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By: Kevin Ahern on January 19th, 2016

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The Danger of Ice Dams

Residential

Ice dams are like the scourge of homeowners in cold weather climates, and can cause hundreds or thousands of dollars in water damage if not corrected early. Knowing how to prevent ice dams and what you can do to stop the damage if an ice dam forms will help you make it through the long winter without an expensive repair bill.

The Problem

Ice dams occur when hot spots in the attic cause snow on the roof to melt unevenly. Snow on top melts first and dribbles down to the eaves, where it re-freezes. Refreezing ice can cause a blockage to form around the gutters and on the lower levels of the roof. As the ice continues to build, it grows down the side of the house in the form of icicles, and backs up onto the roof.

Over time, ice will penetrate the shingles of the home and then will make its way into the attic. When the ice makes it inside the house, it starts to melt, causing a leak. Melting ice may pool on the floor of the attic and dribble down to the ceiling of the rooms below, or may drip down the walls of the home. This cycle of freezing ice and resulting leaks is an ice dam.

Causes

Ice dams can be exacerbated by a confluence of problems, including backed up gutters and poor ventilation in the attic. However, the primary cause of ice dams is generally poor insulation and warm air leaks (like from the duct work) that releases heat into the attic.

Short Term Fixes

If your home forms an ice dam over the winter and water backs up into your attic or into the lower levels of your home, call a contractor immediately to correct the problem. While you’re working on finding a contractor, you’ll also need to fix the immediate issue, which is the leak. The best way to stop the water in its tracks is to re-freeze it. This can be done by lowering the temperature in your attic.

Open up the vents in your attic, then run a few fans in the attic space. Blow cold air from the fans on the dribbling water until it re-freezes. This won’t correct the damage or fix the larger problem, but it will buy you time as long as the temperatures outside remain below freezing.

Prevention

You can stop this problem from ever occurring by taking preemptive measures. Contact a contractor early in the season and have him or her examine your insulation levels, duct work and the condition of your roof. Your contractor can tell you if you’re at risk for an ice dam.

You can also avoid problems by cleaning your gutters. Although backed up gutters aren’t usually the cause of an ice dam, improving the drainage on the outside of your house can prevent trouble.

If your home is damaged by an ice dam this winter, or if you want to have your home evaluated for risk of an ice dam, know where to turn. Contact Litchfield Builders, New Haven’s premiere general contractor for over 20 years.

Request a free construction consultation