The Cold Truth About Ice Dams

The wind and snow of winter storms can lead to all kinds of problems for homeowners with tree limbs falling, power outages leading to frozen pipes and ice leading to slips and falls. After the storm clears, however, your property may be at risk from another costly problem: ice dams. When warmth escapes the heated living space in a house, enters an attic and meets the roof, the accumulated snow in contact with the roof begins to melt, regardless of the outside temperature. The liquid water runs down the roof until it meets the unheated edge, near the eaves, where it refreezes and eventually forms a solid damof ice. Water builds up behind the dam and, with nowhere to go, finds its way up under the shingles, and into the attic where it can infiltrate walls, soak insulation, ruin drywall and cause electrical problems.

In addition to the inconvenience of trying to remediate these problems in the dead of winter, this damage is likely to be costly and invite the submission of an insurance claim. Luckily, homeowners can take steps to prevent ice-dam problems before they occur, and as an ice dam begins to form, saving damage to your house and your finances, and preventing a potentially costly claim.

Keep the attic cold. An insulation or air-sealing contractor can identify where warmth is entering the attic and can seal and insulate these problem areas. Keeping the attic cold prevents the frozen snow on the roof from melting and refreezing into a dam. This can also keep your energy bills down, eliminate drafts and cold spots and make living areas more comfortable.

Protect the shingles. Snow panels are sheets of solid material, such as aluminum flashing, that replace or cover the shingles in the areas where ice dams form. They do not prevent the dams from occurring, but are impermeable and deny the infiltration of backed-up water in the event a dam does form. A roofercan help with the proper location and installation of this cost-effective measure.

Remove the snow. A wheeled snow rake allows a homeowner to pull accumulated snow off of the roof before it has a chance to melt. Wheeled rakes prevent the rake’s edge from contacting and possibly damaging the roofing material.

Melt the dam. Electrically heated snow-melt cables are affixed to the roof in trouble areas along the edge, and, when turned on, melt the accumulated ice. Talk to a roofer about the optimal installation of the cables, to maximize their effectiveness.

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