How do Ice Dams Really Form?
It snows, the winter brings freezing temps, then a mild day and sunshine arrives and melts some of the snow. We all love those warm, sunny winter days – until you suddenly discover water dripping into your bedroom. This swing in temperature along with accumulated snow on a roof without proper ventilation can cause “ice dams”. If you live in Minnesota you’re familiar with these seasonal headaches, yet what causes ice dams?
What is an ice dam?
On that mild winter day (around 30-degrees), the snow melts in a nice warm spot on your roof and runs down, then it hits a colder spot and freezes. Ice then collects in that area and begins creating a dam. So, that melted water gets trapped by the dam and eventually backs up the roof, travels under the shingles, and leaks into your house.
What Causes Ice Dams?
It’s not necessarily a roofing problem or a problem in the pitch of the roofline. It’s not always an insulation problem either, although you should double check you have proper levels of insulation. It’s more about ventilation.
According to Keith Hill, of Minnesota Air, roofs need proper ventilation systems to keep the surface temperature constant so that snow melts evenly and refreezing doesn’t occur. The vents also need to be kept clear and open, so that they can do their job. If you have proper vents but they are covered with snow, you can still find yourself with an ice dam.
How do I fix an ice dam?
- A permanent fix for ice dams usually includes checking for adequate insulation and sealing, but proper ventilation is the key to a long-term solution. If you have an ice dam, consult with a venting or roofing specialist and have your roof checked for proper ventilation. In general, proper ventilation includes two types of vents located throughout your roof: intake vents, which are located at the downslope edge of the roof (a.k.a. eaves) and allow fresh air into the attic. The other are exhaust vents, which are located near or on the ridge line of the roof and allow air to leave the attic.
- There are also ways to temporarily fix the issue:
- Clearing your vents is a good start, but doing that can be dangerous, so it’s not recommended for homeowners to do that themselves.
- There are de-icing products on the market that can help melt away the ice for a quick fix. But beware, depending on the compound used, some damage can occur to your roofing materials.
- Steam is considered the best way to remove an ice dam, but it requires hiring an ice dam removal company (who can also clear your roof vents). Remember, steaming the ice dam away doesn’t actually fix the underlying problem, it’s more of a band-aid remedy.
Bottom line, you want to take care of any ice dam issues you have sooner rather than later, before you have water damage in your home. Don’t wait for the spring thaw (which is months away) – get your ventilation system checked right away and repaired, and be rid of ice dams for good!
For home maintenance and comfort tips, visit StayComfyMinnesota.com! Stay Comfy, Minnesota is your Minnesota resource for air conditioning repair, furnace repair and HVAC tips and advice.