How to Prevent Ice Dams from Damaging Your House
Winter snowstorms can cause serious damage to a home. In addition to the weight of snow, which can strain your roof and possibly cause it to collapse, melting and refreezing of snow can create ice dams that can cause both exterior and interior damage to a house.
An ice dam forms when heat from the attic melts the underside of the snow on the roof. The water trickles down to the eaves, which are colder because they extend beyond the edge of the roof. When the water reaches the eaves, it refreezes and forms an ice dam that can block the gutters and extend far up on to the roof. The flatter the roof, the easier it is for an ice dam to form.
If an ice dam gets large enough, water can get backed up behind it and seep underneath the shingles. It can drip into insulation and down into the ceiling and damage sheetrock and paint. If the ice dam falls off the roof, it can pull down shingles and gutters and damage shrubs, windowsills, cars, people, pets, or anything else it lands on. If the roof sheathing stays wet, mildew can form and it can rot.
If you have an ice dam on your house, it is best to hire an experienced roofer to remove it. Clean out your gutters and downspouts or hire someone for the job. You can melt troughs in the ice dam by using a tube of cloth, such as the leg from an old pair of pantyhose, filling it with calcium chloride ice melt, and laying it vertically across the ice dam. It will slowly melt through the ice dam and allow water to flow into the gutters. Do not use rock salt because it can damage paint, metals, and plants when the water drains.
The best way to prevent ice dams from forming in the first place is to remove snow from your roof as soon as possible after a storm. You can use a roof rake or hire a roofing contractor to remove the snow for you.
Another way to reduce the likelihood of ice dams forming is to replace a shingle roof with a standing seam or other metal roof. You can also replace the bottom three feet of a shingle roof with a wide metal drip edge. Use a water-repellant membrane under any roofing you have installed. However, if your roof is not very steep ice dams can still form.
Since ice dams are formed when heat from a house escapes and melts snow, another way to prevent ice dams is to keep heat inside the house. Seal any points where warm air leaks from the living space into areas directly below the roof sheathing. Insulate the living space to prevent heat transfer through the ceiling. Vent the space between the insulation and the roof sheathing so that any heat that manages to leak through can be carried away. By reducing heat loss, you will prevent ice dams, keep your house warmer in the winter, and reduce your heating bills.
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