ICE DAMS: WHAT they are and WHY THEY ARE A PROBLEM
Although living in a part of the North East like Syracuse NY can be quite beautiful in the winter time, it can cause problems for your roofing as well. We’ve all admired the gorgeous icicles hanging from our gutters or the thick bands of ice that form atop those, but in all reality these seemingly innocent build ups of ice called “ice dams” actually cause millions of dollars of damage every year for tenants and home owners. The pretty icicles can cause some pretty ugly damage to your house including water stains on the ceilings, busted roof shingles, gutters that get ripped off the house or begin to sag, peeling paint, blistering paint, and even damages to drywall.
Unfortunately although it seems there should be plenty of “do it yourself” solutions for situations like this, the only real way to solve the damage already done by the ice dams inside to your home is make sure everything is resealed properly, insulated properly, and vented properly, especially in the attic.
There is a reason why the ice dams form where they do on the edge of your roof and then drip down, eventually hanging. Every bit of heat or warm moisture inside of your house eventually rises and some of it will escape through small spaces at the top of the house and cause whatever snow is around it to melt. The ice cold water runs down towards the edges of the roof where it is much colder and then re-freezes, forming the beginning of an ice dam. The more snow that accumulates on your roof the more it becomes an insulator actually keeping the heat inside your house, but in turn causing the roof itself to become much warmer and melt more snow. Because it is freezing outside, the melted water continues to eventually refreeze at the roofs edge and eventually you end up with quite the build-up of ice. When it snows very heavily and then remains extremely cold after: these are the times when ice dams tend to flourish.
New gutters are also not the solution to an ice dam problem. Making sure your gutters are clean and not clogged however, can help greatly. When the gutters are clogged with leaves and debris there is nowhere for the water to go except against the edge of the roof or dripping down side of the gutters themselves, and it is here that the water freezes and causes a problem. It is important to keep your gutters clean because even once they become weighted down with ice they can very easily bend and break, tearing material away from your roof and house as well.
It is very important to try and avoid letting water get into your home’s insulation. Once insulation becomes wet it doesn’t work well at all. Once it has dried it has still lost much of its “R” value, and when the value is low, the more heat is lost from the residence. This loss of heat can create a cycle that will further damage your roof, gutters, and house in general. The heat loss leads to ice dams, the ice dams lead to leaks, the leaks hit your insulation, and then the house becomes even colder. Cellulose insulation is particularly vulnerable to water damage. The water damage can also be found in other areas of the residence such as the walls and can cause extreme amounts of mold.
HOW TO FIX THE PROBLEM
Although it sounds strange because we are also discussing the need to keep our houses insulated in the winter, the best way to prevent ice dams is to keep your entire roof as cold as possible. This generally means one should try to block and seal all holes and leaks that may occur in the attic area of the house, especially those that leak the warm air from the house up into the attic. It also helps greatly to increase the amount of insulation on the floor of the attic as it creates a stronger barrier so the warm air from inside has trouble seeping up in to the attic. If you have no attic, there is also something called a continuous soffit and ridge vent system that can help to create a barrier and keep the warm air inside your home instead of leaking out onto the roof where it causes all the damage.
Electric heat tape may sound like a good solution but it really should be avoided. Firstly it is rather expensive and will just end up being a waste of money. It takes a lot of electricity to create the heat that would be needed to actually make a difference on the cold or ice build-up, and once the ice has built up, it is too strong and it becomes pointless to use the tape anyhow. The tape can also make roof shingles very brittle over a certain amount of time.
The biggest thing to avoid is actually attempting to slam or chip away at the ice on your gutters, along the edge of the roof, and even on top of the roof itself: all the slamming, jamming, and poking only causes more damage, especially considering the weight of the ice on top of it. Never use things like hammers, shovels, ice picks, snow rakes, crowbars, or especially chainsaws! The only thing using tools like that will do is cause you to have to call a professional roofer a lot sooner to fix the mess!