With the recent arrival of the polar vortex—or polar apocalypse, as my wife and I call it—there has been a significant rise in winter season property damage claims. Burst pipes, cracked foundations, and roof collapses are just a few common occurrences that can wreak havoc on your home. But one lesser known occurrence—ice damming—can be just as damaging. Below you will find information about ice dams and how to prevent the costly property damage they can cause. What is an ice dam? Ice dams form in nature through glaciers and frozen rivers, but in a residential setting, an ice dam can form when melting snow from your roof refreezes at the gutters and eaves. Unfortunately, this causes water to drain improperly, finding its escape through your home. The end result is damaged ceilings and walls and, if left unabated long enough, significant structural damage and potential loss of life or property. What causes ice dams? Sometimes nothing more than a fluctuation of temperature is enough to cause an ice dam. A poorly constructed roof or inadequate insulation can result in significant heat loss. The heat transfer results in meltwater beneath an insulating snow blanket, and once the meltwater hits cold air, the dam is formed. How can you prevent ice dams? Remove obstructions – It’s always a good suggestion to make sure your gutters are free and clear of any obstructions.
A few minutes of work in the brisk autumn air is a lot more comfortable than climbing onto your roof and working atop a sheet of ice. Replace old insulation – When renovating rooms, consider removing and replacing older insulation in your ceilings. Some preventative renovation is easier than costly damage replacement. Be sure to check your attic to ensure sufficient insulation. Ensure adequate ventilation – A well-ventilated attic continually replaces warm air in the attic with cold outside air. Research suggests that maintaining an attic air temperature below freezing when the outside air temperature is in the low 20s can help reduce the occurrence of ice dams. Remove snow loads from your roof – This is the least preferred method of preventing ice dams and should only be attempted in emergency situations, using an appropriate roof rake.
Working on an icy, snow-covered roof is neither fun nor safe, and partial removal of snow can cause ice dams to occur on other areas of the roof, away from eaves and gutters. Winter is taxing on homeowners and building owners. However, an ounce of prevention can go a long way. Properly insulating your home will increase its ability to retain heat, saving you money and preventing the aggravation that comes with ice dams. Kevin M. Taylor is an environmental consultant with 15 years of experience. He holds a M.S in GeoSciences – Hydrogeology and B.S in Biology from Stony Brook University. The last 10 years of his career have been focused on the investigation and management of pollution-based claims on behalf of some of the largest insurance carriers in the Northeast.