17:00 PM

Ice Dams: What they are and how to prevent them

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, 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 that could lead to mold and mildew." Mitts continues. "Additionally, ice dams can cause major damage to the roof by loosening shingles 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.
  • Remove snow from the first 3+ feet of the roof when possible to safely do so.

"Removing the first 3+ feet of snow off the roof gives the melting snow and ice a place to go without having it accumulate right at the gutter line," says Derek Michalak, Claims Manager for AAA – The Auto Club Group.

For snow removal, AAA recommends hiring a professional to ensure the safety of everyone involved, but for capable homeowners who don't wish to hire someone, using a telescoping roof rake, which is built like a reverse shovel, and staying clear of the falling snow is an alternative option. Additionally, it is wise to keep the gutters as clear as possible from snow and debris to help prevent ice from forming and water from spilling over.

"AAA never recommends that homeowners get up on the roof and shovel snow off," Michalak continues. "And when utilizing a roof rake, keep in mind that you are pulling snow off the roof. Make sure no one is underneath the location you are working on and that there is no fragile vegetation or objects that can be damaged by the weight of the falling snow. Always watch out for overhead power lines when doing any type of home maintenance and stay away from that area."

If an ice dam has already formed, AAA recommends that homeowners do not attempt to remove it themselves. It is a dangerous task to remove ice, and if not done properly homeowners risk causing more damage to their home and themselves. Instead, hire a professional contractor with experience removing ice dams to ensure it is done properly and safely.

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