Winter's Passed: 5 Tips We Learned About Ice Dams

10th May 2017

As homes age, as many middle-class home-repair funds are spent on other expenses, and as the Web helps ever-increasing numbers of people share information, more American homeowners have grown aware of a problem as old as home heating: ice dams.

Ice dams are thick slabs of ice that form on rooftops during snowy winters. They are most often caused by snow melting on a hot roof, flowing down the roof, and refreezing into a wall (a “dam”) of ice. Eventually, water pools behind the ice dam and can leak through the shingles, often leading to expensive home repairs and in some cases, death.

Long dreaded by homeowners in snowy Midwestern states like Illinois and Minnesota, ice dams proved to be a growing concern for homeowners across even more of the country. “We used to get calls only close to home, but this past season we got calls from Colorado, Idaho, as far west as Washington State, and as far east as Massachusetts,” says Joe Palumbo, owner of Minneapolis-based ice dam removal company Ice Dam Guys.

According to Palumbo, ice dams typically are caused by excessive heat in the attic warming the shingles, which melts the snow that later refreezes elsewhere on the roof. Homeowners can deter or prevent ice dams from forming next year by keeping snow off their roofs and by allowing less heat to build up in their attics. “I know I’m probably losing some ice dam removal customers by saying this, but preventing ice dams is very easy.”

Palumbo has provided several tips on how to prevent ice dams, which are much easier to address and plan for in the warm spring and summer months, as opposed to reacting when it’s a blizzard outside:

  • Buy a roof rake and rake the snow off your roof, particularly off of the overhangs. Palumbo suggests removing the snow after roughly 6 inches of snowfall. Adds Palumbo: “The less snow on your roof, the less chance ice dams can form. If there’s one thing you can do to prevent ice dams, roof-raking is it.”
  • Try to clear the snow out of your attic vents, which when clogged can keep heat trapped in the attic.
  • Hire a company to remove the snow from your roof if you go on vacation while significant snowfall is forecasted.
  • Avoid using salt pucks, salt-filled pantyhose, or heat cables to melt ice dams. According to Palumbo, they do not melt enough ice to prevent interior water leaks caused by ice dams, and they can discolor or damage your roof.
  • Improve the insulation and ventilation in your attic.  Palumbo suggests getting a professional home-energy audit to pinpoint areas where hot air leaks into the attic or cannot leave the attic. “Ventilation is important, but insulation is crucial.  There are dozens of ways air can leak into your attic. It usually takes a professional to find all your ice dam risk factors.”

If this past winter was a doozie for you, but you escaped without significant problems, congratulations! That being said, it might be wise to contact your local ventilation professional and schedule an audit this year before the snow hits and it’s too late. 

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