Deal with ice dams now to prevent costly headaches later

Not catching ice dam buildups on a roof can lead to extensive damage if not taken care of quickly.

Ice dams on a house.
Ice dams on a roof Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, in Brainerd.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — A wet, heavy snow to start this winter season brought costly to remove ice dams for some homeowners.

An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms at the edge of a roof and prevents melting snow and water from draining, according to the University of Minnesota Extension office. The water that backs up behind the dam can leak into a home and cause damage to walls, ceilings, insulation and other areas.

For locals and seasonal residents alike, not catching ice dam buildups on a roof can lead to extensive damage if not taken care of quickly.

Ice dams on a house.
Ice dams on a roof Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, in Brainerd.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

“The reason we're seeing issues this year is that that first snowfall we had was such a wet, heavy snowfall,” said Cory Jay, owner of Advantage Seamless Gutters in Brainerd. “It caused a lot of moisture to be underneath the snow right away. And then we've had several days that got up around that 30-34 degrees, and it started to thaw a little bit, saturating all the snow that is left on the roof.”

The Minnesota Commerce Department website states that due to inadequate air sealing, heat from the home's interior gets into the attic and melts the underside of the snow on the roof. The melted snow water flows down the roof surface until reaching a cold spot, such as the eaves or soffit, where it forms a frozen dam. Especially with a snow-covered roof in subfreezing temperatures, more ice can build up.


The ice buildup can back up under the shingles, damaging them and allowing water to leak to the ceilings and walls below.

When driving around Brainerd, Jay said he sees ice dams on a lot of the older homes. But having a newer home does not preclude someone from having an ice dam form.

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“I've got a brand new house and I've never had any ice dams before but this year, it started to build a little bit,” Jay said.

Depending on the roof and weather conditions, Jay said his company is able to clear ice from about 15 feet of roofline per hour with a steamer at a cost of around $800.

“It's painful to spend it on the front end, it's way better than if it causes the damage on the back end,” Jay said.

Brainerd State Farm Insurance agent Jake Brandt agreed with Jay’s assessment of preventative maintenance being cheaper than a repair. Brandt said a lot of times people don't realize there is a problem until there is water leaking into the home. At that point, the damage has been done.

“Ice dams are one of those things where it depends on the snow we're getting,” Brandt said. “It depends on if it's heavy, wet snow. The problem is the snow we got early on was really wet, heavy snow that stayed on roofs and was hard to move.”

Though it is a covered claim with his insurance agency and the work may not be fun, preventing the damage could save people thousands of dollars, Brandt said.


Brainerd Ace Hardware assistant manager Pam Vogt said it is another year of winter roof maintenance products flying off the shelves.

“We've actually sold quite a bit and they haven't been able to keep it in stock at the warehouse,” Vogt said.

Ice dam graphic
Graphic on how to prevent ice dams on roofs.
Contributed / Tribune news service

Vogt said they are working hard to keep shelves stocked with roof rakes and roof melt as customers look to prevent damage to their homes. Roof melt is calcium chloride pellets thrown on a roof to help prevent the formation of ice dams.

Though all three recommend their customers stay off a snowy roof, they also recommend being proactive and taking care of the ice on a roof before it becomes a bigger problem that will cost a lot to repair later on.

According to the University of Minnesota Extension, short-term fixes include removing snow from the roof or, in an emergency situation, making channels through the ice dam to allow water to drain off the roof instead of into the house. Long-term solutions include making sure ceilings are air tight so no warm air can flow into attics and adding insulation to cut down on heat loss.

TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email .

Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2021, covering Public Safety.
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