If you have experienced a random bout of harsh Winter weather or an ice storm while living in the mid-South, you have likely heard the term “ice dam” thrown around a time or two. If you are the average homeowner, your knowledge regarding ice dams is likely limited… that is, until your home experiences an unfortunate ice dam event. We are here to go over the basics to help homeowners prevent this damaging cold weather event from occurring and also to help identify warning signs and assess the probability of occurrence of this type of event.
What exactly is an ice dam and why should homeowners be concerned?
An ice dam is a solid buildup of ice that forms along a roof’s eaves that prevents melting snow and rainwater from properly draining away from the roof. As snow and ice melts and/or rain falls on the roof, the water pools behind the frozen dam, causing rain to pool and seep up under and behind the roof’s shingles. The pool of water quickly finds a way to penetrate the layers of protective roofing materials and enters the home, leaving homeowners with costly, and often extensive water damage. As mid-South weather tends to change rather quickly, homeowners are often left questioning the cause of their water damage, simply because ice dams have the ability to form and disappear rather quickly on the home’s exterior, often leaving only their interior damage behind!
How and why do ice dams occur, and how can they be prevented?
Ice dams form when an ice or snow-covered roof surface becomes warmer than the temperature outside, thereby causing the ice or snow cover to melt. The frozen dam of ice along the roof eaves (that usually also fills gutters with ice when they are present) is able to remain frozen much longer than the face of the roof because it is not exposed to the heat loss from the home and, rather, hangs away from the home where temperatures are lower. Although there can be many contributing factors, heat loss is the ultimate cause of most ice dams.
Building heat loss can occur due to the attic being uninsulated, under-insulated, and/or improperly insulated. Attic bypasses (such as the areas around furnace and HVAC vents, plumbing vents and chimney chaseways), electrical wiring runs, bathroom exhaust fans and whole house fans are several of the biggest heat loss offenders.
Though poor ventilation often contributes to the formation of ice dams, modifying or improving ventilation is typically viewed as treatment for a symptom of heat loss more so than treatment of the root issue of the insulation problems causing the heat loss. Priority should be placed on identifying and remedying the areas with insulation issues to reduce the home’s heat loss and probability of forming ice dams.
Likewise, although they can contribute to the formation and routine maintenance is always recommended, keeping gutters clean, free of debris, and properly pitched to allow for faster roof drainage is also treatment of the symptom, and not the root cause, of ice dams.
What are some warning signs, and when might a homeowner want to be weary that an ice dam event may occur or has occurred?
In the mid-South, ice dams occur most often after a period of freezing rain or snowfall, followed by a cold snap where temperatures fall to approximately 15° to 25°F, and then followed by temperatures quickly rising above freezing. A layer of ice as small as just 1 inch thick along the roof eave can cause considerable damage. Ice dam warning signs include the presence of icicles forming on the edge of the roof from the area between the home’s fascia and soffit (with or without gutters) or icicles forming behind gutters, a visible layer of ice buildup along the roof eaves, icicles or water dripping from the soffit vents or seams, brown icicles, water dripping from the siding or ice forming on the side of the house, and new ceiling stains, ice or water present inside the home and/or around the window frames.
I think I have an ice dam, what should I do?
Many options available to remedy ice dams in the colder climate areas of our country are not suitable, available, or logical in our often quickly changing, though mostly mild mid-South Winter weather, and that’s why prevention by correcting the root cause is so important! Our weather often changes so quickly that ice dams occur and cause damage faster than any remedy could even be attempted.
First, here’s what we DO NOT recommend if an ice dam is present: DO NOT use a pressure washer, axe, pick, chisel or any other hand tool, salt melt, or open flame in attempt to remove an ice dam. These, among countless other extremely dangerous and harmful methods, are almost certain to cause damage to your home – or worse yet, yourself.
If an ice dam is suspected, we DO recommend that a professional such as Nailed It Construction Services is called to inspect the roof. This is a service that we offer for free. We will inspect the roof and gutters (if present) and provide an assessment of any damage found. We will even take a look in the attic to check for signs of leaking if proper access is available.
I have water damage, what should I do?
Call us first. Seriously. Here’s why – Many homeowners call their insurance company first which can end up hurting them more than helping.
When homeowners call Nailed It Construction Services first, we can provide them with an honest, knowledgeable opinion of whether or not there’s enough damage present to justify the benefit of filing an insurance claim vs. paying out of pocket for the repairs. Think about this…
Sometimes, the insured’s deductible responsibility per state law may end up costing them more than what the insurance company is willing to pay for in their total settlement. We can help prevent that by identifying the probability of this occurrence.
Sometimes, the insurance policy type pays out little when compared to the actual cost of the repairs needed. We use industry standard estimation software to provide accurate repair estimates and can help homeowners weigh the benefits and drawbacks of filing a claim with their policy type.
Sometimes, the damage that a homeowner thinks was caused by an ice dam may have been caused by another event entirely. What happens if that event is not something covered by your insurance policy and your claim is denied? We can help identify this and provide our informed opinion on the front end.
These are all things to take into consideration. Furthermore, we have extensive experience filing claims and properly documenting insurance covered losses so that the homeowners that we work for receive the maximum benefit and complete repairs per their policies. We routinely identify insurance company adjusters’ errors and omissions to insurance estimates, further saving money for our homeowner clients.
We hope this crash course on ice dams has left you more informed. We truly hope you never experience such an unfortunate, home-damaging event such as an ice dam, but know that we’re here to hold your hand through the process of assessing damage, working with insurance, and returning your home to its former glory, if you’re ever in need.
Nailed It Construction Services, Inc.