On Thin Ice: How to Prevent Ice Dams this Winter

It finally happened: it’s cold. Ice cold. The past week has chilled Massachusetts, the home state of Enservio, with single digit temperatures–and the dangerous ice conditions that accompany them.

Ice, besides being the cause of slips and falls in the driveway while you’re getting in and out of your car – is also to blame for the common residential problem of serious leaks, and buckling roofs. ”Ice dams” can happen to any homeowner in possession of a slanted roof. 

When it rains or snows in cold weather, the precipitation will hit the roof of a home and continue to slide down. However, due to freezing temperatures, that sliding rain or snow is apt to freeze onto the roof–especially on the bottom portion known as the overhang. Once there is a coating of ice on said overhang, the roof is more apt to catch and retain precipitation the next time it rains or snows, thus effectively “damming” the pre-existing snow or rain.

Your roof is now saddled with an extraordinary amount of weight – the ice dam, new snow, and the ice backed up behind it. As anyone who has experienced an avalanche will tell you, snow looks light and fluffy but is really a heavyweight champ. The more snow there is (and ice if there’s any rain, melting, or refreezing going on), the more weight and pressure on the roof. And the more likely it is for a leak to form in the attic or, worse, for a collapse to occur.

Besides the obvious solution to this issue (continuously cleaning off your roof when it’s significantly covered), the Boothbay Register, a publication based out of Maine–where they have to know these things–offers more advice for preventing ice dams and subsequent leaks. Their article says that “ice dams can be caused by poor insulation. If too much heat is escaping from the attic, the snow on the roof can melt and flow down to the overhang where it refreezes. You might think that it is your roof that needs to be repaired when, in fact, it is your home’s insulation that needs to be improved. Frozen and clogged gutters also do not help and keeping them clear of debris and ice can help.” So how can you do this? Keep gutters clear of ice and leaves so that proper draining can take place as much as possible.

The Star Tribune, out of Minnesota, has some additional advice: “Having adequate ventilation for the attic space will help to keep the roof surface cold, which will help to prevent snow from melting, which will help to prevent ice dams.”

Finally, it’s crucial to make sure that attic air leaks are plugged. These can be tiny cracks or holes that insulation doesn’t plug, but they’re often attributed to areas around objects–for instance, pipes–that travel through a wall or floor and create space for warm air to seep into the attic, thus rising and weakening the interior of the roof. Sealing these little cracks and holes can go a long way in preventing the inconvenience and expense of ice dams.

Ice dams can be caused by any of the factors discussed here – or worse – a combination of them. Do yourself a favor this winter and make sure you check your attic and roof thoroughly; it may just save you a big headache, and some cold hard cash too.

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