How to prevent ice dam damage and an insurance claim


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UPDATED: 2021-03-10T23:25:30.038Z
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An ice dam on a roof that could cause damage to the home due to melting snow blocked by the ice ridge.

Winter is here, and for those that live in the colder regions of the United States, there’s always risk of damage to your home with the frigid temperatures. One of the biggest threats to your home this time of year is ice dams.

What is an ice dam?

An ice dam is the buildup of ice on the edge of the roof, which prevents melting snow from sliding off the roof. The problem is as the snow stuck behind the ice dam melts, it isn’t able to drain off the roof because of the dam. This sitting water can seep into your home and cause damage not only to your roof, but to your ceilings, walls and other parts of your home.

So how can you prevent ice dams from forming and avoid water damage to your home this winter? To understand how to prevent them, it’s best to understand first what exactly causes these ice dams.

What causes an ice dam?

As you might expect, sub-freezing temperatures are needed for ice dams to form. But it’s a little more complicated than the temperature outside dropping below 32 degrees.

The other important temperature for ice dams is the temperature of your roof. You might be thinking, well isn’t my roof’s temperature the same as the outside temperature? The problem is the temperature of your roof can be slightly warmer than the outside temperature because of heat escaping through your attic, thereby warming up your roof.

Imagine a scenario where you have six inches of snow sitting on your roof and the outside temperature is in the 20s for a few days. This freezing temperature leads to a buildup of ice on the edge of the roof, but because it’s only slightly below 32 degrees outside, the heat escaping your home and the sun beating on the roof during the day is enough to melt the snow sitting on the roof. This leads to sitting water on the roof because the ice at the edge the roof acts as a barricade not allowing the water to drain. Without being able to drain off the roof, the water has nowhere to go except into your home.

How do I prevent an ice dam?

The best way to prevent ice dams from occurring is to have a cold roof. If the snow can’t melt when it’s below freezing, then water won’t build up behind the ridges of ice. So how do you keep your roof cold?

Ideally when your home was built, it was properly insulated and does an effective job of keeping the heat in. But here are a few things to keep a look out for:

  • You should have between 10 to 14 inches of insulation in your attic. If you have less than that, you may want to consider adding additional insulation.
  • You want to prevent heat from escaping through your ceiling and into your attic. These air leaks can happen because of cracks in the ceiling near things such as overhead lights or chimneys. Heat can also escape through gaps in the drywall. If this is happening, you or a professional will need to climb into the attic to seal the air leaks.
  • Your attic should have ventilation designed to release the warm air in the winter to keep your roof cool. If you don’t have adequate vents on your roof or on the eaves, you should consider having some installed.
  • If you live in a single story home, consider buying a snow rake. This will allow you to pull the snow off of the roof. It’s a labor intensive and time consuming endeavor, but it will prevent you from having the snow melt on the roof.

What if I already have an ice dam?

The above prevention methods are designed to help stop ice dams from happening. But in the event you already have ice lining the eaves of your roof and snow melting behind it, you should consider hiring a roofing company to have them steam the ice away.

You may be wondering why we don’t recommend just chipping the ice away. This is likely to damage the shingles and that may lead to even more damage and a larger insurance claim than the ice dam you are trying to prevent.

While these preventative methods may cost time and money, it may save you money and a bigger hassle in the long term. In addition to ice dam preventative measures, it's also a good idea to take steps to winterize your home to prevent other issues.


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