Should I Have Roof Heat Cables Installed for Ice Dam Prevention?

Winter ice dam

As the weather grows colder, it’s a good time to perform some routine maintenance on your home—like cleaning out your gutters—to get ready for the winter season. Is your roof in good shape and ready for another snowy, icy winter in the Midwest?

 

One of the difficulties of living in a climate that is prone to snow and ice storms is trying to prevent ice dams on your roof. “Ice dams” are the buildup of ice and snow on the edges and eaves of your roof. This can cause beautiful icicles—and damage to your roof, broken gutters, and water infiltration.

 

What Causes Ice Dams?

After a significant snow with sustained sub-freezing temperatures, your roof may be covered by a thick layer of snow. Your roof should ideally be the same temperature or colder than the air outside, so snow would melt from the outside layer and evaporate or run off the top of an outer, icy crust. Often, however, your home’s heat seeps through your ceiling into your attic and through the roof. This makes the roof warmer than the outside temperature and melts the the bottom layer of the snow sitting atop it. On sloped roofs, the melted snow trickles down the roof—under the snowpack. But the edges of the roof are colder, since they hang over cold air rather than sitting on top of the heat-leaking home. When the runoff gets to the colder edges, it freezes, blocking further runoff like a dam.

Over time, this mound of ice builds up; it can happen extremely quickly, especially if your gutters are obstructed. As the ice dam grows, it traps water from flowing off the roof, giving it a great opportunity to seep between the seams of your roof shingles and into your home. This can cause damage to your roof structure and insulation, water infiltration, and harmful mold growth. The ice blockages themselves can weigh down and break gutters and can create a potentially hazardous situation for people and animals below.

 

How Can Heat Cables Help Ice Dam Prevention?

Heat cables, also known as heat tape, heat wire, or roof ice cables, are pretty much exactly what you think: heated cables that can be attached to your roof. If you have problems with ice building up on the eaves of your home and forming ice dams, running heat cables in problem areas may seem like a great solution to help melt the ice.

Heat cables help melt channels through already-formed ice dams to minimize the amount of ice buildup. Ideally, they can help provide a path for snowmelt to drain off your roof rather than being trapped in pools behind the dam. This may help prevent water infiltration into your roof deck or home.

Unfortunately, heat cables do not prevent ice dams from forming or eliminate them altogether. In order to prevent ice dams, you need to target the source of the problem. Most ice dam formation is due to poor attic insulation, improper roof installation, or an aging or damaged roof, all of which contribute to a roof that stays warmer than 30 °F during freezing weather. Have an energy audit by a roofing professional before freezing and snowy weather sets in. Following the recommendations he or she directs to reinforce specific areas of your attic insulation or roof insulation can make a significant difference in effective ice dam prevention.

Heat cables are usually installed in patterns along the eaves, in valleys on the roof, around chimneys and skylights, and in gutters or downspouts. They can be a helpful tool when used as part of a comprehensive snow and ice removal plan to help combat water infiltration and roof leaks. They are especially useful for very limited problem areas where you are unable to address the cause of the ice dam formation. If you have widespread ice dam formation on your home, however, you likely have issues with your attic insulation or roof.

 

How Can Hedrick Construction Help?

The roofing professionals at Hedrick Construction can evaluate whether your roof has an energy loss problem that might be causing your ice dam issues. We can help you evaluate your options for dealing with or preventing ice dams, possibly including heat cable installation or improving your home's energy efficiency by adding certified Owens Corning insulation. Call us at 515-597-ROOF (7663) or click the link below to find out more about our roofing services, to schedule an appointment, or to receive an estimate. We proudly serve Ames, Huxley, Ankeny, and the surrounding areas.

 

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