That Damn Ice!

AKA… ice damming is Real! 

Cold weather wreaks havoc for homeowners.  Frozen pipes, gutters clogged with leaves and snow are just some of the issues.

One issue that often goes unrecognized is the problem of ice damming.  Those beautiful icicles that form at a roof’s perimeter after heavy snows aren’t nearly as pretty when you realize they can be a common sign of an ice damming problem.

Ice dams can cause considerable damage to the exterior AND interior of homes if left unchecked.  While the icicles are the most common sign, ice dams can also be found behind chimneys, in roof valleys and at other hidden areas of the roof.

How can I tell if my house has an ice damming problem?

Sometimes the damage is obvious, such as dripping water inside the exterior walls.  But ice damming can cause other, unseen problems.

One of the most serious we have seen showed up in a basement….two floors BELOW the gutter line!  The water had been leaking within the walls for years and the damage to the floors & structure was significant. 

Evidence of ice damming can be hard to identify.  An area of melt on an otherwise frosted roof can be one sign.  Frost on the underside of a roof can be another. 

snow melt in one spot w captions
Ice dam potential?

What damage?

Evidence of water damage or staining inside a home can mean an expensive repair bill.  It’s ALWAYS important to investigate.

While this type of detailed inquiry may not be part of a basic home inspection, many inspectors offer limited scope consultations that can help detect the origins of an issue. 

hidden ice dam w captions
A large ice dam at a wall

How do ice dams form? (Ice dams explained)

Ice damming usually results from poor insultation, poor ventilation, or both. 

Poor insulation allows heat to escape into an attic.  Contrary to popular belief, the attic space should be cold in the winter.  A cold attic means the heat from the living space is not being lost. 

The same is true about ventilation.  A well-ventilated attic should be cold in winter weather. 

For more information about how ice dams form, and what to do about them, go here for more information.

ice dams
How ice dams form

What about ice melting cables?

Ice melting cables can help, but they are usually treating the symptom rather than the root cause.

What else can a homeowner do?

Sometimes the best solution is the least high tech.  A trip up to the roof to shovel the snow off can go a long way to prevent ice damming.

Clearly, shoveling snow off a roof presents significant safety concerns.  A better solution is to investigate and repair the root cause of the issue.  A licensed contractor or inspector can help.

Another alternative…leave a shovel out for Santa along with the cookies!

frozen gutters w captions
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