Vermont long winters and bitterly cold temperatures not only affect our collective sanity. Hundreds of Vermont houses suffer water damage due to ice damming in the winter, and many people won’t even notice until it’s too late.
Ice damming occurs when enough heat escapes from your attic to melt snow on the roof. This snowmelt freezes when it gets to the edge of the roof (the eaves), causing a dam. The rest of the water backs up on and under the roofing materials, allowing it to get inside the house. Once inside, water can ruin your insulation, ceiling, wood framing, drywall, and even flooring. Preventing ice damming could save you thousands of dollars in home repairs, but first, you need to know the signs.
Most ice dams develop on the edge of your roof, but they may also form in other locations, depending on the slope, orientation, and style of your roof. Keep an eye on the following:
- Look closely at the icicles around the exterior of your house. Icicles can be a precursor to ice dams. Icicles are formed by snow melting off the roof and refreezing at the eaves. The bigger the icicles, the bigger the ice dam. Depending on their location and size, icicles may also pose a danger if they fall off. Whenever possible, remove icicles from the exterior of your home, making sure not to stand directly beneath them. If you cannot safely reach the icicles from the ground, consider hiring a contractor to assist in their removal.
- Check for water stains or moisture in your attic or along the ceiling of exterior walls of your house. Water stains or humidity may be an indication that an ice dam has formed and water has penetrated the roof membrane.
If you decide to break off the ice yourself, do it in small chunks by using a blunt object, like the head of a hammer. Otherwise, you risk putting a hole in your roof. Your house is already under stress because of the ice. Don’t make matters worse by beating it up!
Another option is to use calcium chloride. Fill a stocking with calcium chloride and lay it on the ice or use calcium chloride tablets. This method won’t get rid of all the ice, but it can create a path for snowmelt to drain. Remember that using a ladder in snowy and icy conditions can be dangerous. If you cannot safely reach the roof, consider hiring a contractor.
If you spot damage on your roof, get it repaired as soon as the average temperature is forty degrees or higher. Roof repairs can be done during the winter, but we don’t advise it unless water is getting into your house. If you can wait, get it done in the early spring before mud season gets into full swing.
- Rake Your Roof. The easiest and cheapest way to prevent ice damming is to keep your roof clear of snow. Most roof rakes start at about $35, not a bad investment when it could save you thousands in rot repair. Even a small dusting of snow can cause ice damming, so get out there every time it snows.
- Better Insulation. If you are losing heat through the roof, you need better insulation in your attic. Non-insulated ductwork from a bathroom fan can draw heat from the house into the attic. If you have a cathedral ceiling and don’t have an attic space, you can try to solve the problem by creating better ventilation between the roof sheathing and the insulation. If that doesn’t help, your next option is to add insulation on top of the roof, inside the roof or on the ceiling. Give us a call to evaluate the situation and make a recommendation on what you need.
- Heat Tape. Installing heat tape in a triangular fashion along the edge of your roof may not remove all the ice but will create a path for snowmelt to flow off the roof. If you decide to go this route, we recommend having it installed by a professional and having it operate on a switch. You only need to use it when there is snow on the roof, so a switch will keep your energy costs down. If you have gutters, we recommend installing heat tape inside these as well as the downspout. If you have a metal roof, a hot edge system is the best alternative because it heats the lower part of the metal eliminating the possibility of damming completely.