Safeguarding Your Utah Roof From Ice Dams

Winters in Utah are brutal – not just on people, but on their homes too. Given that the state is famous for its wonderful skiing, you can guess that in certain parts of the state, snowfall is plentiful and consistent throughout the colder months; this can be a blessing or a curse depending on your particular proclivities. For your home, though, it spells only one thing: heavy weights and dangerous ice dams.

It’s the horror story you’ve never heard before, and it’s one that could become a grim reality this winter. What is this menace and how can you protect your home? Read on to hear exactly what every Utahn needs to know about this frosty foe. 

What are ice dams?

Just like a man-made dam that holds back water from one area to another, an ice dam is a frozen ridge or barrier that perches at the edge of your roof, usually near the eaves or gutters. As snow thaws and freezes again, the dam will grow progressively larger and heavier, potentially pulling down your gutters and causing serious water damage on the roof. 

Why are ice dams common on Utah roofs?

The heavy snowpack in some areas of Utah makes ice dams an incredibly common issue throughout the state. Large amounts of snowfall, combined with fluctuating temperatures, lead to a thaw-freeze cycle that is highly conducive to ice dam formation. In April of 2023, Utah broke records with a Snow Water Equivalent of 29”; in other words, if the snow had been liquid, it would have been almost two and a half feet deep. Given that snow is heavier than water, you can imagine that even a few inches of snow sitting on top of the roof can wreak serious havoc on the structural integrity of a roof.

An additional factor to ice dam formation is consistent sunlight, which melts the snow on top of a roof and causes it to roll down the colder eaves. Despite the heavy snowfall, Utah is actually sunnier than the national average, with around 238 sunny days per year; constant shifts between blizzards and sunlight can quickly form ice dams that wreck your roof. 

How do ice dams develop?

Ice dams are generally caused by insufficient insulation or ventilation in the attic, which allows heat to escape from the home. Heat will start to congregate in the highest part of the roof for two reasons: the heat in the attic is rising to the peak, and the top part of the roof gets the most sunlight. As such, this area will grow hotter than the lower parts, melting the snow and causing it to flow downward, where it hits the cooler edges of the roof and starts to freeze again. 

Over time, the repeated thawing and refreezing creates ridges at the edge of the roof that prevent any more water from flowing down the gutters, leading to heavy blockades of ice that can easily pull down the entire gutter system. Not only does this require costly repairs to the gutters, but it can also lead to severe water damage in the roof and siding, requiring even more repair. 

How can a properly installed roof prevent ice dams?

Whether you’re building a house or replacing a roof, it’s essential that you work with a qualified company to ensure that the roof is designed to withstand brutal Utah winters. Professional Utah roofing contractors will be able to ensure there is proper ventilation and insulation to keep the temperatures on your roof consistent throughout the year, ensuring that heat doesn’t escape from the attic and hasten ice dam formation. Well-laid roofing can go a long way in preventing you from waking up to find your whole gutter has fallen down due to a severe ice dam. 

What should you do if you notice an ice dam?

Ice dams can be dangerous, especially if they are accompanied by large icicles, so take caution when approaching them or attempting to break them off. First, use a long-handled broom or roof rake to clear snow off the roof; if you need to get on a ladder to do so, be sure to use appropriate safety measures, including having someone hold the ladder steady and wearing protective equipment in case you fall. This will help prevent the ice dam from getting larger and allow it to melt faster. 

You can also try to clear channels through the ice dam to allow water to drain, but be advised that if you’re too aggressive, you may damage the roof and cause greater problems. It’s always best to leave anything roof-related to professionals, who are qualified in identifying and addressing any issues like ice dams or broken shingles. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so when you’re replacing your roof, be sure to use a reliable and reputable roofing company so that you don’t find yourself facing an impenetrable wall of ice.