Is your roof ready to handle all that heavy snow, and more importantly, the pesky, unsightly ice dams that can damage your roof and put a major whole in your pocket! 😉
if the roof over your home has experienced ice dams or snow related damage during the last major snowstorm, then it’s a ripe time to take action and rid your home of ice dams, once and for all!
This No-Nonsense Ice Dam Prevention Guide will help you understand how the ice dams form and how to stop them in their tracks. 😉
Ice dams can often form on a roof after a heavy snowstorm followed by the onset of low temperatures.
Ice dams form when snow at a peak of the roof begins to melt (usually due to warm air rising up in the attic and warming up the top of the roof), which causes all the melted water run down the slope of the roof until it refreezes, as it reaches the colder surfaces at the eaves (the edges, or overhangs) of the roof.
Ice dams can cause some very costly water damage to your roof deck, attic space, insulation, interior walls, and ceilings.
When an ice dam forms at the eave of your roof, it literally blocks off melted water from running down and causes it to rise up underneath the roof shingles thereby penetrating inside your home.
Melted water will generally rise up faster on the roofs with lower roof slope.
The damage caused by ice dam built up can be very costly. You may have to replace any wet insulation, damaged dry walls and ceilings, remove mold, and replace rotten wood in your home. It is obviously, much easier, and far less costly to stop ice dams before they happen!
How do ice dams form?
Before you can prevent ice dams from forming on your roof, you need to understand the mechanism behind the ice dam formation. During winter, your roof gets covered with snow, which is pretty normal. Ideally, this snow would eventually evaporate in the sun, as often happens in the case of roofs on abandoned homes and empty buildings.
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Whenever there is heavy snow accumulated on the roof, there is always a risk of ice dams forming following the onset of cold temperatures. This process normally works the following way:
Warm air from inside the house rises up and makes its way inside the attic through a poorly-insulated and inadequately sealed attic floor space.
Once in the attic, the warm air will continue rising up until it reaches the underside of the peak of the roof.
As a result, the surface around the roof’s apex then begins to warm up, which causes the melting of the snow at the peak the roof. Consequently, the melted water runs down the surface of the roof underneath the snow-pack.
When the melted water reaches the lower and colder area of the roof (typically at the eaves or edges of the roof), it refreezes forming a wall of ice.
This wall of ice is called an ice dam. The ice dam traps melted water, and eventually, it causes the melted water to rise up underneath the shingles, which allows it to get inside your house and cause extensive water damage to your property.
The damage from ice dams may not be immediately apparent, as water gets absorbed by insulation in your attic space, insulation in between the wall cavities, and finally, dry walls, plaster and ceilings.
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Potential Damages to Keep in Mind
The insulation that has been exposed to water gets wet and can no longer insulate your home properly. Any wet insulation needs to be replaced. The damages to dry walls, and any resulting rotten wood will also require replacing.
If you do not take prompt measures, then mold growth can occur behind the scenes, without you even knowing about it.
How to Stop Ice Dams?
Because it is the warm air that makes its way into the attic space and causes the snow on top of the roof to melt, we need to find a way to insulate the attic space and keep it cool in order to stop ice dams from forming.
The goal is to have a cool attic space with the temperature at or below 30° F.
There are two ways to keep your attic space cool; insulation, and ventilation. You will find that most older homes do not have sufficient levels of insulation. Many older homes do not have an adequate ventilation, either.
Attic insulation requirements
For most homes located within a snow belt zone, a minimum attic insulation level equivalent of R – 49 is required in order to provide sufficient level of installation for your home.
Most homes built before the 1980s will not have sufficient levels of attic insulation, nor will they have sufficient levels of wall insulation for that matter.
They are the two most dreaded words in a homeowner’s vocabulary: a leaky roof. Water is the most insidious foe, eager to penetrate your home covering’s most vulnerable defenses. And once inside, the damage and destruction may be taking place far from the point of the initial attack, making the initial source of a roof leak difficult to identify.
The best homeowner defense is vigilance and fast action. Maybe a new roof is in the near future and it seems like a folly to bother with a leak. But even a small, out-of-the-way drip in a house that seems like nothing more than an inconvenience is a major repair bill waiting to happen!
Did you know? Roof leaks can ruin insulation, become a breeding ground for black mold, damage interior ceilings and walls, and rot the wooden framing.
