Ice Dams – What It Is & How To Prevent it
Ice dams can devastate your roof, gutters, paint, drywall, and other areas. In severe cases, ice dams can weigh several hundreds of pounds and overburden the roof eaves to the brink of structural collapse.
More importantly, ice dams can cause water to back up and pour into your home. This is when the real damage occurs as the water wreaks havoc on the paint, floor, and ceilings. It may also affect insulation in the attic which can lose its overall effectiveness (R-value) and create the perfect conditions for mold and mildew.
The thing about ice dams is that they can be a bit confusing. You can have one house with hundreds of icy blocks covering the roof eaves, but the home next to it may only have a thin layer of snow over the roof with no ice dams whatsoever. This shows that ice dams have a preventable cause and effect.
Cause of Ice Dams
Ice dams form when snow melts on the warmer parts of the roof, then it flows near the edge only to be refrozen. This usually only happens when the warm part of the roof warms to a temperature higher than 32 degrees F, which is warm enough to melt snow, while the edge of the roof remains at a temperature below freezing point. The culprit is usually warm air rising escaping from the attic.
In most homes, most of the heat lost in a house passes through the attic where it can warm the shingles and wood directly above it. Despite the outdoor temperature being below freezing point, the snow continues to melt over the warmer section of the roof. This causes the water to run down the roof and hit the cold edge where it refreezes to form a thick coat of ice that can accumulate and trap even more water.
Removing ice dams can be a laborious task, so trying to prevent them from accumulating should be a top priority.
Quick tip: If the air in the attic or bottom of the roof doesn’t get hot, it won’t melt the ice lying over the roof, which will eliminate the water supply that feeds ice dams.
How You Can Prevent Ice Dams
Ice dams can be prevented by using the following three methods:
• Insulating the bottom of the roof deck, which will prevent the hot air from entering into the attic to melt ice on the roof.
• Ventilating the bottom of the roof, which will allow the colder outside air to circulate through the attic and prevent it from getting warmer so it can melt the ice on the roof.
• Block all heat sources that may be increasing the temperature of the attic.
Installing Heated Cables on the Roof’s Edge
If nothing else is working, try installing high-resistance heated cables in a zig-zag pattern on the edge of the roof. This will prevent ice dams from accumulating if they can’t be stopped in any other way. Heated cables work well because they allow homeowners to equalize the temperature of the roof by heating it from the outside (as opposed to blowing cool air from the inside).
Just make sure to provide a pathway for the meltwater to flow away from the roof otherwise it will refreeze in the gutter and start the process all over.
What You Shouldn’t Do: Hammering Away at the Ice Dams
It can be tempting to hack away at the ice dams using a hammer or shovel. But doing so is bad for your roof’s health and could be dangerous for you.
Pro tip: If there is heavy snow, quickly take a roof rake and remove the snow from the edge of the room. This will prevent the accumulation of ice.
One ‘quick fix’ (as discussed above) is to install a box fan in the attic and aim it under the roof to try freezing the water leak. The flow of cool air will refreeze the water and stop it from leaking into your home. However, this method is only buying you time until professionals can come in to fix the actual root cause.
Quick Tips to Prevent Attic Heat
Start by identifying all sources of heat that could may increase the temperature of the attic. Here are a few ideas:
Insulating the Attic: The attic floor should be properly insulated to prevent the heat on the lower floors to exit via the ceiling.
Heating Equipment: Heating equipment such as furnaces in the attic will also contribute to this problem. These tools can produce a large amount of heat that will find its way to your roof. Start looking for a contractor who can provide a solution for your attic.
Folding Stair: The opening section of the folding stairs should be insulated. Some installations may also create insulated covering at the base the stairs’ opening. This will stop a strong source of heat from getting into the attic.
Ceiling Lights: Ceiling lights can contribute to a high amount of heat that can make your ice dam problems even worse. So make sure to insulate them if you haven’t already.
Ductwork: The ductwork in and around your attic should be insulated.
Gutter Maintenance: An Essential Step in Preventing Prevent Ice Dams
All that melting snow and icy water needs somewhere to go. Clear out all the fall leaves from your gutters and downspouts. This may be an unpleasant exercise, especially if the leaves have began to rot, but cleaning the gutters is a necessary first step in preventing problems with the roof.
Ice dams won’t form as easily if the water flows from the roof and into the gutter as originally intended. This has the additional benefit of protecting your gutters because the accumulated leaves can freeze and expand to damage the gutters.
Gutter maintenance may become more important if you’re selling your place in the winter. No homeowner wants to become a victim of ice damming while you’re trying to get the best value possible.
Finally, if you need immediate relief from water damage in Dallas as a result of ice dams, call us at 911 Restoration Dallas immediately. We have years of experience in this area and can help you stay on top of roof maintenance.