Ice Dam Prevention

Beautiful but deadly, icicles are the femme fatales of the weather world. Rarely, they fall onto people’s heads (check out this article about Chicagoans vs. icicles), but commonly, they are involved in ice dams.

What’s that? You’ve never heard of an ice dam? Allow me to explain. When ice builds up along the eaves of your roof, it doesn’t just create pretty icicles; it may also create an ice dam. Water melting off of your roof is trapped behind the ice on the eaves. If this backed-up water is not taken care of, it can cause a lot of damage: ripped-off gutters, loose shingles, interior water damage (peeling paint, saggy floors and ceilings, mildew) . . . Need I go on? That’s why ice dam prevention is so important.

Ice Dam Prevention

Ice Dam Prevention

An ice dam is caused after a snow or ice storm when precipitation builds up along the eaves of your house. Time passes and the heat inside your house collects in the attic, where it warms up the roof. It doesn’t, however, warm up the eaves. The snow from the roof melts and travels down to the eaves, where it builds up again as ice. The accumulation of all that ice on the eaves creates a dam, preventing the melting water from the roof from escaping. The backed-up water doesn’t have anywhere to go and starts to seep under the shingles, through the roof, and into the house, where it can cause all sorts of moisture damage.

Ice Dam Prevention

If you want to avoid this sticky scenario, you need to focus on ice dam prevention this winter. The key is vigilance. Ice dams require specific conditions, so when those conditions occur (ice storm, snow, cold weather, a warm house), keep an eye on your roof. If you see a potential ice dam forming, take action. Choose one or more of the following solutions:

  • Take a fan into the attic and aim it at the spot where water is leaking in. The cold air should freeze the leak.
  • Rake off the snow using a snow rake. Be gentle and patient. Avoid hacking away at the ice with a hammer or chisel, as that can cause roof damage.
  • Check that you have adequate insulation in both your roof and attic and seal any gaps that are allowing warm air to leak into your attic from the house.
  • Keep an air space between the roof and the insulation and install polystyrene rafter air channels that allow the air to circulate. Vents will allow cold air to enter the space at the bottom and escape at the top, keeping the roof cool.
  • Install heat tape (also known as heat wire) along the roof’s surface and above the eaves. When needed, plug in the tape. It will heat up and create conduits in the ice that will allow the melting water to escape.

Whether you’re looking for temporary ice dam prevention (fan, snow rake, heat tape) or a permanent solution (insulation, ventilation), one of those ideas is sure to help.

So the next time you see some lovely, glittering icicles hanging from your roof’s eaves, give them a once-over. And if they seem to be plotting the construction of a dam, put these ice dam prevention methods to use. Good luck!