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How Ice Dams Form and How to Prevent Them

by VitalStorm Content on January 3, 2020

While the winter season brings the joy of hot cocoa, cozy fires and snowy days, it also brings with it the potential for ice dams. While there is no way to predict what the weather may bring, there are plenty of preventative measures you can take this winter. Now, some of you may be asking, “But what exactly are ice dams?” Well, the experts at BlueFlame are here to tell you all about how ice dams form and how to prevent them!

How Ice Dams Form

The first step in prevention is understanding how ice dams form in the first place. However, this can involve inspecting multiple “hot spots” on your roof, since ice dams typically form in more than one area. To help you get a better idea of what to look for, here is a brief rundown.

  • Check Your Gutters

The main culprit: snow. When the cold weather brings snow-covered roofs and freezing temperatures, ice often begins to build up in your gutters. When the warmth from your attic melts the snow on your roof, the runoff enters the gutters. However, your gutters are much colder than the surface of your roof, so that runoff can re-freeze, creating an ice dam that blocks proper drainage of snow melt to your downspout.

  • Check Your Shingles

Once ice dams have formed in your gutters, your shingles often become the next casualty. As the ice on your roof melts over time, the runoff can begin to seep beneath your shingles, often re-freezing and loosening them.

  • Look for Icicles

The final result of rooftop runoff and ice dams are icicles. Once the frozen snow melt has infiltrated your gutters and shingles, the excess liquid flows over the lip of your roof and re-freezes before it even touches the ground, forming icicles. While these icicles can be beautiful to look at, they are the harbingers of bad news for your home.

Why Are Ice Dams Problematic?

Well, you now know how ice dams can damage your gutters and shingles, but the problems don’t stop there.

  • Exterior Damage:

Over time, the ice dams under your shingles will begin to melt. Then, that water often seeps under the tar paper, and into the underlying plywood. As a result, you could be facing damage to your roof, soffit, and fascia.

  • Interior Damage:

If ice dams forming on the exterior of your home go unchecked, the damage to the interior of your house is an inevitability. Once the runoff from the melted dams reaches the plywood beneath your shingles, it’s only a matter of time before that moisture begins to leak into your attic, causing expensive water damage. Needless to say, any time you face water damage, mold growth is not fair behind.

How to Prevent Ice Dams

Now that you understand the domino effect that leads to ice dams, you can form a comprehensive game plan to prevent them from forming. Here are some first steps you should take:

1. Maintain Your Gutters

One of the best preventative measures to take starts with your gutters. Before all the snow hits, make sure your gutters are clear of debris and damage-free. While this won’t stop the snow from melting and freezing, it will provide a clearer path for runoff to flow away from your roof and home.

2. Ventilate and Insulate Your Attic

The root cause of ice dams is the uneven temperature of your rooftop surface. With that in mind, perhaps the most important step to take in preventing ice dams is equalizing the temperature of your roof. In order to achieve this balance, you’ll need to ensure the even circulation of cool air underneath the roof. This means proper ventilation in your attic and sufficient venting at your roof’s soffit and ridge. Furthermore, you’ll want to make sure that heat can escape in the right areas of your roof, so avoid an imbalance of hot and cold spots along your roof surface. For this step, it’s better to enlist the help of a roofing contractor to inspect your attic and roof and advise you on the best solutions for your home.

3. Tackle Air Leaks

Although you’ll want to allow heat to escape in targeted areas to help equalize your roof’s temperature, any excessive air leaks should be addressed. If there are air leaks within your home that allow extra heat to enter your attic, this could contribute to uneven rooftop temperatures. While you can look for air leaks in your home and tackle them with some caulk, it’s always a good idea to have an expert perform an inspection, to make sure you aren’t missing any key areas.

4. Seal Mounted Ceiling Fixtures, Flues, and Chimneys

On the topic of air leaks, it’s important to consider the fixtures below your attic. Mounted ceiling fixtures below your attic require holes in the drywall or plaster ceiling. If you do have mounted ceiling fixtures below your attic, make sure you properly seal any penetrations. In addition to sealing off areas around ceiling fixtures, make sure your flue and chimney are properly sealed according to manufacturer clearance requirements.

5. Make Sure Indoor Exhaust Fans and Dryer Vents Discharge Outside

Last but not least, make sure your bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans and your dryer vents are discharging outside and not into your attic. Regardless of how well you ventilate your attic, you’ll still face a steep uphill battle trying to equalize your rooftop temperatures if warm, moist air from exhaust fans is being blasted into your attic.

Long-Term Solutions

Now that you know how ice dams form and how to prevent them, you can ensure your home is winter-ready. That being said, regular inspection of your home’s insulation and roof is the best long-term solution. Whether you are at the preventative stage or the damage control stage, the pros at BlueFlame have everything you need to tackle problematic ice dams. For help from our knowledgeable team, fill out a service request form on our site or call us today at (206) 388-5667!