Home Maintenance

Ice Dams: Signs and Prevention

We may not be getting the Winter 2016-2017 conditions this year so far, but winter is surely on its way and it’s time to keep possible home damages at the front of our minds.

Ice dams can cause major destruction to our homes, some of which might need professional help or even remodeling to recover from. By thinking ahead and paying attention you can avoid this risk.

So, what is an ice dam?

An ice dam is a wall of ice that forms at the edge of the roof, typically at the gutters or soffit, and prevents melting snow from draining off. It backs up the snow and water causing re-freezing and blockage.

What causes ice dams? 

Three things work together to create ice dams.

  1. Snow is present on the roof.
  2. Higher portions of the roof’s surface is above 32 degrees.
  3. Lower surfaces are below 32 degrees.

When these three align, snow will melt and the water from that melt will flow down the roof and freeze, which forms the ice dam.

What are the signs of an ice dam?

  1. Your home has a history of ice dams.
  2. Icicles form on the edge of the roof or off the front edge of the gutter. (Keep in mind: Not all icicles mean you have an ice dam. It’s common for smaller icicles to form in the winter. It’s the big, thicker icicles you want to keep a close eye on.)
  3. Ice is coming through the soffit.
  4. Water or ice appears on the exterior wall.
  5. Water is seeping through a door frame or window.

How do ice dams damage the home?

If you don’t tackle and address an ice dam early, the costs can be significant.

  1. Water Damage: The melting snow can makes its way into your house, walls, ceilings and insulation, causing water to get trapped and cause damage to the interior of your home. If insulation gets wet, it can become ineffective as well as result in mold.
  2. Roof Shingle Damage: The dams can lift roof shingles up, causing roof problems as well as leaks.
  3. Gutter Damage: The pressure and weight from the dams can pull off gutters and lead to structural damage which may cause flooding.

How do you prevent ice dams?

Properly winterizing your roof is the best way to prevent ice dams from forming, and now is a great time to do it. Here is how you can winterize:

  1. Have your gutters cleared and cleaned before winter fully hits.
  2. Keep your attic and roof well ventilated so it stays cold.
  3. Insulate your attic so heat from the home doesn’t seep up and cause melting.
  4. Rake or shovel snow off your roof before it freezes. Or hire a professional to clear it for you.
  5. Create an air barrier between the house and attic with a foil-faced cover over an uninsulated attic hatch or whole-house fan opening.
  6. Install a water-repellent roof membrane.
  7. Check for any potentially dangerous heat sources, including uninsulated recessed ceiling can lights, uninsulated folding attic stair openings, heating ducts, furnace or water-heating equipment and inadequate bathroom vent fans.

How do you remove ice dams if one forms?

If you notice an ice dam has formed, or is forming, here are some things you can do immediately to help the situation.

  1. Apply calcium chloride or another ice-melting product onto the ice.
  2. Place a box fan in the attic and direct it at the underside of the roof where water is leaking in. The cold air will freeze the water.
  3. If your roof is flat or has a low slope, use a roof rake to sweep off the snow.
  4. Have a professional remove the dam with high-pressure steam or other specialized methods.

Don’t let the beauty of icicles or the lack of knowledge about ice dams cause damage to your home this winter. Many landscaping companies in Central Oregon will help with winterizing and dam removal.

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