By Peter Schick
After last winter, it would be hard to find a homeowner who is not familiar with ice dams and the associated problems. The damage and headaches they caused throughout the northeastern United States kept handymen and contractors working overtime. Despite all the damage that ice damming can cause, it is easily prevented, but not as easily fixed.
What Is An Ice Dam?
An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms around the edge of a roof, sometimes on or near the gutters, that prevents melting snow from draining off the roof. Since the melting snow cannot effectively drain off the roof, the water often leaks through the roof causing damage to the insulation, walls, and ceilings. The moisture left by this leaking water often causes long term mold and mildew issues, which can lead to respiratory problems.
How Do I Prevent An Ice Dam?
Ice dams form due to excess heat in your attic that melts the snow on a portion of the roof. Areas of your roof that are not as warm, typically near the gutters or the edge of your roof, are colder and these areas do not melt. In order to prevent ice dams you need to reduce the level of heat in your attic and make the temperature of the roof more uniform. There are three ways you can do this:
- Add ventilation to your attic. Ventilation to your attic will help maintain consistent temperatures along all parts of the roof. As shown in the picture above, have a soffit vent and a ridge vent on the top of the roof will allow outside air to freely flow underneath the roof. This will help prevent an ice dam from forming. Be sure to check these vents to ensure they remain free of debris, snow, or ice throughout the winter or they will not work as desired.
- Increase insulation in attic. This will prevent heat from inside your house from rising up into the attic and warming the roof. Special attention needs to be given to any vents that are in the attic. These vents can directly heat the attic if they are not properly insulated.
- Remove snow from the roof. If snow is removed from your roof, the primary ingredient for an ice dam is taken away. This is only a short term solution and can be dangerous, so be careful!
I Have An Ice Dam Right Now, How Do I Fix It?
Do not succumb to the temptation to simply knock down the icicles with a hammer or shovel! This can cause more damage to your roof. A roof rake or push broom should be used to remove any snow on the roof. As mentioned before, be careful! You can also melt through the ice dam with calcium chloride ice melter, but do not use rock salt as this will cause damage to your roof and gutters. One way to do this is to fill an old sock with calcium chloride and place it perpendicular to the ice dam. This will melt the ice underneath the sock and allow the built up water behind the ice a place to drain.