What Causes Ice Dams in Gutters?

Home with roof covered in snow.
Avoid ice dams this winter by installing a gutter heating system.

An icy pond, an icy waterfall: sometimes ice is nice, but if that pond or waterfall is in your gutter system, that is not nice at all. If you find that ice dams are clogging up your gutters and causing roof damage, what can you do to both get rid of them or prevent them in the first place?

What Is an Ice Dam?

The University of Minnesota Extension Service describes an ice dam as “a ridge of ice that forms at the edge of a roof and prevents melting snow (water) from draining off the roof.”  Just like a dam used for electricity or as a water source, this tiny dam traps water behind it, and this can have serious consequences for your roof. While your gutters are designed to send water from your roof to the ground, the ice dam keeps the water at the edge of the roof, leading to leaks and rot. An accumulation of ice can also damage your gutters.

Why do ice dams form? Even if you have good insulation, your roof gets a little warmer than the surrounding environment. There is a loss of heat from the house, and warm air also escapes from the house. Even leaky chimneys and other structures such as a leaky bathroom skylight can be a source of heat. This means that when snow falls onto your roof or ice forms on your roof, it can become water and slide along the roof, leading to problems.

Getting Rid of Ice Dams

If you have ice dams, how do you get rid of them? In the short term, if you have an ice dam, you can get rid of it by removing snow from your roof. Unfortunately, doing this too vigorously or with an incorrect tool can also damage the roof, so you need to be careful to use a roof rake or broom and to remove the snow gently, without moving the shingles around or dislodging them by banging or shoveling on the roof.

On a day that is not extremely cold, you can also move water from behind the ice dam by making a hole in the dam, allowing the water to flow off the roof. This is not a long term solution, though, and a better option is to really address the problems that are causing the ice dam in the first place.

Roof with snow and gutter.
A gutter cover and gutter heating system prevent debris and ice accumulation.

Preventing Ice Dams

Since roof heat leads to ice dams, one strategy to prevent ice dams is to reduce sources of roof heating. This might mean adding more insulation, fixing problematic chimneys or skylights, and looking and addressing sources of escaping air. According to This Old House, this can involve “increasing ventilation, adding insulation, and sealing off every possible air leak that might warm the underside of the roof.”

However, even homes that have a warm roof can avoid ice dams by adding gutter guards and gutter heating systems. Gutter guards prevent leaves and other debris from clogging up the gutter and leading to water and ice backups in the gutter. Gutter heating systems keep the water in your gutters warm. Instead of having problems with ice forming in the cold gutters in the wintertime, the ice never forms because the gutter heating system keeps the gutter warm, sending the water down the downspout instead.

Are you ready to improve your home this year? Talk to us at Harry Helmet. We’re the gutter experts, specializing in seamless gutters, gutter guards, and gutter heating systems.  Contact us today to schedule a free estimate.


Spring Sale!
18% OFF
+ no money down, no interest, no payments for 1 Year† | Hurry, Offer Ends 4/30/2024
I authorize Lednor Home Solutions to contact me about our products via phone, email, or text. You also understand we use an autodialing phone system, and my consent is not required to obtain a free estimate - I can call 888-543-5638 instead. We will never share your personal information with 3rd parties for marketing purposes or spam you. You can opt out at any time. Message/data rates apply. Consent is not a condition of purchase. Terms | Privacy Policy


1 Million+ Satisfied Customers Nationwide

I recently had the Gutter Helmet by Harry Helmet installed on my house. It not only looks amazing, but the guys arrived on time, were professional and efficiently got the job done. I am very satisfied with Gutter Helmet's attention to detail and fulfilling their work as promised. I will definitely tell my neighbors about the Gutter Helmet.
I have had Gutter Helmets for 20 years. In all that time I've never had a problem until recently a bird's nest found its way into one of my gutters. The installer who came to replace the product was the same installer from 20 years earlier. Now that's impressive. Everyone at Gutter Helmet inclusive of the office staff were professional and a pleasure to work with.
Gutter Helmet by Harry Helmet just replaced our roof and we could not be more satisfied. The crew showed up early, worked all day and stayed late, were professional and caring regarding the project and the surrounding impact it had on our property and home. They completed the roof quickly and it looks simply amazing!
VERY happy with our entire experience adding Gutter Helmet by Harry Helmet to our house. Installing this was a great value for us. The gutters are working perfectly in heavy downpours and with year-long leaves and debris coming down from our river birches. Terrific customer service and a first class product.
We needed our roof repaired due to wind damage. After several quotes, Gutter Helmet was the only company that went into our attic to look and see if more damage had occurred. If it wasn't for them taking the extra time to look at everything, we would have had rotting wood under our new roof. They were very professional and gave a fair quote.
We just had Gutter Helmet installed on our gutters and couldn't be happier. They provided us with useful information about Gutter Helmet and cleaned up everything, leaving no mess behind. We definitely recommend Gutter Helmet to anyone considering this product.

18% OFF

We work hard with each manufacturer to offer our customers the best promotions monthly.

Find a Location

Serving a Location Near You


Join the Lednor Home Solutions Family

We're seeking fun, outgoing, and confident individuals who enjoy winning to join our team. Lednor Home Solutions is an equal opportunity employer and we operate a safety first & drug-free workplace focused on employee safety. Great pay and benefits, apply today!