WHAT are ice dams?
When your roof accumulates with snow, two things usually happen. First, the ice and snow tends to melt (from your warm roof due to sun, increased temperatures outside or the sun) and then due to temperature fluctuations, the ice and snow will then refreeze. In between these two phases, however, the snow that has melted to water will travel down your roof and accumulate around gutters and edges where your roof is not warmed from inside air.
Once the ice has formed into an ice dam, the new snow that is constantly melting backs up behind the ice dam. It then freezes or gets pushed underneath your shingles. And that, homeowners, is when you have a VERY big problem on your hands.
WHY you don’t want ice dams
So there are the obvious reasons you don’t want an ice dam…..water damage, inconvenience, damaged walls and ceilings, damaged roof, insurance claims, etc. But there is also another reason you want to prevent ice dams at ALL costs. Any bit of water that enters your home creates a high chance that mold will form somewhere behind the wall or ceiling. Let me explain.
Mold is it’s own organism. It grows very easily and only needs just a little bit of moisture to get started. Once the mold has started once something such as drywall or insulation, it continues to spread on that porous surface. Many materials that are in homes are basically food for mold. What’s more concerning is that it can be very difficult to tell if you do in fact have mold growing beneath the surface of your walls.
Toxic mold growing in your home can cause a plethora of health problems that we cover in our Toxic Mold Mini Course. Essentially anything from respiratory irritation to mental health issues is fair game when it comes to mold and mold growing in your house. If you have children, elderly or those with compromised immune systems, you need to be especially careful.
WHERE ice dams accumulate
Generally, ice dams show up at the edges of your roof creating a glorious ice formation off of them. This is especially true of any corners of your roof. Basically any place that your roof has a good spot for melted snow to flow, an ice dam shows up at the tail end of it.
You may think that as long as you have gutters you’ll be fine. This just isn’t the case. In a perfect world, water would flow down the gutter and safely through the downspout away from your home. But what happens is the ice dam usually forms BEFORE it reaches the gutter. If your gutters are clogged, however, it can accentuate the problem.
WHEN to watch for ice dams
Really, you want to be keeping an eye out for ice dams ALL winter long. When the temperatures are incredibly cold, however, is when you can see the biggest problem.
Most people think you have to have ice and snow on your roof to be at risk for ice dams, but this is a common misconception. The heat from your attic or roof can create moisture with the outside air, creating enough water to start an ice dam around the edges. The next time it snows you’ll be in for a real problem.
Watching for an ice dam outside is your best course of action. But you’ll also want to watch INSIDE for any signs of water damage.
Knowing what’s going on outside your home and being able to spot a change will really help you keep moisture out. Get familiar with your house and get into the habit of visually checking the roof, gutters, ceilings and walls for damage or potential damage on a regular basis.
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HOW to prevent and safely remove ice dams
First, it’s important to remember that prevention is key when it comes to almost ANY house issue, especially things that can cause water damage.
(1) Prevention: The best way to truly prevent or minimize ice dams from occurring this winter is to have a properly insulated attic. There are many ways to insulate an attic, and it really depends on the type of home you have. First you will want to make sure the attic floor is insulated. Second, you’ll want to make sure the insulation along the ceiling of the attic near the rafters. Third, you will want to take extra precautions to insulate the outer perimeter of the floor in the attic as that is where the ice usually forms.
The goal with prevention and insulating the attic is to make sure that the top of your roof is not warm.
With a cold rooftop, you can minimize any snow and ice melting. By insulating your attic, you can reduce the amount of warm air that is lost through your roof.
There are other ways to prevent ice dams, but they are more or less band-aids, rather than addressing the true problem of a cold roof.
(2) Removal: There are many options for ice dam removal. The two main ways to get rid of a current ice dam is by either chipping away at it with some soft of ice tool or heating it up so it melts.
There are many tools around to help you safely get rid of the problem. But as we always know, prevention is the real key.
Trusted Tools to Help Remove & Prevent Ice Dams
I am a Certified Professional Home Inspector and Certified Building Biologist through the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors and International Institute for Building Biology. I have trained with Internachi as well as the Water Quality Standards Academy and the EPA.