The Ice Dam Cometh


The Ice Dam Cometh



Icicle lights hanging off your roofline this holiday season can make your home look seasonally festive. But real icicles hanging off your roofline may be a sign of costly repairs to come. That’s because ice dams – thick icy buildups that can cause serious damage to your home – are likely causing them. Instead of waiting for an ice dam emergency to happen, experts say it’s better to be proactive and prevent this possibility now.

First, it’s important to understand the physics involved. Ice dams can form during cold weather if: (a) you have debris in your gutters that slow or block the flow of water away from the roof surface; and/or (b) hot air trapped inside your attic that melts snow and ice on the roof.

“The melted liquid then travels to a point of the roof that’s cold – typically on the roof edge or around the gutters – and then refreezes, creating a dam of ice,” says Alexandre Pecora, director of product management for CertainTeed Roofing in Malvern, Pennsylvania. “This dam will pool more snow melt that eventually infiltrates beneath the roof shingles and refreezes. The resulting pressure pushes apart the components of the roofing system, creating an entry point for moisture.”

Once that water gets inside your home, damage to ceiling and wall drywall, flooring, insulation and electrical components (the latter is a major fire hazard) can result. There’s also the potential for toxic mold growth.

“These problems can cost thousands of dollars to repair. And consider that mid-winter is an especially inconvenient and difficult time to be doing external repairs or opening up walls, ceilings and roofs,” notes Chris Rhoades, technical inspection leader at Toledo, Ohio-based Owens Corning.

Which is why it pays to take preventive steps now, before ice dams form. Don’t think it can happen to you? Travelers Insurance reports that weather-related water damage due to ice dams and other issues comprise 23 percent of claims during winter.

“The easiest way to avoid or minimize damage is to keep your roof area the same temperature as the roofline by minimizing heat loss and to allow a quick flow away from your home for the melting that occurs,” Joshua Miller, director of technical training for Waco, Texas-headquartered Rainbow International, suggests.

To shield your home from ice dams, follow these tips:

- Keep your gutters clean and properly pitched. “This prevents clogging and allows snow and ice to melt and drain efficiently,” says Cam Vacek, client experience coordinator with Absolute Roofing LLC in Elkhorn, Nebraska. “Installing a gutter guard system that prevents leaves and debris from collecting can also be useful.”

- Hire an expert to evaluate your roof and attic. “Call a roofing professional for an inspection long before snow or frost is forecast. This person can point out weaknesses and recommend remedies,” Rhoades says, noting that an inspection can cost $150 and up.

- Ensure adequate attic insulation. “Proper insulation will keep warm air from escaping into the attic space, and it will lower your energy costs, too,” says Pecora, adding that typical blow-in insulation can cost $1,000 and up to install.

- Properly ventilate your attic to keep your roof uniformly cold in the winter and inhibit the thaw/freeze cycle. “Ridge vents or exhaust vents combined with intake or soffit vents are an economical way to maintain consistent ventilation,” Pecora says, noting that these options may cost only a few hundred dollars.

- Install a self-adhered waterproofing underlayment three to six feet up from the roof’s edge. Often called an “ice and water shield,” this barrier, placed under the roof shingles, won’t stop ice dams but it can block water intrusion. Costs start at several hundreds of dollars but can vary, depending on your roof,

- Install electric cables near your roofline, which can melt snow and ice when plugged in. “I’d hire a skilled electrician to install these, which can run about $2 per linear foot for the materials,” says Rhoades.

If ice has already dammed up your roofline, don’t attempt any ladder-climbing heroics. Leave the job to the professionals.

“You can hire a company to melt the ice dam, but only choose a service that uses high-temperature, low-pressure steam, which can run $300 and up per hour,” Rhoades says.

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