How to Prevent Ice Dams

January 12, 2016

How to Prevent Ice Dams

During our cold Iowa winters, ice dam formation can result in substantial damage to your home’s roof, walls and attic. Here’s how to prevent ice dams from forming on the roof of your Des Moines area home.

What Are Ice Dams?

Ice dams are ridges of ice that form at the lower part of the roof near the eaves and gutters. If the snow on your roof comes in contact with warmer air escaping through a poorly insulated attic, it will melt and drip down to the eaves of your roof where it freezes. This process continues building up large ice formations called ice dams. The ice not only blocks snowmelt from draining off the roof, but the melted snow backs up behind the ice dam, and eventually leaks into your attic or walls. The resulting damage can be quite expensive, especially when the problem isn’t noticed immediately.

Evidence of Ice Dams

Ice dams can be identified by large amounts of concentrated snow or ice surrounding the eaves or gutters of your structure. The largest indicator of an already formed ice dam on your house is water leaking or dripping through ceilings in your home. The most common type of area affected by ice dams are ceilings that share a corner with an external wall or are at the base of the slope of your roof.

Signs to Look out for When Identifying Ice Dams

Here are some other things to keep in mind when you’re trying to determine if you have an ice dam on your roof:

  • Improper drainage during a large snowmelt period. You may see little to no draining water coming through your gutters. This can indicate water being redirected by ice.
  • Heavy clumps of snow on your roof or gutters. This can cause a blockage of draining water making it go elsewhere or refreezing during the night.
  • Visible ice on your roof or gutters. This may seem like a no-brainer, but don’t underestimate ice buildup around your eaves or gutters.
  • Sagging, discolored ceilings.
  • Blistering paint on the walls.

Early Warning Signs of Ice Dams

Ice dams can be tricky to predict as the heating and cooling of ice is largely unpredictable. You can, however, see problem areas of your house that may be susceptible to forming ice dams.

While Icicles may be the perfect winter accent for your house, they are the number one early warning sign for ice dams. Icicles tend to grow over the season creating larger and larger blocks of ice that may cause a backup of draining water.

What Causes Ice Dams?

The underlying cause of ice dams is an attic that’s allowed to get too warm during the winter, either because of poor ventilation, insufficient insulation and/or air leaks. The warm attic heats up the roof, melting snow that then drains toward the eaves. Since the lower part of the roof stays colder than the upper part (because of less space for warm air in that narrow part of the attic), the melted snow refreezes and forms the ice barricade.

Steps to Prevent an Ice Dam

  • The area between the attic and living spaces below should be insulated enough to stop heat from rising into the attic. Similarly, air leaks between the living spaces and attic should be well sealed. The same goes for the attic hatch or door.
  • The attic also should be well ventilated so that heat doesn’t have a chance to accumulate in that space. Ridge vents, used with continuous soffit vents, are an effective ventilation strategy.
  • Make sure there aren’t any exhaust vents that open into the attic and seal and insulate ductwork that runs through the attic.

The bonus of effective ice dam prevention is that it also will save energy and make your home easier to heat and cool in all seasons.

How to Remove or Fix Ice Dams

Fixing ice dams depends on the severity or emergency of your situation. Priority one for every case is removing snow from your roof. If you suspect ice has already formed, locate a Roof Rake allowing you to remove the snow from the safety of the ground. For more information on preventing ice dams on your Greater Des Moines home, please contact us at Lozier Heating & Cooling.

Our goal is to help educate our customers in the greater Des Moines, Iowa area about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems).