Removing Existing Ice Dams

Unfortunately, if ice dams are allowed to occur on a home or building, removing them can be expensive and problematic. Nationwide, there are traditionally three methods used for Ice Dam removal. These approaches range from somewhat ineffective and cheap to very effective and very expensive. Most property owners recognize that ice dam prevention is a far smarter way to spend money than reacting to an ice dam that has formed. See this Case Study to learn more about different ice dam prevention methods.

Ice Melt Compounds: This method isn’t technically an ice dam removal method, but it is used in an effort to mitigate the potentially damaging effects of existing ice dams. The theory is that ice melt compounds, including magnesium chloride and sodium chloride can be used to cut holes or channels through existing ice dams. A common approach is to stuff pantyhose with sodium chloride and then throw that unit across the ice dam in the hopes that it melts a channel through the body of the ice. A  challenge with this approach includes the fact that you need to cut channels at least every 24 inches to allow water from above to escape instead of backing up behind the ice dam and into the home. In practice, the effectiveness of this approach is marginal at best and it appears to be more effective in warmer winter climates than those with truly Arctic temperatures.

Mechanical Removal: It’s possible to remove existing ice dams using a variety of mechanical methods including hammers, ice picks, axes, blow torches, and chainsaws. Yes. Chainsaws. We have seen all of these methods used. The obvious drawback to using these approaches– outside of the dangers associated with standing on top of an icy roof–is the high likelihood of damaging the roof system. It’s important to remove as much ice as possible to resolve the issue but this means the margin between success and failure is quite small. It’s easy to imagine the consequences if the claw of the hammer sinks a little deeper than anticipated into a soft piece of ice.  Generally speaking, removal of ice dams using mechanical methods is a risky idea, even if performed by a professional.

Steam Removal: Think of a steamer as a portable water heater on steroids. These machines take water from a standard spigot and turn it into 300° steam, which is directed through a special wand to quickly cut through ice. The use of steam is by far the most preferred method for professional ice dam removal but it is still quite able to damage roof systems if not done properly. In the right hands, a steamer can efficiently remove an existing ice dam in the span of a few hours. Typical market rates are anywhere between $400-$600 per hour for this work, meaning average projects usually reach into the thousands. While this might feel expensive, one should consider the cost of the alternative, which is either expensive roof repairs or worse yet, repairing damage from water leaks inside the structure. If you would like to learn everything there is to know about ice dam steaming, visit

Note: It’s important to note that there are many unscrupulous contractors using both standard and high temperature pressure washers–not true steamers–around the United States. The easiest way to identify the difference is that a steamer will not have a trigger on the wand.