How to Prevent Roof Ice Dams This Winter

Written by  //  September 30, 2013  //  Roof  //  Comments Off on How to Prevent Roof Ice Dams This Winter

This winter, homeowners in the most northernly states will be on the look out for a potential roof hazard: ice dams. Ice dams are ridges of ice that form on top of houses, blocking melting snow from draining off the roof and through the gutter system. When a back up takes place, water can seep into the home damaging the insulation, soaking walls and causing ceilings to buckle and collapse. You may not always be able to prevent ice dams from forming, but you can take some steps now to avoid a catastrophe later.

Ice Dam Overview

Ice dams form whenever melted snow is trapped and unable to flow seamlessly from your home’s roof. Essentially, a combination of air temperature, air leakage by convection and heat loss by conduction can warm up your roof enough to cause snow to melt. The damming typically takes place at the edge of the roof with dammed water sitting directly above the dam.

When a dam builds up, water must find a place to go. Even the slightest crack or opening in your roof will provide an outlet for the water to escape, typically dripping down to your home’s insulation before sliding across the ceiling and down the walls. Sometimes the penetration is so slight that it is never observed by the homeowner until a nasty mold or mildew begins to collect. Ice dams are also more likely to occur wherever nonuniform roof surface temperatures are apparent.

Radiation, Conduction and Convection

There are three ways that snow is melted, with each one potentially leading to ice dams. Radiation is created when the roof heats up. As the shingles warm up, then snow will begin to melt. Conduction occurs when heat is transmitted from the home to the roof. Typically, this occurs if your home’s insulation isn’t sufficient, allowing that heat to escape. Convection operates similarly but instead of heat loss, your home is experiencing air leakage that can also melt snow. Again, your insulation may be a contributing factor to this problem.

You can prevent heat from escaping your home by using the proper R-value per inch to reduce conductive heat loss. Also, if your home’s exhaust system is not adequate, then the air that is expelled may be unable to clear your roof. Instead, it can settle on your roof, causing show to melt and contributing to its penetration into your home. You can avoid this problem by either moving the exhaust system or extending its termination point further out. In areas of the country where snow accumulation is deep, exhaust pipes should be modified accordingly.

Your Roof Inspection

Before winter, your roof should be inspected to ensure that it is ready for the season. Gutters and down spouts should be clear. Shingles should be in excellent shape. Flashing around chimneys, exhaust pipes and along ridges should also be in place. 

Check your insulation to ensure that it provides the coverage needed to thwart heat loss. Heat can escape your home in so many ways, through duct work, a fireplace, wood stoves and through exhaust systems. 

Signs of Trouble

Severe ice dam problems can typically be spotted in one of two ways.

The first way or sign indicating heat loss is on the roof, usually patchy areas where there is very little snow in relation to the rest of the roof. That’s a sure sign of heat loss, a problem that can be remedied by adding more insulation. The second sign is apparent when icicles are spotted forming at the edge of the roof. Typically, long sheets of ice are hanging down, indicating high heat loss.

Taking Immediate Action

Homeowners spotting one or both problems should take immediate action. This means ensuring that whatever leakage is found is also remedied. It also may mean climbing up on the roof to free the ice dam, a potentially dangerous move that might be best left to a roofing company.

While ice dams are more common where snowfall is more likely to happen, even an uncommon storm further south can quickly cause problems. After any snow covering that blankets the roof, homeowners should make observation, looking for signs of damming and responding accordingly.

Author Information
Nathan Logan is a professional blogger that shares tips and advice on home improvement projects. He writes for Pro Home Improvement, a top home improvement company in Detroit that provides roofin, siding and insulation services. 

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