Winter Leaks: Dealing With Ice Dams

1 November 2016
 Categories: Business, Articles

If you discover water stains on your ceiling in mid to late winter, you may assume your roof has suddenly sprung a leak. While this could be the case, there is a more likely reason for water leaks in the winter. The stream of water trickling into your home is probably the result of an ice dam on the roof. Find out how and why ice dams can lead to roof and water damage and what you can do about it.

What is an ice dam?

Ice dams occur after heavy snow and ice have accumulated on your roof and freeze to make a solid mass of ice. The ice dam often forms at the edge of the roof on the section that overhangs the eaves. When the weather warms and the ice and snow behind the dam melts, the water has nowhere to go. This causes the water to back up on the roof and go under the shingles. Once the water has worked its way under the shingles, it will then work its way down through your home via gravity. If left unchecked, you can suffer both water damage inside your home and permanent damage to your roof.

What causes the ice dam to form?

Heat from the attic escapes through the roof and melts the snow. The water runs down the roof until it meets the area above the eaves. Because there is no heat escaping the house at the eaves, this area is cold. When the water hits the cold area over the eaves it freezes, forming the ice dam. The ice dam continues to grow as water melts and runs down the roof. It eventually blocks the water flow from melting snow and sends it under your shingles and into your home.

How do you remove ice dams?

You may be tempted to grab a ladder and begin chopping the layer ice off the roof, but this is not advised. Using an ax, hammer, or shovel to chop or break up the ice can cause major damage to your roof. There are better ways to remove an ice dam. Try these.

  • Use a roof rake. Roof rakes have long handles which allow you to stand at a safe distance. Those with wheels are recommended because they are safer for your roof. Place the blade of the roof rake behind the snow and ice and gently pull the snow toward the eaves and off the roof. Using a roof rake after snowstorms also helps prevent ice dams from forming.
  • Use salt. Fill a leg from an old pair of pantyhose with rock salt. Toss it onto the roof so that the salt-filled hose drapes over the ice dam  and is perpendicular to the edge of the roof. This will melt a trench in the ice dam allowing water to drain from the roof. 

How do you know if the ice or ice removal has caused damage to the roof?

If you took quick action to remove the ice and snow and stop the leaks, you probably didn't suffer any damage to your roof. However, if you or someone you hired resorted to manually breaking up the ice or was too rough with the roof rake, you may have roof damage. If you suspect damage to your roof as a result of an ice dam, call a professional to inspect and assess the condition of your roof.

Can you prevent ice dams from forming?

Yes. The trick to preventing ice dams is to stop the heat loss through your roof. Here's what you need to do.

  • Insulate your living area so that warm air cannot escape to the attic.
  • Install vents between the roof sheathing and the insulation area to allow the warm air to circulate to the outside of your home.

Keeping your roof free of snow in the winter and taking quick action if a leak occurs will go a long way toward preventing roof damage from ice and snow this winter. For more assistance, contact a roof repair service like Upson Company.