Prevention: Avoiding Ice Dams on your Roof

February 27th, 2011

roof-ice-damThe formation of ice dams usually occurs when the temperature outside is below the freezing point, usually at below 20°F while temperature inside the attic is above the freezing point. The temperature inside the attic heats up the snow on the roof causing it to melt and fall down the gutter. However, the water fails to fall down the roof since it meets colder temperature coming from the snow piled on the gutter. This causes the water to refreeze, forming an ice dam which causes a small body of accumulated water.

In the long term, this accumulated water can seep through the roof and ceiling of your attic. This can cause water damage such as plaster removal, chipping paint, roof decay and even mold growth. Aside from damage on the attic roof, this water can also drip on the attic floor and seep through the main living areas of your home, thereby creating more damage.

While varying temperature caused by absence or improper insulation installation is the main cause of ice dams, there are also some cases when ice dams are caused by poor roofing design or structure and exhaust fans installed in the wrong angles or areas.

Preventing Ice Dams and Water Damage

The best way in dealing with ice dams and the related water damage is to prevent them from forming on your roof. The saying that goes prevention is better than cure works with ice dams as well. In preventing ice dams, the general rule is to keep your attic temperature below the freezing point: at more or less 20°F.

It has been said earlier that the main cause of ice dams is the wrong level of air temperature on your attic. Typically, your attic should be well insulated so as heat from living areas below do not escape into it. If you already have this type of insulation and ice dams still forms, check for any leaks or holes that may cause warm air from escaping into the attic. On the other hand, have this type of insulation installed by a professional contractor if you do not have this type of insulation.

A well ventilated attic also helps in preventing ice dam formation. Ventilation will help replace any warm air, which may have escaped into the attic, with cold air. Ventilation generally keeps the temperature inside the attic at the same level with the temperature outdoors.

Exhaust fans in your kitchen or any other warm areas of your house may also cause ice dams to form. Have a professional check if your exhaust fans are installed at the right angles and areas. Specifically, ask the professional contractor if your exhaust fans are causing any ice dam formation. And if they are, have these relocated immediately.

Lastly, always check for any signs of water damage on your ceiling. If there are slight evidences of water damage, act quickly to remove any ice dams and cleanup the water damage. This will prevent any further damage and avoid mold growth which may put your family’s health at risk.

Eliminating Ice Dams

If ice dams have already formed on your roof, there are two things you have take deal with immediately: taking the ice dam down and dealing with water damage on both the exterior and interior roof. For sure, water damage will be visible on your attic roof as well if the ice dam has been present for several days. You will know if you have water damage if there is discoloration on the paint, presence of condensation or water droplets on the ceiling or dripping water, and chipped paint and plaster.

Before you deal with the water damage, the first thing you should do is to deal with the cause: the ice dam. While the number of solutions you can do to deal with ice dams are limited, be sure that you do them correctly and safely. Do not try to go on the roof to remove the ice yourself. The roofing can get brittle during the colder months and can collapse under heavy weight. There are already a number of reported incidents regarding ice dam removal. In addition, do not be tempted to hit the ice dam with a hard object. This may not be one of your best ideas. Your roof may collapse along with the ice dam when you try to hit it. If you have no experience in dealing with ice dams, it may be best to contact a professional contractor to avoid any accidents and more damage on your home.

Another thing that most contractors will advise you not to do is use salt or calcium chloride. While these chemicals causes snow to melt entirely and pose as a fast solution; a high concentration of these will damage gutters and any nearby foliage.

One way of correctly dealing with ice dams is to create a channel or groove that will allow the accumulated water to flow through. Otherwise, you can try to hose down the ice dam with warm water, starting from the lower portion. Hosing the ice dam from the top will only cause more ice from forming as melting snow or ice will tend to refreeze when it comes in contact with the cold temperature of the lower portion of the ice dam. Remember however, that the pavement below the roof will be slippery when you use this method. You will need to move carefully to avoid from falling.

After you have successfully removed the ice dam, do a regular roof cleanup for the rest of the winter so no ice dams will form in the future. There are a lot of safe and easy to use tools that can be used to remove snow on rooftops.

Water Damage Cleanup

The amount of cleanup activities you can do by yourself will depend on the extent of the water damage caused by the ice dam. The temperature and weather conditions may not be ideal for a cleanup, but it is imperative that you act quickly to avoid further damage. The worst scenario you will have to deal with is replacing the damaged portion of the roof and ceiling. But otherwise, you can do the cleanup easily and quickly when the damage is minimal.

By the time you start cleaning up the water damage, you should have already dealt with the ice dam and stopped any leaking water. If water is still leaking, try to collect the dripping water by placing a pail directly under it. You should also wrap the surrounding furniture with plastic. Also, remove any furniture that is situated directly under the leak.

The first step of the cleanup is to deal with the damaged portion of the roof. Before you do anything, check the durability of the roof as it may collapse on you. If you are well-equipped and experienced to replace the roof, replace both exterior and interior roofing. Usually this will require you to replace a roof tile or shingle and the damaged portion of the attic ceiling. A coat of paint might be a good idea as well. On the other hand, you could contact a contractor if you think you are not capable of the task.

If damage is already present in your furniture, assess if you can successfully clean them and remove any mold growth. Porous materials which have been wet through should be thrown away as mold may grow inside the pores. Carpet and rugs on the other hand, should be removed, washed and completely dried.

While doing the cleanup, also keep in mind a few safety tips. Wear proper clothing: use a pair of gloves, goggles and respirator if needed. Keep your gloved hands away from your face or any other part of your body. Be careful in using disinfectants; wear a respirator and be careful not to mix bleach with other chemicals that contain ammonia. And when scrubbing floors, move carefully to avoid from slipping and keep your working area free from clutter. Lastly, clean the tools used in the cleanup and removing the ice dam. Keep them dry and stored in a dry place so mold won’t grow on them. In addition, keep them out of reach of children to avoid any accidents.

Avoiding and cleaning water damage caused by ice dams can be done quickly and in a systematic order. The above tips are designed to help you but if you think you are incapable of the task, contact a professional contractor right away; one that can deal with the ice dam and water damage cleanup. But before you contact one, make sure that you check credentials and services offered contact your insurance company for accreditation and compare prices if you are on a limited budget.

Make sure you are covered by your homeowners insurance for these types of problem as well. We can always help you review your policy and make sure it is the right fit your you.

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