Ice Dam Prevention: How to Protect Your Roof & Home from Damage - Backyard Boss
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Ice Dam Prevention: How to Protect Your Roof & Home from Damage

Ice dams may seem like a regular winter thing, but their weight can cause a lot of roof damage, not to mention the fact that their fall can be dangerous to whoever passes by. As ice dams melt, they can also cause water leaks under the shingles and end up pouring down on the interior walls and the house’s ceiling. Even if they look good in pictures, one can never underestimate the potential damage that ice damn can cause. Let’s discover what causes ice dams around your home and how you can prevent them from taking a toll on your house’s structure.

What Is an Ice Dam and How Is it Caused?

The main cause for ice damn is snow melting on the upper parts of the roof and then freezing as it slides down towards the edges. This ice blockage eventually prevents melted snow from pouring down the roof and instead causes it to stack under the roof’s shingles. As this newly formed ice melts, it infiltrates the roof’s sheathing and starts leaking into the attic. Leaving this matter unattended can cause leaks to the house’s other rooms, destroying ceilings, walls, and even floors.

This problem often occurs because temperatures inside the attic are above the freezing point. The difference between the temperature inside the attic and the outside causes the snow/ice to melt. Considering that this is somewhat of a chain reaction, there are multiple ways to approach the problem, leaving you with multiple solutions to turn to if you want to prevent this from happening.

Ice Dam Prevention methods to keep roof damage under control in winter

Ice Dam Prevention Methods

Ice Dam Prevention Method #1: Correct attic ventilation

Snow or ice that infiltrates the space beneath shingles melts because the temperature inside the attic is above freezing. To ensure that this doesn’t happen, you will need to make sure that your attic is properly ventilated. As cool air circulates inside the attic, it keeps the roof at a freezing temperature and preserves the ice/snow.

There are two ways to improve attic ventilation:

By creating a soffit-and-ridge vent system. Improve airflow between the roof’s peak and the underside of the roof eaves (also called the “soffit”). One potential way to do this is by placing insulation baffled above the exterior walls on the lower side of the roof. The baffles’ role is to push back insulation by a couple of inches so that air may pass through freely. Often, baffles are used in combination with a ridge vent for continuous airflow.

By creating an intake/exhaust vent system. Gable vents can be used for air intake, and roof vents can provide air exhaust. Remember that every 150 square feet of your attic can be covered with one ventilation system, which provides around 1 square foot of ventilation.

attic exhaust system prevents hot air buildup in summer and ice dam formation in winter

Ice Dam Prevention Method #2: Adding Insulation

Another method involves keeping the attic temperatures as low as possible by insulating temperatures against the roof deck. This means you will have to add insulations to the rooms that are right below the attic to prevent elevated temperatures from going up. For those of you with an open attic, you can insulate the attic’s floor.

Aside from insulation, you will also have to make sure to seal the air channels in the rooms below the attic. For example, if there are gaps around plumbing pipes, high temperatures can still reach the attic space, and this heat flow can cause snow and ice meltdown.

This insulation method to prevent ice dams can also help by reducing energy costs because whatever gaps are around the chimneys or the plumbing pipes are likely to cause heat to escape and can jack up your electricity bill. However, keep in mind that, most of the time, just insulating the attic isn’t the sole solution and often must be used in tandem with other efforts to prevent ice dams.

Ice Dam Prevention attic insulation baffle with airflow

Ice Dam Prevention Method #3: Electric heat cable

While the methods above are rated as the best solution to prevent ice dams from ruining your home’s structure, there is always the solution of installing an electric heat cable, which helps prevent ice dams from forming altogether. This is the most practical solution of all because it solves the problem before it even begins.

Electric heat cables can be installed in the gutters and along the edges of your home’s roof. Granted, it’s not the most pleasantly-looking thing to have, but if you live in a really cold climate, it can go a long way in protecting your house against the potential damage of ice dams. This electric heat cable will prevent water from reaching that freezing point and instead causes it to fall directly onto the ground.

Naturally, you’re thinking about the risk of having electricity and water together in the same spot, and you would be right to be worried about this particular aspect. However, following the manufacturer’s instructions and ensuring that you regularly check the cable for damage will ensure no problems in this chapter.

Keep in mind that you have to clean your gutters at the end of each fall season to ensure there aren’t any leaves that are potentially blocking the water’s path. The downspouts need to be looked after, so that melting snow actually has somewhere to go, and your electric heat cable isn’t just lying in a puddle of water at all times.

Ice Dam Prevention winter, sky, building, cold, ice, snow, wall, window, white, icicle, roof, icicles

Ice Dam Prevention Method #4: Roof rakes

A roof rake is a tool that can help you when you’ve had heavy snowfalls in your area. As this occurs, the odds of ice dams forming are increased since the snow will insulate and keep your roof and your gutters at a very low temperature. Invest in a rake with a long handle so you can remove snow close to the edge of the roof.

Roof rakes are the safest way to remove snow from the roof without having to go up there, which is not recommended under any circumstance. Also, as you’re using the rake, make sure you don’t use too much pressure as you might damage the shingles if you do.

woman clears snow from one-story home with low pitch roof

Ice Dam Prevention Method #5: Ice melt

As you might have expected, one of the solutions against the potential damage caused by ice dams is to melt the ice altogether. To do so, you will need a special ice-melting product or a solution based on calcium chloride. Don’t fall for any of those traditional methods (like putting salt in pantyhose – it won’t be any better than putting lemon zest on your face to remove pimples).

An alternative to this solution would be to chip off the ice yourself. Even if you should never go up on the roof during the winter, you can use an extension ladder to reach the ice dams on the eaves and just remove them by hand. If, at any point, you feel like your position on the ladder is not stable or the effort you’re putting, it might cause you to lose balance and fall, get down immediately and find another solution.

After all, removing these bits of ice by hand won’t completely solve the problem, and it does require a lot of work because new ice is bound to form again really soon. If you want to try it, make sure you use a small hatchet, an ice pick, or a chisel.

man on collapsed roof for snow ice dam prevention extensive damage

Ice Dam Prevention Methods #6: Professional help

Don’t be afraid to admit that ice dams are a problem that got out of control and seek professional help when this happens. Believe it or not, firms specialized in solving these kinds of matters, such as roof contractors. You’d be giving these people a job in a season where they aren’t busy with roofing work because of snow and low temperatures.

It is best to hire professional help as these people have the right tools to remove ice dams, such as low-pressure steamers, to melt the ice, for example. I know that this service tends to cost quite a bit, but if you cannot handle the problem yourself, it is worth it to pay this kind of money because repairing your home after a harsh winter can cost you thousands of dollars more.

Bottom Line

Ice dams have something very winter-ish about them, and you may love to see them, but the potential damage they can do to your house isn’t cute or funny. Aside from the fact that they are a real danger should they break and fall on someone’s head, as they melt, they can infiltrate your attic and damage your ceiling and your walls. Let’s not even think about what happens if the water reaches an insulating electric cable. What we’re trying to say is that you shouldn’t be fooled by the nice winter vibes of ice dams: they are evil and need to be properly disposed of.