Ice Dams 101

Ice Dams 101

What’s an Ice Dam?

Let’s start with the basics! An ice dam is a stretch of ice and snow that accumulates along the margins of your roof.

Why are Ice Dams Dangerous?

When ice dams are frozen, they don’t pose too high of a risk to the integrity of your home, but once they begin to melt, all of that water can seep through your shingles, into your roof, and even into soffits, walls, and ceilings.

What Causes an Ice Dam?

Ice dams are caused by the uneven warming of your roof. If your attic is warmed above freezing near the peak of the roof and the colder edge is below freezing when water runs off of the roof it refreezes and collects around the colder edges.

How can you Prevent Ice Dams?

A warm attic and a warm roof will cause ice dams to form, therefore to prevent them, you want to find ways to keep your roof cool!

  1. Prevent heat loss into your attic. Gaps in your drywall, cracks around your plumbing, and gaps around lighting fixtures are common areas where heat escapes. Make sure that you or a professional identifies and fills gaps and cracks in your home where warm air can escape and rise into your attic; preventing both heat loss and the formation of ice dams.
  2. Insulate your attic and crawlspaces. Measure your home’s existing insulation, and verify that it’s up to code in your area. Most homes have traditional, fiberglass insulation, but blown-in cellulose is more effective at filling the small corners and gaps where heat can easily escape. Properly insulating your home will save you money on utilities and help prevent ice dams from forming. Whether or not you insulate your house yourself or leave it to a professional is entirely up to you, but it’s certainly dependent on your skill and experience level.
  3. Ventilate your attic. Proper ventilation in your attic allows the transfer of warm to cool air. Warm air will try to escape up and out. When it’s allowed to easily escape, cooler air will be displaced from outside and will rush in, cooling down your attic. Without proper ventilation, this warm air becomes trapped under your roof, heating it from the inside out and causing snow and ice to melt at the top and refreeze as it moves down. Determining how much ventilation you need and installing this ventilation properly can be somewhat confusing. If you’re handy, this may be something you can do yourself. If not, this is probably a job best left to an experienced professional.
  4. Rake your roof. Standing on an icy and snowy roof to remove snow can be dangerous, and simply isn’t worth the risk. If your roof is collecting a lot of snow or still has ice dams despite your best efforts, using a roof rake to remove snow and ice is highly recommended.
  5. Install ice dam shields and heat cables. If your home is predisposed to ice damming, we would suggest installing an ice dam shield. Professional roofers can install these large, weather-resistant shields on top of your roof and beneath your shingles in order to prevent ice dams from melting through the shingles into your roof. If you’re still concerned about ice dams, you can also have heating cables installed outside of your roof where ice dams form to heat the outside of the roof and prevent damming.

How do you Remove an Ice Dam?

If you cannot move the ice dam with your roof rake, you have a couple of options. Like we said before, ice dams alone aren’t necessarily going to damage your home. The damage occurs as a result of melting ice and snow seeping into your roof and soffits. Before you decide whether or not to remove the dam using other means than a roof rake, look for signs of water damage. If you can’t find water damage, you can probably wait until it melts on its own. Once the dam has melted and warmer weather has arrived, you can begin the preventative measures we mentioned before.

If you find signs of water damage, it’s best to remove the dam to prevent further damage. Again, see if you can easily scrape the dam off using your roof rake. If you can’t, we highly suggest calling a professional roofing company that can steam the ice dam off of your roof. Once the roofing company has removed the dam, they can assess the damage and discuss what the next course of action would be to repair your roof and to prevent damages in the future.

To summarize, ice dams aren’t always going to damage your home’s integrity, but they can be a sign of serious heating issues in your home. If you have an ice dam, check for water damage and remove either with a roof rake or by hiring a professional. In warmer weather, apply preventative measures to keep heat from leaving and water from entering!

If you have any other questions about ice dams, call your SAVA Insurance Group agent at 860-437-7282, today!

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