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How to Prevent Ice Dams

Jan 15th, 2020 // Roof Repair

The best time to stop ice dams is before winter comes and they begin to build up. To stop Ice dams from forming and wreaking havoc on our roofs, we have to understand what they are and why they form. Ice dams are continuous chunks of ice that form along the margins of your roof. While frozen, they’re no more trouble than the icicles that hang down. But during the warmer parts of a winter day, water melting off the roof pools behind the ice then seeps back up under the shingles. Sometimes water can work its way 5 or even 10 feet back up under the shingles. Eventually, it drips through the roof into the soffits (the outside overhangs), walls, and worst of all, onto your ceilings. Insurance companies pay millions of dollars, to thousands of homeowners, annually to repair the damage but it’s never enough to cover the time and aggravation of getting everything fixed. Follow these helpful tips to prevent your home from forming ice dams this season!

Keep your roof cold

One way to help prevent ice dams from forming on the roof of your home is by keeping your roof cool. Cold roofs make a lot of sense. Here you let the cold outdoor air work for you. Keep the entire roof as cold as the outdoor air and you solve the ice-dam riddle. Look at the roof of an unheated shed or garage, a pile of lumber or an abandoned home. Ice dams don’t form on these structures because there is no uneven melting and freezing! To keep your roof cold, follow these three steps: close up attic bypasses, measure your attic insulation level, and add roof and soffit vents. 

In the average home, about one-third of the heat loss is through the ceiling into the attic. And most of that loss comes from air leaks caused by unblocked walls, gaps in drywall, and cracks around light fixtures, plumbing pipes, chimneys, access hatches, and other ceiling penetrations. Air leaks can be tough to stop. By closing attic bypass and checking insulation levels, you’ll save energy and reduce both your heating and your air conditioning bills. Always check insulation levels after filling leaks, it’s usually worth hiring a professional for this job as you won’t save much by doing it yourself. However, if you can’t find a good price, you can rent a blowing machine from a rental yard or home center. Once you have a sealed and insulated attic, adding roof and soffit vents is a great way to prevent ice dams. Attic ventilation draws in cold outdoor air and flushes out warmer attic air, cooling the attic and the roof in the process.

Remove excess snow 

Without snow on your roof, it’s nearly impossible for an ice dam to form on the roof of your home. The two most common ways to remove snow from your rooftop are by raking or shoveling. A roof snow rake is like a 20-ft-long aluminum hoe that homeowners use to lighten the structural load on their roof and to reduce the formation of an ice dam. People have been injured, and even killed, from falling roof ice, so be extremely careful if you’re raking a roof on which a large ice dam has formed. If the ice dam is severe, hire a roofer to remove the roof’s snow load. For more information on snow removal, check out this previous blog post. 

Ice dams themselves aren’t necessarily a problem, it’s the leaks that do the bulk of the damage. If you can’t detect signs of ice dam leakage, either in the soffits on the outside or in the attic or ceilings, you may not have to do anything. Then during warmer weather, apply the prevention strategies we listed earlier. Whatever plan you decide to follow, focus on the cause. Ice dams are created by heat loss from the house. Develop a strategy that is centered around this fact whenever possible. The time to prevent ice dams from harming your home is now! 

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