So let’s look at the ten of the most common culprits in causing your roof to leak and what you can – and should – do about them (other than recruiting a bucket brigade):
1. Villain: Age
Roofing materials, especially asphalt shingles, get old and tired. Expansion and contraction with the change in temperatures cause aging roof protection to turn brittle and eventually crack. Years of harsh rays from direct sunlight can melt the tar that holds composition shingles together. Father Time has not lost a battle yet and when roofing materials run up against their life expectancy, it will be time to budget for a new roof at the first sign of a leak.
Have you ever seen house ruins from 200 years ago? The chimney is often the only thing standing. While brick chimneys may seem indestructible, the mortar that binds the bricks together is nothing more than a hard-working mixture of water, sand and cement. Exposed to the weather elements, it can erode and crumble over time. Check the mud cap on top of the chimney for deterioration and inspect the mortared joints where the chimney enters the roof. If patches are required, it is a cheap and quick fix.
Speaking of chimneys, compromised flashing is a common problem on a roof. Flashing are thin strips of metal installed at danger points for leaks around a roof. For a chimney, they are bent at a 90-degree angle to attach to both the roofing material and the brick chimney.
Flashing needs to be properly sealed to protect against water intrusion. It also needs to remain nailed in place and even if that is all squared away, the metal can rust or crack.
Expect the cost of replacing old flashing to run a few hundred dollars, depending on job size and desired material. Although it may be tempting to marshal the forces of caulking and roof cement in the battle against faulty flashing, this is only a temporary solution best reserved if you know the roof will soon be replaced.
Homeowners know that unsightly ice dams are what often follows a major snowstorm and onset of low temperatures.
The resulting damage from ice dams to the roof and the rest of the house can easily cost thousands of dollars, especially if the snow is allowed to remain on the affected roof for a long time. 🙁
What Causes Ice Dams?
When the snow falls onto your roof, it can melt when it comes into contact with warmer surfaces of the roof. — This happens when the warm air and heat escapes from your home through the attic floor and rises up to the peak of the roof, which is what causes the melting of the snow.
When the melted water reaches the colder eaves of the roof, it refreezes forming a wall of ice, which blocks the runoff of the rest of melted snow.
Thus, the melted water has no where to runoff but to rise up underneath the shingles, which is how it can get inside your home, damaging not only the roof shingles in the process, but also causing major long-term damage to the walls and insulation in your abode. 🙁
Understanding the Extent of the Damage Caused by Ice Dams:
You’ll see gutters torn and damaged, shingles that are broken and falling off, and even paint that’s peeling. What you may not see is the underlying damage to the deck and in the attic including wet insulation, which can become moldy, damaged sheet-rock in the walls, and major wood and plaster rotting issues.
As you can guess, preventing ice dams in the first place, or removing them as quickly as possible is essential for the well being of your property. 😉
With so many ice melting and snow removal products on the market, here is a look at the top fifteen preventive measures:
Snow Rake – It’s important to remove snow from your roof before it has the time to melt and refreeze. At the same time, you have to be careful not to damage the shingles that lie underneath. They often come with rollers along the bottom to prevent damage to the roof when you’re removing the snow. Some snow rakes feature a metal rod to help cut snow when it has hardened and make the removal easier.
Upfront Expense: An average cost of snow rakes is between $50 and $100, which is an affordable option for most property owners.
Pros: easy DIY project, inexpensive
Cons: Must get on a ladder every time there’s a major snowstorm
Ice Melting Heat Cables – This product is one of the most popular options for preventing ice dams, however it does not make it the best long-term option. You must access onto the roof eaves in order to install the cables. It’s recommended to place them in a zigzag pattern along the lower edge of the roof as well as near the gutters. Many homeowners hire a contractor to do the work, but it is possible to do it yourself, if you are comfortable with working at heights and using the ladder.
Upfront Expense: The price for heat cables may range from $50 to $100, plus the cost of installation, which can be significant if you hire a specialist. In fact, you can expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 for a professional installation of a self-regulating ice-melting heating-cable system.
Pros: effective when installed correctly
Cons: doesn’t prevent ice dams, just creates a run-off for water. may require hiring a professional electrician to ensure the installation is carried out in a safe manner. Cables must be manually turned on or set on a timer.
Blown-in Attic Insulation – Preventing heat loss in the attic to improve energy efficiency is only one reason to increase the amount of insulation you have. Blown-in insulation is the easiest method, and a straightforward process for DIY homeowners. You just have to purchase the insulation and rent a machine to blow it in.
Upfront Expense: The cost depends on how much square footage you’re covering, but it can average around $700 to $800 for 1,000 square feet. If you choose to go this route, make sure you leave the soffit vents unblocked!
