Icicles hanging from your roof could spell trouble

Feb 16, 2021Roofing0 comments

Ice Dam on a Roof

Ice dams are typically a problem for the northern part of the country where there is more snowfall and freezing temperatures in the winter. Central Indiana is one such place!

What is an ice dam?
An ice dam is simply a clump of ice that forms at the roof’s edge preventing melting snow from draining off the roof and into the gutters. Sounds harmless but could spell trouble.

Ice dam formation
Ice damming happens when certain winter weather conditions take place creating a “perfect storm”. On a sloped roof, melting snow and ice causes a tiny river of water flowing downward over the shingles toward the roof’s edge and into the gutters and downspouts. The roof is colder at the edge because it extends past the side of the house where there is no insulation. It’s at this point where the tiny river of water will freeze and eventually turn into a clump of ice, or ice dam. Depending on the slope or flatness of the roof, it can build up easily when it reaches the ice sitting in the gutter.

We know that warm air rises toward the ceiling of indoor spaces. Though you may have adequate insulation in your attic, the room’s ceiling will still be warm. Warm air seeps into the attic, warming the surface of the roof. The transition from a warmer roof during the daytime hours to a colder roof surface on a winter’s night frequently causes the melting water to refreeze at the roof’s overhang where it’s colder, causing ice and water to back up. Ice can then back up under shingles and roofing materials, causing damage. Left untreated, this is a recipe for disaster.

What is an Ice Dam

Roof and wall damage
Ice dams can lead to extensive damage to your roof and the walls inside your home, as well as causing gutters and downspouts to fail. When gutters and downspouts fail, you could end up with foundation problems. So, you can see why it’s important to address ice dams as soon as you recognize the problem. More importantly, they can be prevented from occurring at all.

While all of this sounds like very bad news, there are many things you can do to decrease the amount of damage after an ice dam has formed. It’s important to note that the “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” adage applies here, too. Prevention is much less expensive and it also means you don’t have to go outside in freezing temperatures to remedy the problem.

How do ice dams lead to water damage?
As the water refreezes, the ice backs up and makes the clump bigger, forming the ice dam. As it sits on the edge of the roof and in the gutter, the ice can then work its way under the shingles and standard underlayment, causing it to flow into the attic where it’s warmer. Once that happens, the melted ice seeps through insulation, ceilings, walls and other areas where it can cause damage inside and outside the home.

Ice dam removal
Using a blunt instrument such as a rubber hammer, tap cautiously at the ice dam by breaking it up in small pieces to expose roofing shingles. Be sure to NOT use anything sharp like an ax, as that could rip the shingles and lead to bigger problems. Be sure to clean out the gutters and downspouts, too, as this will go a long way toward preventing it from happening again.

In situations where ice dams are reoccurring, a heat strip plugged into a proper grounded outlet could be installed.

A word of caution: there is a great deal of damage that can be done to the roof, shingles, gutters and downspouts if ice dam removal is not done correctly. You may want to consider calling an experienced roofer to do this delicate task, as you don’t want to remove shingles with the ice.

Heat Tape for Ice Dams
Heat Tape for Ice Dam Removal

Ice dam prevention
Keeping a consistent attic temperature can help prevent ice dams. Insulation and ventilation are key components of maintaining the proper conditions in the attic and on the roof deck. Proper use of Ice & Water Barrier Products, plus insulation and ventilation can help prevent ice dams – a major culprit when it comes to roof leaks.

What can you do now to prevent an ice dam from ever being a problem for you? It’s all part of a good roof system with proper insulation, attic venting and sealing roofing materials.

It is helpful to install a self-sealing ice and water barrier that allows for proper water flow and helps in preventing damage caused by ice dams. It can be used with asphalt shingles, wood shakes and quarry slate roofs. It acts as a waterproof barrier in the most vulnerable sections of the roof. It adheres to the roof deck creating a watertight seal around nails to help prevent water migration and a taped edge that improves the seal between courses.

A properly installed roof requires various components designed to control temperature and humidity inside the home (remember: warm air rises). A well-built roof ensures that all elements work together to help protect your biggest investment – your home.

Proper ventilation is vital, as this allows outside air to flow naturally upward and out of your attic, promoting a cooler, drier attic and will go a long way toward preventing ice dams and resulting damage. This helps prevent moisture entrapment in insulation, shingles and the roof deck. This, in turn, helps prevent rotting, mildew, drywall damage, peeling paint and warped siding. Proper ventilation will help prevent damage and premature aging caused by moisture in winter and heat in the summer. Year-round, your energy bill will improve, too.

Additionally, ensure that gutters and downspouts are cleaned in the fall after all of the leaves have fallen. Gutters operate optimally when they are clear of debris.

Understanding how ventilation plays a role in ice dams
In a well-balanced system, wind blowing over the ridge and roof vents produces negative pressure, pulling warmer air out of the attic. Fresh air then enters the attic through the eave or soffit vents, the air surrounds the underside of the roof before exiting at the ridge cap through ridge roof and gable vents. Even without wind, the natural action of rising warm air maintains a continuous air flow along the underside of the roof. It’s easy to see how proper ventilation and attic insulation work together to help maintain a comfortable temperature inside the home, increase energy efficiency, prevent moisture damage all the while supporting the longevity of the roof.

When used with the proper exhaust ventilation, intake vents help replace warm, humid air in your attic with cool, dry air to help protect the interior parts of your roof from heat and moisture damage. They also help keep the attic temperature closer to the outside temperatures to help eliminate problems such as ice damming.

In addition, ridge vents at the roof’s highest point help draw air out of the attic, resulting in protection from heat and moisture damage. These work together with intake ventilation, and help create a balanced flow where warm, humid air is continuously replaced by cool, dry air.

In conclusion, it’s important to have the roof, ventilation and insulation systems all working together properly to keep your roof – and your home – in good shape. Much like going to the dentist for preventative care of your teeth, ice dam prevention will save you a lot of pain and expense later.

Ice Dam Prevention

Proactive Tip: Bring in the Trusted Experts. Call a local expert who can evaluate your roof for damage and determine what your roof needs are. This could include additional shingles, underlayments, ice and water barrier products, ventilation and/or additional insulation.


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