Protecting Your Roof from Ice Dam Damage This Winter

If memories of your childhood winters evoke images of icicles dangling from your roof, you’re not alone. There’s something about ice and winter light that’s one of the season’s most beautiful sights. But this seemingly harmless image – ice on a roof– can be indicative of a serious problem affecting residential and commercial properties during the snowy winter months. Ice dams that form on roofs can cause significant damage to the roof structure, the building at large, and represent a safety hazard to passersby. Here’s what you need to know about preventing ice dams this winter.

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What is an ice dam?

You may be familiar with the term ice dam in the context of what sometimes happens out in nature, with ice and snow backing up river flow. The same phenomenon happens on a smaller scale on roofs. Ice dams form as snow that’s accumulated melts, and runs down a roof below the overlying blanket of snow. When the melted snow hits below freezing air temperatures, often near the eves, ice forms and accumulates. Over time, a dam can develop and will obstruct proper drainage of the rest of the snow on the roof as it melts.

What damage do ice dams cause?

The most significant risk of ice dams is roof damage. If the weight and water accumulate, it’s possible that a leak can develop. Roofing materials, walls, ceilings, wood used for framing, insulation, and valuables within the home or business can be damaged. In serious instances, a roof may partially cave in. Another risk is potential injury to people or damage to property if the ice dam slides off the roof.

What causes ice dams to occur?

The snow on roofs melts for two reasons. One is the normal freezing and thawing cycles that happen during the winter. On days that are above freezing, the snow on roofs begins to melt. At night, the snowmelt that’s been running off freezes. It’s also important to consider roof-related issues, including heat leaks, a lack of insulation, and poor ventilation. These conditions can create a warm roof. Heat from the house raises the temperature of the snow above heated living areas, but the snow along roof overhangs doesn’t melt. As a result of these two scenarios, ice dams can form.

How can they be prevented?

One of the best ways to prevent dams is regularly shoveling your roof. In addition to preventing ice dams from occurring, you’ll also minimize the risk of weight-related damage and other problems. A professional company like Knockout Roofing should perform roof snow removal with experienced employees, safety equipment, and adequate insurance. It’s important that your roof be properly shoveled, and that all snow be removed. Partial shoveling increases the chances that an ice dam will form.

If ice dams are a recurring problem on your property, it’s important to look at whether your roof has adequate insulation and roof ventilation. It’s possible to prevent the issue from happening by adding more insulation under the eaves and installing additional ventilation. Ice damming research suggests that dams are most likely to occur when indoor attic temperatures are above 30 °F and the outdoor temps are below 22 °F. A combination of insulation and ventilation can help regulate your roof to optimal temperatures. Other long-term solutions include selecting snow shedding roof materials like metal. These materials combined with a steeper roof pitch can help minimize accumulation of frozen water.

What can be done for an existing dam?

If your home or business currently has an ice dam, it’s important to contact a professional roofing company as soon as possible. Ice dams can be addressed before they cause permanent or more extensive damage to your roof. If you notice one forming or see signs of a leak under an icy area of your roof, contact an expert immediately. There are a number of techniques that can be used to address your problem.

These include the immediate removal of existing snow from your roof. In some cases, dams can be broken up and removed. Removal of ice buildup on a roof can also be done using special steam based equipment to ensure quick and safe removal without causing damage to the roof. Ice melt socks can be placed on the roof to encourage the melting of dams while they form. Finally, solutions such as heat tape and belts can be considered to help with even melting and water draining to prevent ice buildup.

If you’re currently experiencing an ice dam at your home or business, contact us today to learn more about how professional snow removal can prevent significant damage to your home or commercial roof, building and valuables.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/22/Ice_dam_slate_roof.jpg