The Anatomy of an Ice Dam and What it Can Mean for Your Roof

icicle on roofWhen winter comes, your home must be ready to brave the storm. Understanding the problems your home could potentially face is the first step in preventing or solving them. Ice dams can be a nerve-wracking problem to deal with, but they can be prevented and handled with accurate information.

What is an ice dam?

Ice dams are formed when snow melts from a higher portion of the roof. The water from the melted snow runs down and freezes on the eave overhang or gutter, forming a blockage that builds up more layers of ice. Once build-up has occurred, the ice can then cause leaks and water damage to shingles, ceilings, walls, insulation, and more.

The melting of snow on the upper portion of the roof is typically caused by heat escaping from the house due to poor insulation, heat loss by air leakage, or chimneys that allow heat to be transferred into the attic space.

The Damage

As any homeowner knows, water damage isn’t good. Ice dams can cause moisture to leak into your ceilings, walls, and insulation, creating visible water damage as well as the chance for mold and mildew.

When insulation is wet, it doesn’t work well due to compression after it dries. Insulation that isn’t working at its highest level can be a much larger issue. Along with failing to keep heat in your home and wasting energy recourses, it can also cause more heat to escape at the top of your roof and, therefore, melt more snow resulting in more ice dams. This can be a vicious cycle if not properly repaired.

The Prevention

Your first step is to make sure your attic and ceiling are airtight so no moist air is flowing into the attic space. Preventing your attic space from getting too warm can be done through ventilation under the roof deck, good insulation in the ceiling, and blocking heat sources such as chimneys. This may require professional assistance if you believe action should be taken.

If you know your home is prone to developing ice dams, prevent heavy buildup by using a roof rake to remove the snow. Roof rakes can cause damage to roofing materials. However, you should never attempt to get on your roof with snow or ice. 

In addition, keeping your gutters clear of leaves, ice, and snow can be helpful. While it’s still possible  the melting snow will freeze at the bottom, keeping the gutters clear will be beneficial in the long-run.

The Repairs

If an ice dam is improperly removed, there can be even more damage to your home. Calling a professional is the best and safest course of action for both you and your home.

If you have internal water damage, be sure to wait until ceilings and walls are dry. Repair of a heat loss problem and interior repairs should be done at the same time in order to prevent a reoccurrence of the damage. ­­

While it’s best to prepare your home for winter earlier in the year, simply understanding signs and risks of ice dams and other winter weather problems can help prevent larger problems in the future.

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