As a child growing up in New Hampshire one of my favorite parts of winter was the beautiful icicles that would form on the gutters of my house. I was convinced that Jack Frost had left them just for me. Not only did I love the way they sparkled in the sun, but I would wait with great anticipation for them to fall off the roof so that I could have an icy treat. Little did I know then that they could be a sign of trouble to come. Not only could the larger ones fall and hurt someone, but they could be a precursor to ice damming on the roof. As a child you don’t think of all the dangers and damage that could be caused by those lovely prisms of ice, but as an adult and a home owner they are something to be feared.
What is an Ice Dam?
An ice dam is a crest of ice that forms on the edges and corners of roofs and stops snow from being able to melt and drain off. This then causes the water to be dammed up behind the ridge of ice and can cause water to leak into your home and damage the roof, dislodging roof shingles, damaging plaster on ceilings and walls, causing sagging gutters, peeling paint, soaking the insulation and affecting other areas of your home. Water leaks can happen quickly, be very destructive and ultimately very costly.
What Causes Ice Damming on Roofs?
1. Excessive warm air in the attic
2. Snow on the roof
3. Temperatures on the high areas of the roof above freezing
4. Temperatures on low areas of the roof at freezing or below
5. Skylights and recessed lighting
6. Heating ducts located in the attic
7. Complex roof designs
How Do You Know that You Have Ice Damming on Your Roof?
Remember those beautiful icicles innocently sparkling in the sun, not the small ones, but the ones that are large at the top and connected to others can be the first sign on possible ice damming on your roof. Especially if the icicles are forming on the edge of your roof or on your gutters, you should be weary. Some other signs can be ice or water that is coming down the outside walls of your home or behind gutters and coming through the soffit. In addition, if you see water coming down through your doorways or windows you can be almost certain that an ice dam has formed on your roof. Lastly, if you have had ice dams before you should be especially cautious and follow all the preventive measures necessary to keep this from happening again.
How Do You Prevent Ice Damming on Your Roof?
· Rake and shovel snow and ice off your roof immediately
· Hire a professional to clean off your roof
· Make sure your gutters are properly cleaned before the winter begins
· Make sure your attic is properly ventilated
· Make sure your attic floor is insulated to keep heat from rising in your house
· Have an air barrier or water repellent roof membrane installed in your home
· Make sure there are no other heat sources that could be dangerous such as:
o Uninsulated recessed lighting
o Uninsulated house fan openings
o Uninsulated attic opening/ hatch
o Uninsulated heating duct
o Poorly operating water heaters or furnaces
What to Do If You Have Ice Damming on Your Roof?
1. Fill an old pair of pantyhose with calcium chloride (ice melter) and lay the leg of the pantyhose across the ice dam to slowly melt the ice
2. Tap the ice dam with a mallet to slowly remove chunks of ice (DO NOT use an ice pick)
3. Clean the gutters and remove icicles from the edge of your roof
4. Melt through the ice with ice melter (calcium chloride), but not rock salt as it causes more damage to your roof
5. If possible, call an expert in roof maintenance to remove the ice dam (experts know how to do this without causing additional damage)
Enjoy the winter months, marvel at the icicles and frosty art left on your windows by Jack Frost, but also be aware of the dangers that could lurk underneath all of the icy beauty. The best way to deal with ice dams is to prevent them from ever happening. Use the advice above and your winter will be care free!