Ice Dams – What Are They And How Can You Protect Your Home

Brycie Bowser Blog Leave a Comment

Ice is a reality for those of us who live in New England, or for that matter, anyone who lives in an area where the temperatures stay regularly below freezing during the winter.  For all those homeowners who brave the harsh winters, you have no doubt heard of ice dams and the damage they can cause to homes. What are ice dams, though, and why should they be a reason for concern? In this blog article, we are going to explore the subject of ice dams, what they are, how they can impact your home, and how homeowners insurance comes into play when dealing with damage from ice dams. So, let’s dive right in and learn more about ice dams. 

Ice dams occur from the build-up of ice on the eaves (the horizontal overhangs at the end of your roof) on a sloped roof. Ice dams occur from melting snow at the base of the accumulated snow (snowpack), which drips down and freezes on the eaves. Freezing here can prevent proper draining, and as more snow and ice melts, the water backs up and can penetrate your home, causing leaks and damage. Important to note ice dams occur on buildings with heated roofs because the bottom of the snowpack warms from the heated roof while the top of the snowpack remains colder at whatever the outdoor temperature is. This temperature difference is what allows the snow to melt from the base, causing the ice dams to occur. 

A key thing to note when exploring if your house is susceptible to ice dams is whether you have a vented or unvented attic. In other words, if your attic space is finished and heated or not. A vented attic allows outside air to pass through into the attic space, keeping the roof at a similar temperature to the outside air. Thus, reducing ice dams. However, your home may be less thermally efficient because you are relying on insulation on the ceiling above the living space only to keep the home warm. An unvented or finished attic may be at greater risk for ice dams because the roof is going to be warmer. 

As winter is well underway here in New England, homeowners can often find themselves battling against the formation of ice dams on their roofs. These ice dams not only pose a threat to the structural integrity of your home but can also lead to significant damage and costly repairs if left unchecked. Unlike other events that can lead to damage in your home (flooding, fire, etc.), ice dams can slowly and silently penetrate your home, causing significant damage without any big immediate event – the damage happens slowly over time during the winter. 

The good news is there are proactive steps you can take as a homeowner to prevent ice dams from forming. We are going to explore a number of strategies you can employ to help safeguard your home against ice dams throughout the winter season. 

1. Maintain Proper Insulation

The first place to start is by checking your insulation. Insufficient insulation is one of the biggest factors contributing to the formation of ice dams. When insulation is Inadequate, heat from the interior of your home can escape into the attic, warming the roof and causing the snow on your roof to begin to melt. To prevent this, ensure that your attic is adequately insulated, especially in areas prone to heat loss such as around recessed lighting fixtures, ductwork, and chimneys. Homeowners may also consider adding a layer of insulation on the attic floor, which will help reduce heat transfer into the attic space further.

2. Clear Snow Off The Roof

This is a simple one, but one of the most effective ways to prevent ice dams is to keep your roof clear of snow buildup. Homeowners can use specialized tools, like, a roof rake, to clear the snow from the roof. Letting snow accumulate and sit for an extended period of time on your roof can cause ice dams to begin to form. Importantly, the bottom edge of the roof is the most important to clear as ice dams typically occur at the edge getting under the eaves and blocking proper drainage. It goes without saying, though, that you should use caution when clearing your roof of snow.  

3. Improve Ventilation

As mentioned above, attic ventilation can play a critical role in regulating temperature and also moisture buildup, thereby reducing the risk of ice dams beginning to form. Inadequate ventilation can lead to condensation buildup, which can contribute to the melting of snow on the roof. A great solution to improve ventilation is with soffit and ridge vents, which act as pathways for cool air to flow in and warm air to flow out of the attic. These vents can help balance the temperature in the attic and, therefore, reduce the risk of ice dams forming. Many homes in New England have these built into the attic already, so it’s a great idea to check they are clear and not blocked in any fashion. You can also check with your local builder and insulation expert to provide guidance. 

4. Clean & Maintain Gutters and Downspouts: 

Cleaning your gutters and keeping downspouts clear of blockage is always a great idea. In the case of ice dams, though, blocked drainage can exacerbate the problem by not allowing melting snow and ice to flow away from your roof correctly. Cleaning your gutters and downspouts is a great autumn project before winter sets in. Also, many homeowners consider installing gutter guards to prevent debris from getting caught and building up. 

5. Heated Roof Cables & Ice and Water Shields: 

Two other great options for helping reduce the risk of ice dams on your home this year are to consider installing heated roof cables and ice and water shields. Both products can have an immediate impact on minimizing the risk of ice dams forming. Heated roof cables, otherwise known as de-icing cables, are designed to generate heat and melt the snow and ice on the roof before it accumulates and has a chance to turn into ice dams. Ice and water shields on the other hand act as waterproof barriers preventing moisture from penetrating the underlying structure of the roof. They can be a great option to consider installing next time your roof is being worked on. 

A common question we receive at Deland, Gibson, particularly in the winter, is whether homeowners insurance covers damage from ice dams. Generally speaking, homeowners insurance does not cover damage caused by ice dams. This is because the damage caused by ice dams falls into the area of preventive maintenance. A proactive homeowner can prevent ice dams from occurring, and if they do start to develop, clear them before any damage has been done. Unlike a lightning strike or a tree falling on the home, or any other immediate and unexpected event that causes damage, ice dams cause damage over time and, therefore, can be avoided and prevented. 

To learn more about ice dam coverage and your specific policy, contact us today to speak with an account manager about your policy. 

Deland, Gibson: A Trusted Choice, Five Star Accredited independent insurance agency. Established in Massachusetts in 1900, Deland, Gibson is a 4th generation family-run insurance agency that has thrived working as a trusted advisor for its client base. We work with individuals and businesses to lower their Total Cost of Risk. We analyze a client’s direct and indirect costs and implement risk reduction plans to address areas of business, hazard, or strategic risk.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.