Current Moon Phase

Waxing Gibbous
52% of full

Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Icicles: When Ice Is Not So Nice

Icicles: When Ice Is Not So Nice

Icicles can be beautiful to look at, but if you’re a homeowner, they are bad news.

These idyllic ornaments of winter be dangerous to people below if they break off and fall. While there are no statistics about icicle injuries, there have been numerous substantiated reports of people being seriously injured, or even killed, by falling icicles. In addition, their weight can cause damage to your roof or gutter, or even cause an ice dam, trapping water and snow behind them and causing roof leaks.

There are several ways to safely remove icicles from your home, but the best strategy is to stop them before they form. Icicles form when rain or melting snow freezes before it reaches the ground. If your home frequently has icicles on it, it a sure sign that your attic doesn’t have enough insulation. Here’s why: if your attic is properly insulated, your roof will be the same temperature as the air around it. Snow on your rooftop will either evaporate in the Sun or melt and run off into your gutters when the outside temperature gets high enough. If you don’t have adequate insulation, however, heat from inside your home will escape through your roof, melting the snow from the bottom. If the outside temperature is below freezing, this melting snow will refreeze as it drips from the roof, forming icicles.

So, the easiest and most effective cure for icicles is to run out to the hardware store, buy some insulation, and install it in your attic. Not only will it prevent future ice dams from forming, it will also trap more heat inside your home, potentially lowering your heating bills. Unless you are using your attic as a finished living space, you should insulate the floor, not the ceiling, of the attic. This will keep the heat trapped below the attic, in your living area, where it belongs, and allow the roof to remain properly ventilated.

Of course, even if you take this step immediately, you still may need to remove some icicles that have already formed. There are a number of methods for doing this. These methods all require climbing up to your roof on ladder, which can make them dangerous, especially of the weather is icy. Be sure that your ladder has a stable foundation, even if you have to shovel out a bare space in the snow below. If it’s a straight ladder, be sure to lean it against a solid wall, not a gutter.

Some people simply put on a pair of heavy gloves and break off the icicles. This is not the best strategy. Not only is it possible to damage gutters and shingles by pulling on icicles, but pulling off only the icicles can also leave behind a large section of ice, which can still trap water behind it.

Instead, you can sprinkle urea, a type of fertilizer that works well as an ice melt, along the edges of your roof. The urea should dissolve the ice dam creating the icicles. Because urea can be corrosive over time, this should not be used as an ongoing strategy against icicles. Do not use rock salt, which will kill grass and other plants below. Because urea is a fertilizer, it is harmless to vegetation.

Another, more expensive, option is to run a heating cable along your roof. Rather than running the cable straight along the edges of the roof, you’ll want to make several triangles 2-3 feet deep for the length of the roof. You may also wish to run a cable through your gutters. Then, when icicles begin to form, you can turn on the heating cable, and it will melt away the problem areas. Because heating cable is not cheap to buy or to run, though, your best option is still to prevent the icicles from forming in the first place with a properly insulated attic.

1 comment

1 Paul { 02.18.14 at 8:58 am }

Like properly insulating your attic is cheap.

Leave a Comment

Note: Comments that further the discussion of the above content are likely to be approved. Those comments that are vague or are simply submitted in order to promote a product, service or web site, although not necessarily considered "spam," are generally not approved.

If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.