While seeing your home decorated with long, sparkling icicles hanging down from the roof might look pretty enough to paint, ice dams can cause damage to the interior and exterior of your house. The key to ice dam prevention is staying on top of regular home maintenance before and during the winter.
What Are Ice Dams?
Created by melting snow running down from the roof and refreezing as the temperature drops, ice dams form at the cold eaves of the house and jut down like frozen stalactites. This barrier of ice prevents melting snow from getting the proper drainage that it needs, causing water to back up and possibly leak through the shingles, down into the home.
What Causes Ice Dams?
Ice dams need three things to form, according to EnergyStar:
- Heat from a building.
- Cold air to refreeze the melted snow into solid ice.
“In New England, ice dams tend to form in more northern exposed parts of the roof because of the limited sun that they get,” said Raymond Eng, vice president of insurance sales for AAA Northeast.
As water continues to melt and refreeze, it can cause the dam to get bigger and bigger. “What happens over time is that the forming ice tends to clog any gutters, and subsequent melting and freezing cycles will start to form these huge icicles hanging off of the roof’s edges,” Eng said.
Ice Dam Damage
National data collected between 2016 and 2020 lists water damage and freezing among the most common homeowners insurance claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
For some homeowners, the weight of ice dams can rip off gutters or lead to broken shingles. But it’s the resulting water damage that can be the most devastating. Water damage caused by ice dams can be extensive and expensive, affecting ceilings, walls and insulation, and can eventually lead to issues with mold.
Water stains on the ceiling or walls are usually the first sign of damage caused by ice damming.
Ice Dam Prevention
To avoid the potential risks, knowing how to prevent ice dams is imperative. If you start to notice an issue with ice dams forming on your home, there are some precautions you can take.
Adequate attic insulation is one way to winterize your home, which keeps the heat inside your house from escaping into your attic and prevents snow from melting too fast. Proper attic venting also helps to maintain a cooler temperature on your roof.
Clean the Gutters
To lessen the chance of ice building up around gutters, you should try to clean out leaves and debris before the first snow.
How to Get Rid of Ice Dams
To decrease the chance of ice damming, “the only thing you can do is to get rid of the ice as quickly and as safely as possible,” Eng said.
Immediately after a storm, use a roof rake to clear as much snow off as you can, even if it’s just around the gutter line. Do not climb onto the roof to do this. If you need a more thorough cleaning, consider hiring a contractor to do the job for you.
Longer-term solutions include replacing your roof and gutters, especially if they appear worn out. A qualified roofer should inspect your roof every three years for leaks, cracks and other faults, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
How You Are Covered
Standard homeowners insurance will generally cover water damage or any roof damage that occurs as a result of ice dams, though you may need to pay a deductible. Damage caused by flooding will require separate flood coverage.
Once ice damming damage has occurred, there is a typical requirement that obligates the homeowner to take the necessary action to limit any further damage such as moving furniture or artwork from the path of the water coming into the house.
Ice dams can be destructive, but extensive damage can be thwarted with preventive home improvements and maintenance. Preparing your house for wild winter weather will save you money and stress in the long run.
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