One of the most pressing threats to homes during the winter season are ice dams.
An ice dam is a formation of ice and water that forms when snow melts and runs down the surface of the roof and refreezes near the gutter. As it does, a wall of ice begins to form that holds back even more water, resulting in a circular process that worsens over time. If this ‘ice dam’ breaks free of your roof, it can cause severe damage to anything underneath, and that doesn’t include the damage that occurs during the freezing process.
Melt water can potentially find its way under shingles and refreeze, which pushes them away from the roof and forms an opening where water can get into the home, causing mold and other forms of damage. Keep an eye out for any loose shingles while cleaning the roof.
Minimizing the Risk
While there isn’t a foolproof way to prevent an ice dam from forming, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk. All of the following steps are best performed before the weather gets too cold, and with the help of a qualified professional:
- Seal all points where air moves from the living space into the attic. The warm air will condense and form liquid which may freeze around the insulation or cause mold.
- Insulate the attic space to prevent conduction and convection from the living spaces into the ceiling.
- Install sufficient ventilation spaces in the attic to ensure any heat that does reach the attic can escape.
Proactive maintenance of your home can save a lot of money when winter arrives. Take the time to clean your gutters, attend to air leaks, and ventilate your attic before the temperature drops. The initial to-do list may be long, but will be well worth it when you’re cozy inside a warm home.
What to do About Ice Dams
- Before the first snows fall, thoroughly clean your gutters of any and all debris. Check the gutter hooks to ensure they are properly secured to your home. By maintaining the gutters before they are needed, you can make sure the snowmelt has an outlet away from your home. Investing in a low-cost roof rake can be beneficial.
- When the snowfall becomes heavier, keep the gutters clear of snow as much as possible. Use caution when operating a ladder on wet ground. The roof rake can be used to pull snow away from dips in the roof and to break up clumps before they form. Beware of electrical wiring running under the eaves of the home.
- Removing the bottom section of the downspout can prevent clogs form forming in the bend and freezing. Frozen snow within a gutter can cause it to back up onto the roof, or potentially shatter the gutter from within.
How to Handle Ice Dams After They Form
If you’re afraid you may get an ice dam, invest in a melting agent. Calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, urea, and rock salt are all readily available melting agents. However, rock salt is not recommended, as it can damage the paint and gutters. The runoff can potentially salt the ground, causing damage to plants underneath. When applying these chemicals to the roof, be wary of any children or pets playing nearby. Exercise the proper safety practices.
A useful ‘life hack’ to keep in mind is this: fill an old panty hose with calcium chloride and tie it off. When laid vertically across the ice dam, it will melt its way through and clear a path for the melt water underneath.
If the ice has sufficiently hardened, you may need to chip it away. Use the proper tools when doing this; hammers, axes, and blowtorches may damage the shingles or put you at risk of falling from the ladder. If someone is steadying the ladder for you, be mindful of where they are and keep an eye out for falling icicles.
While many of these tasks can be performed with a few hours of work, they aren’t for everyone. If you are uncomfortable handling one of these tasks or feel it is too dangerous, call a licensed and insured contractor to complete the work for you.