Pros: effective for preventing heat loss, inexpensive and easy to install
Ventilation Upgrade – Poor ventilation is the cause of many issues with heat loss and ice dams. Certain types of roofs are more susceptible to this problem, but it can be fixed with bringing your attic’s ventilation to an adequate level. The type of vent needed will depend on the exact situation, but you may need a ridge vent, if your roof has soffit vents, or soffit repairs for blocked soffit intakes. — This can sometimes be the unintentional result of poorly-done attic floor insulation. You’ll have to consult a professional to properly remedy any major attic ventilation issues.
Upfront Expense: Expect to pay between $1,500 and $2,000 for a new ridge vent, or several hundred dollars to re-open the soffit vents if they are blocked.
Pros: permanent resolution
Cons: more expensive, must be done by a professional, only partially solves the problem
Ice Belt Metal Panels – Many roofs are made of shingles, which work well to remove water until it starts to travel upward. To take a more pro-active approach in preventing ice dams, you can install ice belt metal panels, which are installed along the eaves to block water. They are often made of aluminum and sold in short panels of about three to four feet in length. You would need to remove a few rows of shingles from the eaves of the roof in order to install the ice belt metal panels.
Upfront Expense: The cost is about $45 to $70 per linear foot of ice belt metal panels installed. If you choose to go this route, it’s best to install them before you put a new roof on, but it can be done at any point as long as your asphalt roof is still in good shape.
Pros: doesn’t require an electrician to install, no ongoing expenses
Cons: ice-belt metal panels are rather expensive to install and will likely require hiring a professional installer such as a roofing company with access to sheet metal fabrication shop
Metal Roof – Solve all of your ice dam problems with a new metal roof. While this isn’t a cheap solution, it does offer long-term benefits. Metal tiles or shingle are an option along with the continuous standing seam panels.
Upfront Expense: A typical new metal roof can cost between $10,000 to $25,000, depending on the size and location of your property. The cost will be higher for larger, steeper, and more complex roofs.
Pros: energy-efficient and cost-efficient, long-term solution, solves the problem of ice dams
Cons: expensive, requires professional installation
Integrated Heating/Ice Melting Panels – This professional-grade product will last for a long time, but they are expensive to buy and install. They can add quite a bit to your monthly utility costs, because they are plugged into an electrical source. This solution is mainly for those homes which have not had much success with other methods or if you want a long-term system and you aren’t worried about ongoing costs.
Upfront Expense: Average price is $20 or more per foot for these systems, plus the cost of installation. You may consider a system such as the one offered by HotEdge to melt snow on roof edges, valleys and along the gutter and downspouts.
Note: Lifetime total cost can range widely because of the monthly electricity costs. Expect to spend thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the product.
Pros: effective, protects the roof
Cons: expensive, requires professional installation and must be set on a timer or turned on to work
Caulk to Seal Air Leaks – A simple, but effective fix for some of the warm leak issues. Caulk can be applied around vent pipes and electrical cables to prevent warm air from escaping.
Upfront Expense: The product itself is rather inexpensive, costing less than $5 a tube.
Pros: inexpensive, DIY project
Cons: Only takes care of specific areas. It may be difficult to locate all the sources of warm air leaks without the help of professional. The attic space must also be adequately insulated and ventilated in order for air leak sealing to really make a decisive difference.
Chimney Flashing – Another vulnerable area for ice dams is around the chimney. Purchasing flashing to cover the area where the stones or bricks meet the roof will help prevent ice dams from forming. L-shaped flashing made of steel can be installed by a homeowner or a roofer.
Upfront Expense: Expect to pay just a few hundred dollars if you hire a pro. Do it on your own, and costs will range from $20 to $350.
Pros: inexpensive even if you go the route of hiring a professional
Cons: only takes care of water leaking in one area
Water Repellent Membrane / Ice and Water Shield – This product will not prevent ice dams from happening, but it will help minimize the damage by shielding the roof deck. When installing a new roof or replacing the old one, consider adding a water repellent membrane such as Ice and Water Shield underneath the shingles. This added layer prevents water from getting inside your home when the ice and snow melt.
Upfront Expense: The cost of this membrane is added in to the total cost of installing a new roof, which can range from $5,000 to $8,000.
Pros: effective at preventing water damage
Cons: expensive, can only be installed with a new roof
Insulated Caps – Covering heat sources to prevent them from allowing heat into the attic can be an effective way to prevent ice dams. Some common concerns include the attic fan and openings for folding stairs.
Upfront Expense: Insulated caps can cost less than $100 and are often something you can install yourself.
Pros: inexpensive, takes care of specific areas
Cons: will require other methods to resolve the entire problem of ice dams