Winter season brings us heavy snowstorms, low temperatures, and ice dams. Are you one of the many homeowners who must worry about the unsightly ice dams and icicles hanging down from the eaves of the roof and causing damage to the roof, gutters, and your home this winter?
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Why Ice Dams are Dangerous
The major issue with ice dams on the roof, is that they trap the melting water running down from the top of the roof, and thereby cause it (the melted water) to rise up underneath the roofing shingles, and eventually seep through the boards and walls inside our homes.
What causes Ice Dams?
The heat from inside the house rises up into the attic space where it continues to rise reaching the apex of the roof. The warm air warms up the top of the roof, which causes the snow accumulated on top of the roof to melt. The melted snow turns into water that starts running down the roof surface underneath the snowpack. When the water reaches the colder edges at the bottom of the roof, it refreezes forming a wall of ice. This wall of ice is commonly referred to as an ice dam, because it traps the melting water like a dam.
Although, ice dams can sometimes reach the gutters, they do not form in the gutters, but rather they form at the eaves of the roof. If you can get your attic-space air temperature to stay at 30° F, or lower (during heavy snow fall accompanied by low temperatures), then you should be able to eliminate ice dams from happening in the first place.
First and foremost, your roof needs to have at least 2 feet of ice and water installed at the eaves and valleys of the roof. The ice and water should be installed underneath, and prior to the installation of roofing shingles (weather metal or asphalt) on your roof. The rest of the roof should be covered with a roofing felt also known as roofing underlayment. Finally, roofing shingles upon your roof need to be properly installed.
Solving the root cause:
One of the easiest long-term solutions to prevent ice dams is to minimize the impact of the warm air that contributes to ice dam formation on your roof. One effective way to stop the warm air from escaping into the attic is to use a proper insulation on the attic floor.
You will find that most older homes do not have sufficient levels of attic insulation. To further complicate this problem, many homes with the insufficient attic insulation also have many air leaks and subsequent home-to-attic warm air drafts that literally drive the warm air inside the attic.
Step 1. Sealing air leaks leading into the attic space
Locating and properly insulating all the little pathways through which warm air rises up inside the attic is critical for an effective long-term solution to ice dam problem. You will want to properly identify and seal these holes. Use the weather stripping to properly insulate and seal all the little holes through which the warm air escapes into the attic.
Step 2. Insulating Your Attic Space
The next step is to bring up your level of the attic floor insulation to a level specified by Energy Star. You will find that for most homes within the snow belt zone, the required level of attic insulation should be equivalent to R – 49 value.
Once again, most older homes are not properly insulated, which means that you will have add additional attic floor insulation to your home’s attic. Before you can add additional insulation to your attic, you will have to find out the current level of insulation in your attic.
- Grab a simple ruler and measure the height of your attic floor insulation. Then, multiply the height in inches by 3.14. This will give you your attic floor’s current insulation R – value.
- If the level of insulation in your attic is not sufficient, then head out to your local home improvement center and purchase additional levels of energy efficient attic floor insulation pads.
Step 3. Lay out additional attic floor insulation pads
Do not lay, nor push the attic floor insulation into the corner where attic floor and roof walls meet, because it will create a cold area at the edge of the roof, which could contribute to the ice dam formation. Further, you do not want to block the air in-flow through the soffit vents located at the edges of the roof.
Step 4. Ensuring sufficient ventilation of your attic space
Once your attic is properly sealed and insulated, it is time to ensure that your attic is also properly ventilated. First, check to see if your roof has the soffit vents installed. If that is the case, then you’re in great shape, because soffit vents are designed to drive cold air inside your attic. If not, then you need to have gable vents installed as an alternative to soffit vents.
Sometimes you can get away with installing roof vents in lieu of gable vents. The rule of thumb is to have one square foot of gable ventilation, or roof ventilation, for every 150 square feet of the attic floor. If there are soffit vents, then there should also be a ridge vent installed on your roof.
If there is a gas furnace installed in your attic, then you will need to make sure that it is professionally insulated, and you will also want to have a power ventilation professionally installed in order to help cool off your attic.
Once you have attained an adequate level of insulation and ventilation in your attic, your roof should be in good shape for a major snowstorm and the onset of low temperatures. If you need a short term solution for dealing with ice dams that have already formed upon your roof, then consider the tools and alternatives outlined below:
Ice dam prevention products:
Heating cables can be installed at the eaves of your roof and turned on during and after a snowstorm to help melt the snow at the edges of your roof, which should help you stop the ice dams. You will have to remember to turn your ice melting cables on and for it to work. You will also have to remember to turn them off before they burn out! Finally, you need to make sure that your heating cables are properly grounded during the installation.
You can use the snow rakes to push up and clean up the snow on your roof, which should help you stop the ice dams from forming.
Keep in mind that heating cables and snow rakes are just temporary measures, and at some point, you will probably want to have your attic space adequately insulated and ventilated as part of your long-term ice dam prevention and heat loss strategy.
Another option is to consider a metal roof. By installing a metal roof that has a special coating designed to shed snow and ice (causing it to fall off the roof before it has a chance to form into an ice dam), you can help prevent and eliminate ice dam formations on your roof in the first place!
You will still want to have an adequate level of insulation installed to prevent a heat loss from your house. Keep in mind that a metal roof will not cause a loss of heat in the winter, but an improperly insulated attic space will.
Finally, installing an energy efficient metal roof, can help pay for itself over a long run, because a metal roof can last three times longer than an asphalt shingle roof, and it can also help you save about 30% on your cooling costs in the summer. Thus, a metal roof can eventually pay for itself through its longevity and superior energy efficiency.
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