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Six Tips to Prevent Ice Damming on your Roof This Winter

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Ice damming can do some serious damage to your home resulting in costly repairs come Spring. 

Backed-up water from ice dams can ruin your roof, ceiling, walls, and floors, and it can be extremely expensive and inconvenient to fix. Below are some tips for ice damming prevention as well as early warning signs that indicate an ice dam may be developing.

The best solution is preventative maintenance and the fall is the best time to address the issues and prevent ice damming that may occur in the winter.

What is Ice Damming?

Ice dams form when melted snow refreezes at roof edges. The ice accumulates and prevents melting water from flowing off of the roof, and instead, it flows against gravity through the roof and then into your home. Each year, insurance companies pay millions of dollars to repair damage to homes from Ice jams.

What causes Ice Damming? How do ice dams form?

After a heavy snowfall, ice dams can form when warm attic air causes the roof to warm and the snow to melt. Water then runs down the roof and refreezes – either when it reaches a colder part of the lower roof or the air temperature gets much colder, especially at night. This forms a mound of ice that traps the water at the roof’s edge, causing a back-up and forcing the water up under the shingles. Sometimes water can work its way 5 or even 10 feet back up under the shingles

Typically, when you get ice damming, the upper parts of the roof melt first, due to heat that escapes from the house (usually through the attic). The lower part of the roof (along the eaves) is colder as the overhang is exposed to cold weather on all sides. This is where the dam occurs.

The water then flows through the roof and into your home. This results in stained and damaged ceilings, peeling paint, and damaged floors and walls. Occasionally, mold can also develop – either within the sheetrock on ceiling, walls, and floors or in the insulation.

Why Ice Damming can be very expensive to fix

Very often, when you get ice damming, the shingles on your roof break and become dislodged. Unfortunately, you may need to replace the roof, and this can be expensive. You will likely need to get your ceilings and walls repaired, including replacing portions of wet sheetrock and insulation. Plus you will need to repaint, and often you may need to repair/replace damaged flooring or furniture.

Not only is there a lot of repair work, but the repair needs to be done in a sequential process, starting with the roof and working your way downwards. And, as most ice damming occurs in the winter (obviously), it’s often difficult to repair/replace the roof until the weather gets warmer. Most products require a minimum temperature of 45 degrees, so you may need to wait until the weather warms up.

Six Ways to prevent damage to your home from Ice Damming

The key to preventing ice damming is simply to keep your attic well insulated so that your roof stays cold. Typically, after a snowfall, a cold, well-insulated roof will have a thick blanket of snow. But, a warmer roof will allow the snow to melt. Excessive ice and icicles hanging from the gutters and eaves is a sign that you have a problem developing.

There are really 3 main components to preventing ice damming:
1) Insulate,
2) Ventilate,
3) Seal air leaks.

1. Make sure your attic is well insulated

You may want to hire a professional to do an energy audit and check the depth and consistency of the insulation. Consider upgrading attic insulation to about R-40 and plug any leaks. Also, make sure the attic is well ventilated. It’s generally easier and safer to hire an expert on this, as you won’t save much money by doing this yourself. Also, this should save you money on your electric bills as well as increase the comfort in your home, especially during the winter and summer months.

2. Close up attic leaks

In a typical home, around a third of the heat loss is through the attic ceiling. A good portion of that is due air leaks…gaps in the drywall, cracks around light fixtures, chimneys, cracks around plumbing pipes, access hatches and other ceiling penetrations. These cracks are often challenging to see and fix as they are behind insulation or at the corners/edges of the low roof angles. But it’s important to detect them and then fill these leaks (usually with foam or caulk).

3. Add roof and soffit vents for proper ventilation

A ridge vent paired along with continuous soffit vents allows cold air to circulate under the entire roof. This will help even the temperature on the roof and make it more consistent with the outdoor temperature. You want the whole roof surface to match the ambient outdoor temperature.

4. Before Winter check the insulation around sensitive areas such as skylights and dormers to prevent ice damming.

Skylights and dormers often let heat escape, so check these areas as they are likely to have poor insulation. Also, if you’ve had any additions to your home, check these areas, as sometimes the contractors don’t add the proper amount of insulation (or forget to do it).

5. Be sure to have your roofer add a special adhesive ice-and-water barrier the next time your get a new roof

This solution only works if you are replacing your roof (or building a new home). Spend the extra money to get an ice and water barrier underlayment that will better waterproof your roof. This extra layer goes below the shingles.

6. Clean your gutters in the fall before the first snow

Just to be clear, contrary to popular belief, clogged gutters do NOT cause ice damming. However, clean gutters drain better and are less likely to freeze over. It will help reduce damage if you get ice dams. Gutters can concentrate ice and water from the eaves. As the gutters fill with ice, they tend to get heavy and bend or even rip away from the house. This may bring the fascia, fasteners, and downspouts along with it.

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