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Can constant roof raking keep ice dams off my roof?

Updated: May 23

Charlie Anderson, Owner at Dreamworx Roofing Company.

Using the Right Roof Rake Is a Great Defense

Yes, raking snow from your roof will minimize the chances of ice dam formation. Generally speaking, six inches or more of snow build-up is when ice dams start to occur. However, as little as one inch of snow has been shown to start ice dam formation as well, although rare. The most crucial area to remove snow would be at the eaves where the roof overhangs into the outside air.

Removing snow from the bottom three feet of the roof at the minimum would also help aid against ice dam formation. Constant roof raking does not come without some risks though. People removing snow from their roofs need to take care and use a proper roof rake such as an “avalanche” style rake that does not physically scratch the surface of the shingles. This could potentially cause damage to the shingles themselves by removing granules and thus exposing the asphalt layer below to the elements.

In conclusion, when coupled with proper attic ventilation and an ice & water barrier, removing snow from your roof will be a great defense against ice damming.

Keeping the Roof Clear May Only Be Part of the Problem

Yes, but we might need to shovel the snow away from the edges of our roof first. For larger ice dams, it's recommended that we keep our roof clear. This will prevent the buildup of snow from freezing and create a barrier against ice dams. Ensure that if you've already got ice dams or moss on your roof, you'll need to look at reducing the amount of heat loss from the roof.

If there is significant ice build-up, it can be best to start with heat-recovery ventilators (HRV) and insulation. You could also consider your air temperature and moisture content around the house. This will help you identify areas having difficulty with ice damming and get them ready for a warmer winter. Katherine Brown, Founder and Marketing Director of Spyic. Eric Nerhood, Owner and President of Premier Property Buyers.

An Ounce of Prevention

Snow. A dirty word to homeowners in the Northern Sections of a country where it gets cold during the late Fall to early Spring. That fluffy white stuff can cause a lot of damage to a house if you aren't careful. To keep ice dams at a minimum, the snow must be raked, yes raked, with an actual snow rake, at least six feet from the eaves and in any deep valleys in the roof. This is no easy feat.

It is a constant chore to keep ice dams down, but it's a lot cheaper and easier than having to repair a roof from the leaks that can be caused by the dams. To help with this problem, prevention is best. Make sure the roof is sufficiently insulated and ventilated. If a roof isn't insulated the heat from the house melts the snow causing the water to get under the shingles and then into the interior of the home. Snow is inevitable in the north.

Ice dams can be controlled to keep damage at bay.

Address Internal Roof Problems to Minimize Raking

The short answer is yes - consistently raking your roof after snowfalls can help keep ice dams off your roof. The long answer is a little more complicated.

Raking your roof can be a slightly hazardous activity, especially if you've never done it before or are trying to rake off multiple feet of snow. If you don't know what you're doing, you might cause a bunch of snow to fall on top of you which may lead to injury. If you've never raked a roof before, it's best to leave that activity to the professionals at least the first time around, so that way you can ask an expert some questions and develop a good understanding of how to rake your roof safely and efficiently.

In most cases, ice dams can form on your roof due to temperature fluctuations between freezing and thawing. The weather will naturally melt the snow on your roof when the temperature is above freezing. And a poorly insulated attic will allow heat to escape, which can cause the snow to melt on your roof too. By nightfall, the temperatures can drop again, causing the melt-water to freeze on your roof. This process may repeat daily, causing the ice dams to grow bigger and bigger.

Of course, you can get rid of those ice dams with consistent roof raking. But it never hurts to address the problem internally. Take a trip to your attic space and evaluate the state of your insulation. Is the insulation falling apart? Does it look worse for the wear? Was it improperly installed? You might need to hire an insulation professional to reinstall the insulation in your attic space to better regulate the external temperature of your roof.

While you're in the attic, check for the presence of moisture on hard surfaces and in the air. If moisture is present in your attic, then you may also have a problem with your ventilation system. Your vents and insulation work in tandem to regulate the interior temperature of your home and the exterior temperature of your roof. So, make sure your ventilation system and your insulation are properly installed ahead of winter and you should be able to avoid many types of ice dams. Which means less roof raking for you.

Constantine Anest, Founder of Ethos Roofing & Restoration.

Joe Palumbo is the President of Ice Dam Guys, LLC, which is a comprehensive ice dam removal company based in Minnesota that serves homeowners and businesses throughout the country

Invest in a High-Quality Roof Rake

In theory, constantly raking your roof with snow rakes can help reduce the severity of ice dams forming, but the underlying condition that allows those dams to form won't be corrected. Nearly all ice dams are caused by a variance in heat between the interior attic space and the exterior environment. In a properly sealed and insulated attic, the home wouldn't have a lot (or any) heat loss from the living spaces into the attic. However, when there is heat loss, it often results in ice dams forming. This is because the difference in internal vs. external heat is notable enough to achieve ice and snow to melt slowly at the affected region, but it quickly refreezes at the gutters where the dams form.

If you find yourself experiencing ice dams frequently, using a roof rake can help, but I'd recommend you meet with a home consultant that specializes in energy audits to properly diagnose if and where heat loss is occurring. That said, in the meantime use the rake! I'd much rather someone use a rake a couple of times per storm than avoid addressing it and having to call us when they have a leak in their ceiling and sagging gutters. We often recommend that homeowners and businesses focus on three factors: picking the right rake, not trying to rake the entire roof, and starting from the bottom edge or gutters, and working up as high as possible while safely on the ground. Don't rush the process either, as that's when a lot of homeowners will accidentally catch the corner of a shingle or two and damage them. Slow and steady wins the race here too!

When picking a roof rake, focus on getting a model that has rollers/wheels on the bottom and one that also has a slight bend or curve to the handle. Having smaller rollers/wheels is better than too large and the bend in the handle allows for you to achieve more reach on the roof's surface compared to a straight-armed model. Additionally, get a plastic bladed rake vs. a metal one as the metal options often can scrape too hard, chipping your shingles and removing the granules. Finally, if you can find a model that also has a telescopic handle, meaning it can extend even further up your roof from its standard length, that's even handier and makes good use of your time on the ground.

Constant Roof Raking Can Damage Your Roof

Roof raking is a temporary solution to removing snow and ice dams, but it is not going to solve the problem. Ice dams will continue to form and you can damage your roof by constantly raking, so you should focus on preventing ice dams from forming in the first place instead of only dealing with the aftermath.

Ice dams form due to the combination of snow with the temperatures under your roof being below freezing while the temperature above your roof is above freezing. You should ensure that any paths between your attic and house space are sealed to prevent airflow. Increasing your roof’s insulation will also help.Andre Kazimierski, CEO, Improovy.

Brian Donovan, CEO of Timeshatter.

Focus on Prevention

Make sure that your roof has strong insulation from your attic. When your attic is colder than the temperature outside, snow on the roof will melt and then freeze, creating the ice dams. Good insulation can help prevent the cold air of your attic from reaching your roof - allowing the snow to melt and fall off on its own.


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