Icicles: Charming or Chancy?

By Jennifer Noonan | Updated Nov 17, 2014 12:10 PM

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Winter Icicles

Photo: dropsnature.com

I remember that as I child I loved to wake up on wintry mornings to find icicles hanging off the house. I’d check every couple hours to see if they’d grown, and when they were “just right,” my Mom would break one off for me to hold and lick like a lollipop. I’d put it carefully in the freezer to save for later when my tongue couldn’t take the cold any longer. It’s a charming memory—one shared by many, I’m sure. But in reality, for a homeowner, icicles are not something to get excited about.

How Do Icicles Form?
Icicles form when snow or ice melts as a result of exposure to sunlight or some other heat source. That melted water then runs to an area where the temperature is below freezing, thus causing the water to refreeze. As water continues to run off, the icicle grows.

icicles and ice dams

Photo: nachi.org

The Dangers of Icicles
Icicles can be very pretty, but they can also be very dangerous. An icicle that falls from its hanging place can damage or injure what or whomever is beneath it. And icicles are heavy! If enough gather on a building, the weight of all that ice can seriously undermine structural integrity.

Furthermore, icicles on the edge of a roof could be an indication of ice dams, which can sometimes form when snow piles up on your roof. If heat from your house escapes into the attic and warms up the sheathing while the weather stays cold, it’s likely that snow will melt and refreeze once it hits colder air at the edge of the roof. An ice dam may cause water to back up behind it and leak into the attic and/or side walls—not a good situation.

roof rake to remove snow from roof

Photo: cozywinters.com

How to Prevent Icicles & Ice Dams
The best way to prevent ice dams and icicles from forming is to make sure that warm air doesn’t leak from your living space into your attic.

• Seal any gaps or cracks in your attic.
• Add enough insulation to your attic floor to stop significant heat leakage from the living space.
• Make sure your attic is properly vented to allow air circulation.
• Use a roof rake to remove excess snow from big storms to help prevent buildup.

It breaks my heart a little to have, as an adult, this responsible knowledge about icicles. I don’t want to deprive my young children the awe and excitement of one of winter’s more whimsical wonders. So if, like me, you must have a few icicles in your life to keep it fun, consider installing a birdhouse for them to grow on. Then even our feathered friends’ children can enjoy them, too.

icicles on birdfeeder roof

Photo: twnmm.com

For more on winter maintenance, consider:

Winter Preparation Checklist
11 Ways to Winterize Your Home on a Budget
Shop for a Snow Blower Before First Flakes Fall