Icicles hanging from your roof may look pretty, but they can lead to a host of problems for your home and insurance coverage.

Icicles can fall and injure someone, damage a car, and cause ice dams or other problems that lead to water leaks inside a house. Fluctuating temperatures that are freezing one night and then are warmer a day or so later before freezing again can lead to melting ice and more icicles, and possibly ice dams.

It can only take a few inches of water to cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Water damage and freezing was the second most frequent home insurance claim from 2008 to 2012, according to the III.

Bigger problems from icicles

Icicles falling off your roof are bad enough, but just the formation of icicles can be a sign that worse damage is happening higher up on a roof — ice dams.

These are lumps of ice that block water runoff from melting snow, potentially leading to leaks inside the house. They form when heat from a home’s attic escapes through the roof and melts the snow, causing the melting snow to flow down the roof and freeze on the colder eaves or gutters.

It can then form an ice dam, which blocks water from running off the roof and can back up snow and runoff under the roof shingles. Water can then seep through the roof and into a home.

By forming under the snow, ice dams can be difficult to spot. Icicles hanging from eaves or gutters can be a sign of an ice dam.

If a homeowner doesn’t pay attention to icicles hanging from gutters or a bump at the edge of a roof, they may not realize they have an ice dam until it’s too late. Without obvious signs of ice damming, it can remain unseen while the ceiling and walls slowly are soaked.

Icicles and insurance

Water damage from ice dams and other water that comes from the top down is generally covered by homeowners insurance, the III says, such as from the roof. Even the water damage to ceilings, walls and furniture should generally be covered by home insurance.

But water that comes from the bottom up, such as snow melting and flooding a stream, isn’t covered by homeowners insurance but by flood insurance. Flood insurance is offered through a separate policy and can be expensive.

If a car is damaged by water — or falling icicles — then the optional comprehensive part of an auto insurance policy will cover it, minus your deductible. An icicle breaking or cracking a windshield would usually be covered without a deductible.

If an icicle falls off your home and hits a mail carrier or someone else, the liability coverage on your home would cover you. It will likely pay for some of the medical payments if the injury was serious.

If the injury resulted in a lawsuit, your policy probably has caps on how much in damages it would pay. Beyond those limits, you might want an umbrella insurance policy to cover the full value of your home.

Removing icicles

Shoveling snow off a driveway or sidewalk is easy enough, but getting rid of icicles and ice dams is a bit more complicated. If the weather isn’t expected to warm up for awhile and stay that way for a long time, you may want to remove icicles yourself.

Removing snow from a roof before it has the chance to melt may be the best way to prevent icicles and ice dams. That may be difficult for a variety of reasons — such as the hazards of getting up on a roof in the winter — so homeowners may have to try other options.

A long-handled rake can be used to scrape snow and icicles off of a roof, provided you’re standing safely on the ground. A long rake should help give you enough clearance so that the falling icicles don’t hit you.

Chemical deicers can be used to lower the melting point of ice, allowing icicles to melt quicker than they would otherwise. Using rock salt to melt ice on your driveway is a similar way to melt ice.

If you know freezing temperatures are coming, heat tape can be applied to gutters to prevent icicles. It can also be put on gutters after icicles have formed, though it will be more difficult to install.

Heat tape melts snow and ice before it can form into icicles by using copper tubing to heat the tape with 120 volts of electricity. The heat can be turned on and off.

If snow or freezing rain is forecast, an attic fan aimed at where the roof and gutter meet can keep air flowing and help prevent icicles and ice dams from forming. It can also help stop ice form melting and leaking into a home. Keeping a home properly insulated and ventilated can prevent snow from melting on a roof and then freezing into an ice dam at the gutter.

Insulation slows the flow of warm air from inside a home to the roof surface, requiring more time for the roof to warm above freezing.

Homeowners shouldn’t try to chop ice on top of or in rain gutters, since it can cause more damage and the gutters will probably refreeze anyway.

Icicles may not give much warning that they’re forming but keeping an eye on the weather forecast for freezing temperatures and doing what you can to prevent them should help keep them from forming a beautiful addition to your home.