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Marty’s Maintenance Tips: What You Need to Know About Ice Damming

Posted January 26, 2016

Don’t let the periodic warm temperatures fool you; we are firmly in the middle of winter. And while many of us personally enjoy these milder days, taking advantage of the opportunity for more comfortable winter activities, the temperature fluctuations we’re experiencing this year can wreak havoc on your home.

In particular, we are talking about Ice Damming.

What is ice damming, you say?  Well, when snow melts on your roof and the melt water turns to ice and this reoccurs over and over, it creates a backup of ice at the eves that can lift shingles and open up flashings. As if that’s not bad enough, this also results in a pool of water on your roof from the snow melt that can drain into your home and can cause significant interior damage.

There are two main forces at play here melting the snow. The first and the toughest is Mother Nature. The heat from the sun, temperature, wind etc. all affect the rate at which snow will melt and ice will form. The freeze thaw cycle we are in this year compounds this concern, as the melting occurs at a quicker rate and is flash frozen when the temperatures drop again. The second force at play is how warm your actual roof is. In other words, how much heat is escaping to your attic and staying there.

Now a lot of people want this problem solved for good but unfortunately that is not possible, unless of course you sell your home and move south, say Hawaii, Florida, Cuba, Mexico… I can guarantee you will not deal with ice damming there! But like me, it sounds like all of you are sticking around for the long haul. So, what can we do about ice damming? And how do I keep my attic cold?

First and foremost, you can remove the snow from your roof. This eliminates one of the ingredients necessary for the formation of an ice dam. A roof rake (available at most hardware stores) or push broom can be used to remove snow. Just make sure you are pulling the snow off your roof, and not pushing it up; otherwise you may end up causing damage to the roofing materials.

In an emergency situation where water is flowing into the house, making channels through the ice dam allows the water behind the dam to drain off the roof.

For those who have heard of heat cables, this is exactly how they help with the prevention of ice damming. However, heat cables should be installed on your home in the fall and are not available as a quick fix once winter has begun. If you are looking into this option and have evestrough, make sure the cables are installed in the trough and down the downspouts protruding 12-16” so that the draining water doesn’t freeze and block the base of the down spout. And let’s not forget to clear the snow at the bottom of the down spout so that it properly drains!

If you do not have heat cables installed you can try an ice melt product (not salt) that is safe on asphalt shingles, your lawn and concrete steps.

While clearing the snow and making channels through an existing ice dam are helpful tips, where you really want to concentrate your efforts is inside the home. How do you keep a “cold roof”?

Proper ventilation is the key here. Ensuring constant air circulation in the attic will help avoid the warm air building up and subsequently warming up your roof. One method is to install vented soffit with raised baffles or roof vents. This can help to vent the warm attic air, however too much venting can also cause problems. Striking a balance is very important, and in this case we suggest getting the opinion of a trained professional before making any changes.  For now, this can be helped from the outside, by clearing away any snow on or around existing vents.

The truth is, any heat loss from the home into the attic can potentially give you a warm roof.  And this heat loss can occur from just about anything – poor insulation, holes where electrical wires, pot lights and plumbing pipes have been installed, a poor, damaged or non-existent vapor barrier, etc. So what we need to focus on here, is making the ceiling air-tight, so no warm, moist air can flow from the house into the attic space.

One method is to go into the attic and seal all of the joints and openings with acoustical sealant and tuck tape.  The attic would also need a “top up” after all that work to bring it to an R-50 level. Another method would be to remove the existing insulation and use environmentally-friendly spray foam to add a 2” to 3” layer over the whole attic. This method ensures there are no air leaks into the attic. Blown in insulation is then added to bring the R value up to R50.

Both of the above methods should only be considered through a professional. Also, you should always seal penetrations in the ceiling as part of your insulation top up process. Doing one without the other is a waste of your money.

Please do not hesitate to contact our Service Department directly for any questions, or for support in the above suggestions.