17:00 PM

Ice Dams: What They Are and How They Damage Your Home

AAA provides advice to avoid this costly cold weather hazard

Between the frigid temperatures outside and the heat cranked inside, conditions are ripe for the formation of ice dams. While icicles hanging from the roof may look pretty, they could be a sign of something ugly destroying your house.

"Ice dams can be a serious issue in the Midwest for any home, but especially in homes with poor insulation," says Meredith Mitts, spokesperson for AAA – The Auto Club Group.

Ice dams form when heat inside the house enters the attic and melts snow on the roof. The melted snow drips down your roof and re-freezes when it reaches the colder eaves (the part of the roof that overhangs the wall). This ice accumulation is called an ice dam. As more melted snow travels down the roof, it begins to re-freeze sooner, pushing its way under the shingles. The water then finds holes in the roof decking—between sheets of plywood or around nails—and begins to drip into your attic.

"Once the water is inside your house, it can cause paint to peel, floors to warp, and soggy insulation. If that water is left unattended, it could lead to mold and mildew." Mitts continues. "Additionally, ice dams may cause some damage to the roof by loosening shingles, rotting the wood or tearing off gutters."

The key to ice dam prevention is to keep your roof the same temperature as your eaves. There are several ways to accomplish this before snow begins accumulating:

  • Increase attic ventilation through the use of soffit, gable and ridge vents to help circulate air through the attic, ensuring a consistent temperature.
  • Examine your insulation to make sure it's not blocking the vents and check its depth.
  • Prevent heat from escaping into your attic by ensuring all attic ducts are sealed and properly insulated and any exhaust fans lead outdoors, not to the attic.
  • Consult a professional if your attic is a living space, you need vents installed or insulation added.

While keeping the bottom couple of feet of the roof and gutters clear of snow can help minimize ice dams, the safer, more effective, and longer lasting solution is to fix the insulation inside the attic. Never get up on your roof to shovel the snow off or try to remove ice dams yourself. If you have major ice dams that have formed, you can call for a professional to come remove them. When choosing which company to hire for the removal, be sure to ask about their methods as chipping or sawing away at the ice can cause damage to the shingles.

"If you have ice dams and notice water damage or leaks coming into your home, contact your insurance provider immediately to review your plan's coverage and file a claim," says Derek Michalak, Claims Manager for AAA – The Auto Club Group. "Many policies have ice dam coverage, but exclusions could apply."

"Even if you don't have damage, it's a good idea to contact your insurance agent to make sure you fully understand your coverage options," Michalak continues. "This will provide the comfort in knowing you're prepared for anything Mother Nature throws at you."

If you're worried about ice dams or roof coverage, here are some questions to ask your insurance provider:

  • Am I covered if I have ice dam damage?
  • What is my water damage policy? Would it cover external damages like hail, snow, wind and ice on my roof?
  • What does my roof policy include? Is there a different level you would recommend?

Being proactive in understanding your coverage and safely removing snow can help save time, money, and headache down the road. For more information on preventing the formation of ice dams, read our AAA Living Ice Dam Prevention article. Visit the U.S. Department of Energy for more information about how much insulation you need.