Do you often find icicles dangling from your roof in the winter? They may appear sparkly and magical, but icicles likely mean you have an ice dam problem. Unfortunately, ice dams are more serious than most homeowners believe. They’re usually outward signs of more serious internal issues. We’ll cover how and why ice dams form and specific prevention measures you can take to protect your home from damage and create a safer environment for everyone.
What are ice dams, and how do they form?
Cute little icicles can quickly turn into sharp, dangerous ice chunks that can drop on unsuspecting passersby at any time. Icicles form when the snow on your roof melts and flows toward the eaves, then trickles off ice dams that have formed near your roofline.
Ice dams form as water flows toward the edge of the roof and then refreezes before flowing through your gutters and onto the ground. When water flows down your roof and refreezes in the same place repeatedly, ice starts building up. If you don’t address the problem in time, heavy, thick ridges can form near the eaves of your roof or in your gutter system.
As more water pools behind this blockage (or dam), moisture can seep under your roof shingles and decking or into your attic to wreak havoc on your home. Hefty chunks of ice can also put a strain on your roof and gutters. When the weight becomes too heavy for your gutters to handle, they’ll detach from your roof and crash to the ground, potentially damaging anything in their path.
How do I prevent ice dams from forming on my roof?
To mitigate your ice dam problem, you have a few different options. Here are a couple of solutions that can be affordable and allow you to tackle the problem quickly.
Heat tape, similar to heat cable, is an ice dam prevention method that can help you relieve immediate concerns. It won’t, however, address the source of the problem. Heat tape is insulated electrical wire you can attach to your roof to elevate its temperature in cold months to help melt snow.
You should install your heat tape in a zigzag pattern on your roof and in gutters and downspouts. It’s designed to cut channels through ice and snow to create clear paths for water to flow off the roof and safely onto the ground.
Before using heat tape as your primary ice dam prevention method, consider the following list of pros and cons:
Pros of Heat Tape
- Inexpensive compared to other methods
- Useful mitigating ice dams (but not for preventing them completely)
- Warms water for safe runoff from the roof to the ground
- Helps protect gutters and roofing systems from damage
Cons of Heat Tape
- Uses a lot of electricity
- Hinders curb appeal
- Requires continuous monitoring
- Poses a risk for overheating, electric shock, and fire
- Doesn’t address the source of the problem
Roof Ice Melt (RIM) System
A RIM system is composed of thermally conductive metal panels that can be permanently installed across your roof’s surface. A RIM system will effectively melt snow and ice to prevent dangerous buildup around your home.
Here are the top pros and cons of installing a RIM system on your roof:
Pros of RIM Systems
- Permanent fixtures
- Highly effective in combatting ice dams and snow buildup
- More aesthetically pleasing than heat tape
Cons of RIM Systems
- Elevates heating costs in the winter by using extra electricity
- Requires professional installation
- Doesn’t address the source of the ice dam problem
How can I solve my ice dam problem for good?
The most effective way to solve your ice dam problem is by addressing the underlying issue(s). Usually, when homeowners have excessive ice buildup around their roofline, it’s because heat from inside the home rises and escapes to the attic through air leaks. When this happens, it can create heat pockets on the underside of your roof.
These warm patches are usually what cause snow and ice on your roof to melt when it shouldn’t. When it does, it sets off the melting and refreezing cycle and eventually forms ice dams.
Attic Ventilation and Insulation
To address an ice dam problem head-on, one solution is to seal the air leaks that allow heat to reach your attic. To prevent heat loss, you can add more insulation to your attic floor, walls, and ceiling.
You may also need to install a better attic ventilation system to remove the warm, humid air that reaches the attic and gets trapped there. A sound vent system will release unhealthy air outdoors in the winter and replace it with cool, dry air. Ask a professional to inspect your attic to determine if vent installation is a smart investment for your home.
Not only will warm, humid air create warm patches across your roof, but it can also create a condensation problem in your attic. On a cold day, the condensation that forms can freeze on the attic floor. When it gets warmer, the condensation will melt and can seep into your ceilings and cause water damage.
Properly venting this warm air and moisture outside through soffit and ridge vents can be the most effective long-term solution. If your home’s ventilation and insulation systems are healthy and functioning correctly, ice dams should never be a problem again.
Gutters and Downspouts
Make sure your gutters and downspouts are clear so water can flow properly all year long. If they’re clogged with debris, water can’t flow freely, and ice buildup becomes inevitable.
To solve your ice dam problem for good, you need to address the underlying cause, which is most likely inadequate attic ventilation or insulation. Installing heat tape or a RIM system will undoubtedly alleviate the symptoms of an icy roofline, but they won’t fix the underlying problems. Contact a trusted local home services professional for an inspection and expert advice about a permanent solution to your ice dam problems.
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