Damn Ice or Ice Dam PDF Print E-mail
Written by Lisa Alexander   

IciclesIt’s been a long, cold winter….19 straight days below freezing in January.  What a way to start the New Year.  All the snow, wind and ice did however create a picturesque winter wonderland in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  Driving through the countryside was like driving through a living Currier & Ives painting.  Snow covered fields and forests, frozen ponds and lakes, and icicles dangling from the pretty county cottages. As beautiful as that all sounds, those icicles on your house actually means you may have some problems.

When snow melts over the heated portion of your house, water runs down the roof and freezes again at the eaves forming an ice dam.  The pretty icicles that hang from your roof are evidence of this.  Like a real dam, it will hold back water, trapping run off.  Eventually the water will back up under the shingles, which can damage your roof, and the water penetration can cause structural damage to your house. Unfortunately, once these “dam icicles” form you really can’t do much about them until the warmer weather comes along to melt the ice dams.

Believe it or not ice dams are usually caused by what’s going on inside the house rather than outside.  Warm air in the attic will rise to the roof and melt some of the snow on top.  The melting snow, which is water, flows down the roof to the cold eaves and refreezes layer-by-layer, day-by-day.  This happens on houses with or without gutters.  The result can be water backing up under the shingles.

The best way to avoid ice dams is to keep warm air out of the attic.  In theory your attic temperature should be relatively close to that of the outside.  The insulation in the floor of your attic should keep the heat in the rooms below it. Unfortunately even the best insulated house may have leaks that allow warm air to seep into the attic while also allowing cold air to seep down through these same “leaks or gaps”, referred to as “ attic by-passes”.

The first thing to do is find these “by-passes”.  There are several devices that will help you find where air is getting in or out, but that old fashioned tool attached to the end of your arm called a “hand” is probably just as good if not better than anything thing on the market, and best of all it’s free!  Start in the basement and feel for cold air coming in from outside at cracks in the foundation, windows and door frames. Make the same investigative “feel” search throughout the house.  Check outlets…if you feel air coming through an outlet that means you have air pouring through your walls, probably from the basement or attic. Check areas around your kitchen too…often you’ll find that there is no insulation behind your kitchen cabinets.

Once you’ve found all the leaks do the best you can to seal them.  Buy weather-stripping and caulk for doors and windows.  Insulated where you need to and where you can. Don’t forget to plug up gaps around pipes and wires too.   Lots of little gaps can add up to one large hole, so seal as many of them as you possible.  Blocking these drafts can save up to 15-20% of your energy costs.  You’ll never get them all but that’s OK because you need some natural air circulation throughout your house.

 After you’ve sealed your leaks and plugged up all the holes in your house the next and maybe most important step is to make sure you have proper attic ventilation.  Proper ventilation will ensure that cold air circulates from the eave vents to the ridge vents.  This will neutralize temperature variations on the roof.  Strategically placed vents will do a nice job of minimizing the freeze/thaw cycle.

Other than hiring a professional to insulate or install circulating fans and vents you’ve done about all you can.  Now cuddle up by the fire and wait for the big thaw and that first daffodil to peak out of the ground.  Spring will be here later this month !  Enjoy  !!