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Preventing ice dams

Ice dams on the roof can cause a lot of damage
Photo courtesy of North Dakota State University

An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms on the edge of a roof, and prevents melted snow from draining. The water that backs up behind the dam seeps under the shingles and into the home, causing damage to walls, ceilings, and insulation.

Pat Huelman is a building and energy systems specialist at the University of Minnesota. He says since most ice dams form at the edge of the roof where the temperature is below freezing, this means you are losing heat from somewhere else inside the home.

"If you have low levels of insulation, there's a lot of heat lost up into the attic. That can obviously warm up the entire attic, and that warm attic can warm the roof sheathing, and that roof sheathing can melt the snow," says Huelman. "The second portion of it is air flow from the house to the attic, and that air flow can carry with it a great deal of heat. And that will be more localized so you may have air flow around a ceiling fixture, an electrical outlet."

Once an ice dam forms and water backs up, you're facing a costly repair. Using a roof rake on the ice, chopping it away, or even steaming it will cause damage to the shingles. Huelman says digging out channels in the ice dam so the water can drain off will help, but you'll have to constantly stay on top of it to be effective.

The best way to avoid water damage is to prevent the ice dam altogether.

"Feel the air leaks, get adequate insulation where you can, add ventilation if you need it, and then we don't have to go there again. Just kind of keep pushing that message that they are preventable," says Huelman. "Some houses are very difficult and much more challenging no doubt, but they are something that we can prevent with just good understanding of what's providing the heat."

The good news is that not only are you preventing damage to your home, you're also saving on your energy bill.

Learn more about what causes ice dams, prevention, and getting rid of them

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