Ice melt solutions are needed when you have icicles hanging off the roof of your house. In fact the real problem is on top of the roof and the icicles tell you that hidden from sight, you have ice dams. Ice dams can damage your roof, and worse, ice dams can cause water to back up and get into your house.
You should be concerned when you see icicles because the water that gets into your house, often isn’t found right away. The water damage might start in an unfinished attic and eventually it will move down into your living space where you’ll find stains on the ceiling and/or walls … and, how much damage is hidden inside the walls?
Here we’ll explore several ice melt solutions that homeowners typically explore, and which you’ll find lots of information about. Our goal is to help you understand your options, the terminology so you can research them further … and of course, we’ll recommend the solution we like best.
Ideally, You Want a Cold (Cool) Roof
There’s lots written about adding insulation to your attic to avoid heat loss as that’s how ice dams start. Almost all homes have heat loss which rises through the attic and melts the snow on your roof, and when the resulting water can’t roll off the roof, it freezes and forms ice dams. You can read more about how ice dams are formed and the damage they can do if you if you don’t have an ice melt solution ready … and we’ve got another article that explains how attic insulation, sealing gaps that allow heat to leak into the roof and ventilation work together, to avoid ice dam problems. Something we all deal with here in on the North Shore and in Seacoast NH.
Ice cables (sometimes called ice wires) are popular as they seem easy for the do-it-yourself homeowner to install. The cables come in a range of strengths and maybe the house shown (photo to right) here only had the low end cables but we won’t recommend them — the reason being obvious and we don’t want any disappointed customers.
One way to compare ice cables to ice belts is how much work is involved. Ice cables might be easier to install as you lay them on top of your existing roof (you’ll need an electrician to install exterior outlets, and it’s best to include an inside switch) but you need to be home and then you have to remember to turn the cables on and off, to keep your electric bill under control. Ice belts are harder to install but they’re passive and don’t need any action afterwards to work as intended.
Ice Belts Popular in Ski Country
Lots of houses in the mountains have metal roofs, so it makes sense if you can’t afford a metal roof that sheet-metal ice belts might be affordable. Like metal roofs, the ice belts are very slippery so snow falls off much more easily and removes the need for an ice melt solution. The shiny 2-foot-wide metal strips along the edge of the roof will fit in with metal roofs of other houses in the neighborhood.
Ice belts (sometimes called snow belts) seem to be a reasonable choice for patching the roof after you’ve had ice dam problems, i.e. a short-term solution when you don’t need a new roof. The metal strips are like flashing, and work similar to metal roofing that sheds snow and ice more easily than asphalt shingles. The problem with ice belts is they work sometimes, and other times they don’t work. Given the right conditions, it’s possible for an ice dam to develop just above the edge of the metal strip so you still have all the problems associated with ice dams.
A Comprehensive Ice Melt Solution
Our preferred solution combines the strengths of ice cables and ice belts. Confused?
A few years ago we had customers start asking for an ice melt solution and we researched all the available products. We found Bylin’s ice melt technology which was developed for the snowy slopes of Lake Tahoe, California. The product includes:
- Self-regulating heating cables run continuously along the eaves (or valleys) of your roof, with the number of runs based on projected snow loads for your home’s location.
- Continuous aluminum eave (or valley) panels transfer the heat from the heating cables to the cover panels which are similar to the ice belts, but guess what — they come in 30 colors to match your roof.
- An ambient sensing thermostat is factory set to automatically turn the cable system on (or off) when temperatures drop below 36 degrees Fahrenheit, and turn off when the temperature rises above 38 degrees.