Combating Ice Dams in Winter Weather

Winter Storm Hercules is currently tearing through the Midwest and Northeast in the United States, leaving freezing devastation in its wake. In light of the severe winter weather warnings, many of us are taking to our homes to prepare for the devastation that may he headed our way.

One common winter weather problem for homeowners is the buildup of ice dams. That’s when water builds up behind a blockage of ice, which usually happens when snow and ice collect on rooftops. Clearing away any ice dams that may develop on your roof is an important measure to be taken to combat winter weather, because if left unresolved for too long, there can be costly consequences.

What Exactly are Ice Dams?

Ice dams form when there’s a collection of snow at the top of a building’s roof, which melts and trickles down the roof, then refreezes at the roofline. If snow is left on the roof of a building for too long, the ice dam can become so big that it keeps water from draining off of the roof. When excess water has nowhere to go, the pool may become too big and too heavy for the roof to withstand, and it may begin to leak through the roof shingles.

How to Immediately Combat Ice Dams:

  • The amount of snow that your roof can handle will vary greatly depending on a large number of factors, including the type of roof and what it’s made of, the age and condition of the structure, etc. Generally speaking, if there’s more than a foot of heavy, wet snow/ice on your roof, it’s usually a good idea to get rid of it. After every storm, try to remove the snow off of your roof. You can use a roof rake to clear the 3-4 feet of snow closest to your roof’s edge, which is where the ice dams would form.
  • If your downspout is clogged, that will create a drainage backup on your roof that may lead to ice dam buildup. Be sure to always clear your downspouts so that when it snows, as the snow melts it can all drain down the gutters. This also helps to prevent flooding when the snow and ice melts, because it’s all able to drain properly.

How to Prevent Future Ice Dams:

The best way to prevent damage from ice dams is to eliminate the causes of their formation from the beginning. To do that, you’ll need to:

  • Insulate your attic. If there are any places where warm air might be able to leak from your house to the attic (including vent pipes, exhaust fans, chimneys, attic hatches, and light fixtures), seal those areas. A well-insulated attic will help to prevent the cycle of melting and freezing from happening outside, which causes the ice dams.
  • Install a water-repellant membrane. Having a water membrane installed beneath the shingles of your roof is incredibly important. The membrane serves as an additionally barrier between the inside of your house and the outside elements, to prevent leaks.

Next time, we’ll talk about how to remove existing ice dams. Keep warm and stay safe!

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