How to Protect Against Ice Dams and Frozen Pipes

Winter in cold climates can be hard on your home. This is especially true when it comes to damage from ice dams and frozen water pipes. These two risks can cause serious damage to your home and potentially thousands of dollars in repairs.

This article will summarize some key tutorials that will explain how ice dams and frozen pipes occur, and what you can do to prevent them. Also, if they do happen, what you can do to minimize the damage and better protect your home.

  • 01 of 05
    Roof ice dam
    Ice dams are pretty but vary damaging to your home's roof. Sawayasu Tsuji / Getty Images

    Ice dams are a common and damaging roofing problem during winter. When you see icicles hanging down off a gutter on a roof edge an ice dam is right there along with it. 

    Ice dams are created by poor roof ventilation and a warm attic space and can cause serious damage to your gutters, roof, interior and exterior paint, insulation, drywall, wood structure, and can even contribute to mold. Serious indeed.

    Ice dams will form when snow melting off a roof refreezes at the roof's edge. This happens when the warm roof surface (caused by poor insulation for example) melts the snow and creates a water stream from snow melt running between the snow and the warm roof surface, then freezing and turns to ice when it is past the exterior wall and arrives at the cold unheated roof edge or gutter.

    As the snow pack continues to melt the water will continue to flow down the roof surface. When it hits the ice the ice dam will continue to grow and increase in size, weight and potential damage.

    The tutorial will look at these issues:

    • What causes ice dams?
    • How to prevent ice dams.
    • Determining proper roof ventilation areas.
    • Battling ice dams before winter.
    • Battling ice dams during winter.
  • 02 of 05
    frozen and burst water pipe
    A frozen water pipe can burst causing serious damage to property and your home.

    Next to ice dams, frozen water pipes are the next most common winter risk to your home. They are also even more damaging however, since they can occur suddenly and instantly create damage to the home with flooding water in wall cavities.

    Frozen pipes are a serious risk during very cold winter weather and can be created by something as innocent as a hose being left attached to an outside water faucet. Water expands as it freezes in a pipe and can exert pressure over 2,000 pounds per square inch. With no place to expand, the freezing water which will rupture most any pipe filled with water.

    When the frozen pipe bursts it will dump several hundred gallons of water per hour and cause thousands of dollars of damage to your home.

    Pipes are most vulnerable to freezing when located in these areas or conditions.

    • In an outside wall;
    • Under a sink on an outside wall;
    • In an unheated crawlspace.
    • When connected to a hose

    The tutorial will cover these topics and get you ahead of frozen pipe problems including how to get an early warning on your phone about frozen pipes!

    • Preparing to Thaw a Frozen Water Pipe
    • How to Thaw a Frozen Pipe Behind a Wall
    • How to Thaw an Exposed Frozen Pipe
    • Preventing Frozen Pipes
    • Remove the Garden Hose or Risk a Frozen Pipe
    • Passive (no heat) Freeze Protection Against Frozen Pipes
    • Get an Early Frozen Pipe Warning with an IP Thermostat
  • 03 of 05

    How to Prevent an Outside Faucet From Freezing

    frost proof sill-cock
    The frost proof sill cock is a good way to minimize frozen pipe risk.

     One of the best ways to prevent frozen pipes is to stop an outside faucet from freezing. The simplest thing you can do to minimize that risk is remove your hose from the faucet. The next thing is is to install what is called a frost proof sill-cock.

    This special exterior faucet has remote control of the water supply faucet valve located inside the home. The faucet head is connected to to an extension tube between 6” to 20” long.

    At the end of the tube is connected a copper or PEX tubing water supply line. With the water valve inside the home and away from the exterior wall, freezing cold temperatures are now kept away from the water supply line which feeds the exterior sill cock or faucet. Frost-proof sill-cocks can also include anti-siphon valve to prevent contaminated water from back flowing into your drinking water.

  • 04 of 05
    Steam ice dam reoval requires a special steaming tool, not a power washer. © Absolutely Clean Window Washing

    If your ice dam situation is severe and you choose not to tackle it yourself, you may want to call in a professional service company to remove the ice dam.

    Make sure you do not hire a company who want s to attack the ice dam and your roof with picks and chisels and hammer drills.

    A professional roofing company will use either a steam machine or a hot power washer.  A steam machine will be probably be used if they specialize in ice dam removal.

    These machines do not look very different but operate vastly different from each other. The steam machine is the tool of choice (the tutorial explains why) and you should select an insured contractor that uses a special steam cleaning machine to remove the ice dams on your roof.

    Hot power washers use higher pressure and have the potential to be misused by the operator. One small mistake and the roof shingles on your home can be easily damaged from the power washer's high pressure discharge.

    Using a steam cleaning machine to remove ice dams is best. It operates under lower pressure and higher temperature and will not damage your roof.


    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05
    Illuminated family home in snow
    Protect your home from the ravages of winter. Simon Battensby / Getty Images

    This tutorial will give you some other tips to prepare your home from the impacts and potential damage of winter weather. Some things can be done in winter and others are best done before the cold weather sets in. Items covered in the tutorial include:

    • Heating System
    • Air Conditioning
    • Wood-burning Fireplace, Chimney and Flue
    • Pipe Protection
    • Insulating Tips
    • Doors and Windows
    • Roofing
    • Sprinkler Systems
    • Landscape and Outdoor Accessories