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Ice Dams... Don't Let Them Happen to You!

Ice Dams Dont Let Them Happen to You - Image 1

ICE Dams….

It’s all pretty until it affects your home’s interior ceilings and walls. 

Discoloration appears…paint begins to chip…a drip forms…slowly, you are getting wet!  What could be causing this?   Ice dams!

What are they?   Ice dams need 3 things to form...snow, a heat source to melt the snow and freezing cold nights to freeze what melted that day.  They form when warm air from interior space and solar heating from the sun heats the snow sitting on the roof.  Water collects on eaves or overhangs which are generally colder so ice forms.  The water has nowhere to go.  Some of the water escapes to form icicles and freeze in gutters while some backs up on the roof, sometimes compromising the roof shingles.  When water pushes back under the shingles, bad things can happen.   Sometimes it is a very slow process when multiple days of the freeze-thaw cycle take place.  Generally, the deeper the insulated blanket of snow the longer it can occur…

Proactive steps to prevent them

After a snow, you can generally tell who has a well-insulated home and who doesn’t.  Those with little to no insulation may escape ice dams if the snowfall was minimal. This is because the interior heat that escapes into the attic melts the snow fast enough to prevent build-up of ice under the snow.  It’s those that have some insulation but not enough that really get into trouble. 

The best way to prevent ice dams is to take simple steps before winter arrives.  The closer the attic temperature to the outside temperature, the less chance you have to form ice dams.  Ventilation systems like ridge and soffit vents help to accomplish this keeping the outside air and interior attic air at a relative equilibrium.  Adding more insulation to prevent warm air from filling the attic space and heating the roof surface is another step.  This is best accomplished by a minimum of 12 inches of insulation over the ceiling of the level below.  Other areas where heat escapes can be found in wiring and plumbing chases, ceiling light fixtures, bathroom fans, poorly insulated ducts, and attic access openings left un-insulated.   Spraying foam to seal off smaller holes works well. 

If you do not have the good fortune of a properly insulated home, preventative steps can be taken.  After a heavy snow, removing about 2 feet of the snow at the edge of the roof will help prevent the build-up of water that gets trapped under the snow and allows the sun to melt the semi exposed roof.   Snow rakes are available that can reach 15 – 20 feet allowing the homeowner to work from the ground. This should be done in a non aggressive manner taking care not to damage the roof shingles.

Some contractors suggest heated wire systems which have mixed results.  While some say they accomplish exactly what you need, others say that they damage roof shingles, are costly to operate and raise the risk of fire etc.  Others even say they can cause ice dams. 

After the fact…

Your home has been compromised…now what?

If the ice has had a chance to build up and damage has begun,  homeowners should be encouraged to refrain from working on ladders using ice picks, shovels and other tools that could damage the roof.   Many have tried variations of ice melt, salts and Calcium chloride tablets to melt away the ice with some degree of success, but damage to plants, siding and roofs could occur.  Some have tried pressure washers to remove snow and ice, but that may cause further roof damage accelerating the water intrusion.  While not easy to find, the best solution is to find an outfit with a low pressure steam unit that will melt the snow and ice layer without causing damage to the home. 

To compound the problem, if insulation gets wet it may be less effective than before depending on whether it compressed or not.  Cellulose insulation is more susceptible than fiberglass to settling. 

If water intrusion does occur, the resulting damage could affect drywall, insulation and both interior and exterior coatings.  The moisture should be mapped out and dealt with by a professional.   Moisture monitoring equipment can pinpoint the degree of damage and the extent.  Proper drying and building stabilization will minimize further damage, reduce any unacceptable odors and allow for bringing the home back to pre-loss condition. 

In short, the only way to reduce damage from ice dams is to prevent them by keeping your attic space cold through proper insulation.  Even one void can increase the chance of the roof warming enough to melt the underneath side of the snow layer.   Have you ever seen an ice dam on an unheated shed?

If you are experiencing water damage from ice dams, contact us! ServiceMaster Restoration by Wills provides disaster restoration services, 24/7. When disaster strikes, we’re ready!