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Ice Dams: What causes them and how do I prevent them in the future?
February 3, 2021 at 5:00 AM
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With the recent snowfall and upcoming deep freeze Columbus Ohio homeowners will almost certainly encounter ice dams on their homes or properties. While the ice and icicles look pretty and add a feeling of winter (besides the cold temperatures) looks can be deceiving. In some areas, icicles dangle for months, sparkling in the sunshine. And yet, in most cases, they signal that the roof may have a problem with ice dams that need attention before water infiltrates into the home or building.

Ice dams — literal dams made of ice — usually form at eaves and gutters and prevent melted snow and ice (in liquid form) from leaving the roof because they get trapped behind an ice blockage. More often than not these ice dams aren’t caused by your roof or even your roofer (unless they cut corners, but we’ll get to that later) they’re almost always caused by your homes insulation & ventilation or lack thereof. This temperature imbalance is best described as follows...As heat rises in the home and makes its way into the attic, the upper portion of the roof will likely warm faster than the lower portion at the eaves near your gutters. If the upper portion becomes warm enough to melt snow (above 32°F) while the lower portion remains below 32°F, snow will melt, flow down the roof, and come in contact with the ice dam refreezing before it can flow to your gutters. This can also be compounded by naturally rising ambient temperatures during the day and falling temperatures at night. What results is a dam, which will hold the remaining water, snow, and ice on the roof.

There are two main causes of this kind of temperature imbalance:

  • Poor attic insulation. Insufficient or deteriorated attic insulation can allow warm air to move from the heated areas of the house to the attic space.
  • Lack of proper attic ventilation. Properly balanced attic ventilation helps slow snow melting by allowing cold air to enter the attic space, in turn driving out warmer air. This reduction in warm attic air helps decrease the chance of snow melting on the roof. In essence, you want the attic or crawl space to be the same temperature inside the attic as it is inside your home. I know that sounds crazy but your homes insulation will protect the structure from getting too cold or freezing.

How ice dams form

Why are ice dams a problem?

Almost all roofing materials are designed to shed water. As ice melts and refreezes, it can damage the shingles and other parts of the roofing system. And when a growing ice dam pushes water/ice back up the roof slope, that water/ice may flow under the shingles and infiltrate into the building or house below. That’s why we always install a customized roofing system of integrated products, regardless of the brand you choose we ONLY install complimentary roofing systems with accessories from one manufacturer. This eliminates any finger pointing if there is an issue down the road, and it lets you the homeowner or property owner know that with a full system there are no corners cut. These leak barriers or ice & water shield products help prevent leaks due to water backing up in your gutters, wind-driven rain, and, of course, damaging ice dams. They are self-adhering membranes that seal around nails and other protrusions in the roof, helping to protect the most vulnerable areas of your roof against leaks.

What can I do about ice dams?

Here are 3 steps you can take to prevent ice damming this winter:

  1. Remove snow from the roof. Depending on the size and accessibility of your roof, you can use an extendable snow roof rake to (carefully) pull fresh snow off the roof before the melt-and-freeze cycle even begins. Snow and ice removal can be dangerous work, though, and if done improperly you might risk injury to your shingles – or more importantly – yourself! We strongly encourage you to engage the services of a professional to assist with snow and ice removal. We are happy to consult with you on snow & ice dam removal please contact us here.
  2. Ventilate. Ensure you have a properly-balanced attic ventilation system that allows fresh air to continuously move through the attic space under your roof. To find out how much ventilation you should have, use our ventilation calculator
  3. Insulate. Proper attic insulation will do more than prevent ice dams; it can also help reduce your heating costs by keeping warm air in your living space, where it belongs. We can help! Please contact us here to arrange for a free consultation

Your trusted local, professional roofing contractor in Columbus Ohio is here to give your home the BEST!

Are you concerned about your roof getting through this winter? We don't take the responsibility of working on your home or business lightly, we invite you to trust Best Exteriors, Inc. for residential and commercial roofing & gutter services. Give us a call at (614) 964-BEST or toll free 1-844-865-BEST You can also fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation!