RHS Valley Heaters go right over the problem areas on the valley, 6.5″ inches to one side and 6.5″ inches to the other side to completely melt the snow from the valley, just attach the grommet screws at the labeled locations to secure in place and relax, and watch RHS Valley Heaters get the job done.
- RHS Valley Heater System provides with the most proficient, highly scalable and eco-friendly snow melting solution. Our roof systems are offered for all types of applications, including new construction, remodeling, and existing roofs. Installing RHS Valley Heater Systems can increase the life of your roof in addition it will enhance the value of your home or commercial property.
If you are looking for a snow melting system that is tailored for using on roof valleys as well as on flat roofs, then the RHS Snow Melting System is what you have been searching for. Cable systems can come with some disadvantages. First, in order to ensure that snow and ice don’t accumulate in the valleys of a roof and create a perpetual snow melt and ice dam problem, you need to run even more cable along the valleys which may double the cable you need. Second, the cable system may not be to everyone’s aesthetic tastes. Given that the previously mentioned cable systems operate between 5-9.6 watts per foot, you are also only going to be able to melt so much snow so quickly.
With the RHS Snow melting system mats, you experience the intensity of a directed heat experience. These mats come in a variety of sizes, from 5’ x 13” up to 30’ x 13”. They are intended to be laid in the valleys and provide 40 watts of heat per foot, enough to melt up to 2 inches of snow per hour. RHS has a variety of different mat options that can accommodate gutters as well as being laid on metal, slate and asphalt shingle roofs, providing versatility that only the Grip Clip system can match. Another benefit of the RHS Snow melting systems is that it can be used in areas where there may be corrosive exposure, expanding the snow melting possibilities while reducing the risk of shock or fire. As this system relies on a mat rather than a length of cable, it is much easier to install and much more discreet, saving time, energy and complaints regarding unsightly cable systems.
The main disadvantage of the RHS Snow melting system is price of a 8’ x 13” mat — it’s not cheap — substantially more than comparable cable systems measuring roughly 20’ in length that would be required to run up a valley. That being noted, you definitely get more heat output which is a boon for anyone who is looking to make sure that a lot of snow is melted quickly to prevent ice dam formation. If you’re willing to invest in a powerful and reliable snow melting system, the RHS Snow Melting system will melt your snow (and heart…).
Which system to choose?
If you have a small roof for a townhouse, cabin or even an area of the roof that is prone to developing ice dams and can’t be insulated properly, investing in a snow melting mat like the RHS snow melting system is a worthwhile investment. If you have a moderate amount of roofing perimeter to cover, and especially if you are looking to use a snow melting system on a roofing material other than asphalt, the Grip Clip system provides an effective and reliable ice dam prevention system that can accommodate a variety of roofing materials affordably and effectively. If you are looking to cover a large amount of roofing eaves and don’t mind trading a little convenience for a reduction in cost, either the Frost King kits or the HEATIT HIRD de-icing cables will provide an effective ice dam prevention system for a great price.
In the end, ice dams don’t mean that you have to be damned. By implementing the variety of roof temperature control methods, including providing adequate insulation, providing effective ventilation and ensuring that all pathways that water can travel are clear of debris, you can minimize if not reduce the likelihood of ice dam formation. With the above mentioned ice dam prevention systems, you can completely ensure ice dam prevention and having to clean up after a wintry mess. Even though it’s still summer, winter is on its way, so look into one of these systems to make sure that your winter isn’t filled with ice dams.