Ice Dams, the Problem that Won’t Go Away

Although I have lived in New England my whole life, this is my first winter as a homeowner. I knew there would be a learning curve, getting a feel for when the plows would come and how quickly my neighborhood would get back to normal. What I didn’t anticipate was the 90+ inches of snow that would fall in my area, or the ‘drip, drip’ I would come home to one afternoon in my living room.

When I first saw the trickle of water making its way down my wall, my mind raced back to all of the Facebook postings I had seen and articles I read. Ice dams! Quickly, I thought to go get the roof rake and a sock filled with that melting substance I could never remember the name of.

Ice dams don’t just happen to the novice homeowner. That same day, my father, a home owner for 30+ years noticed water stains on his ceilings. It has been a brutal few weeks here in New England and few people are immune to the troubles that come from these freezing temps and the back to back heavy snowstorms.

Ice dams are caused when there is an ice build up at the base of your roof, usually caused by a roof that has less than perfect insulation. The melting snow falls to the base of your roof, not warmed up by the heat in your home, and it freezes there. As more snow melts and then freezes on the edge of the roof, a dam is formed. More water from melting snow gets trapped behind the dam and seeps through the shingles.

Short-term fixes

To alleviate some of these ice dams, you can use a roof rake to pull some of the dam off of your roof. Popular gives a few rules to remember when using a rake:

-Beware of icicles- the bigger the icicle the harder it falls, so be careful when removing large icicles. People have been injured and even killed by ice falling off of a roof.

-Falling snow damages shrubs- if you have prized bushes or shrubs close to your home you may want to try to shield your shrubs with plywood or try to take the snow off in smaller pieces.

-The steeper the pitch of a roof, the faster it falls, and right at you. Be careful when pulling snow down, and quick to move out the way if need be.

-Be aware of power lines!

– Aluminum roof rakes and power lines can be a dangerous combination, so be aware of how your power lines enter your house and take care to avoid them.

You can also use calcium chloride in an old sock or pair of panty hose to melt the ice. Fill the hosiery with the calcium chloride, tie it off and lay it on top of the roof so that it crosses the ice dam and overhangs the gutter. If necessary, use a long-handed rake or other tool to push it in place. The calcium chloride will eventually melt through the snow and ice creating a channel for water to flow off of the roof. Be advised that depending on the type of roof you have the calcium chloride could stain your shingles.

Long-term fixes

When it comes to Ice dams and your home your best bet is really to fix the problem at its root, or in this case…roof. As with all major home improvement projects if it is not your area of expertise we recommend you consult with a professional and have them do most if not all of the work. This will insure your safety, and guarantee the job is done correctly.

The most commonly known long-term solution is to increase the insulation in your attic space. This can be done fairly easily and there are even companies like Mass Save with programs to assist you in paying for the upgrades. You can also have a rubberized roof underlayment installed onto your roof. This is best done when re-roofing, and can be placed under your shingles six feet up along all the edges, valleys and low pitch areas. This prevents any excess water from slipping back into your home. Additionally there are also heated cables that can be installed onto your roof in patterns designed to create drains for the excess water to escape.

This winter has been a rough one for a lot of New Englanders, and if you are like me you are anxiously awaiting a weather forecast that doesn’t call for snow or freezing temperatures. But spring will come, it always does. And in the meantime take care of your home as safely as possible and remember that when you do have a problem, ice dam or otherwise we are Bright Insurance, the home for your insurance needs.

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