Here’s What to Do When Ice Dams Form on Your Home’s Roof

Even though the winters have been relatively mild in recent years in southwest Ohio, the potential always exists for a prolonged spell of subfreezing temperatures. That leaves homes vulnerable to ice dams on the roof and near the eaves. These can cause serious damage to the roof, attics and walls of your home, and potentially to your belongings inside. Here’s some helpful tips about how to prevent ice dams in your Cincinnati area home.

What’s an Ice Dam?

Ice dams result from uneven temperatures on a house’s roof, caused by attic heat transferring upwards through the roof. The potential for this happening is exacerbated in attics that have poor ventilation, lack proper insulation, and are prone to other problems. It’s typical in a residential attic for the higher parts of the roof to stay warmer than the lower parts, due to more warm air underneath those higher sections. The areas closer to the side of the house have little space for warm air to collect, and thus remain colder.

This uneven rooftop heating means that snow that falls on the roof is more likely to melt on the higher sections, then as it drains toward the gutters and eaves of the house, refreeze before it can drain off. That icy area then compounds the problem, refreezing enough draining snowmelt to create a barrier or dam, resulting in further pooling and backing up on the roof. Eventually, the backed-up snowmelt may find its way down into the attic or areas below the attic. Anyone who has owned a house for any length of time likely recognizes the substantial damage that water can inflict on a home and its furnishings.

How Do You Avoid Ice Dams?

Following are some of the most effective ways to prevent ice dams on your home’s roof:

• Improving ventilation. With effective ventilation, the distribution of air in the attic is more even, and is less likely to collect under certain parts of the roof, hastening snowmelt above. Experts may recommend ridge vents and continuous soffit vents that allow cooler air to circulate more evenly in the attic.

• Air sealing. It’s important to minimize the transfer of warm air in a home’s living areas up into the attic. Sealing potential routes for that warm air, including around the attic hatch, recessed lighting and any attic fans will help keep conditioned air where it belongs, in the rooms of your home. This not only reduces the opportunity for ice dams to form, but also saves you money on heating and makes your home more comfortable.

• Effective insulation. It’s important to have sufficient insulation on the floor of the attic, to impede the transfer of heat energy between living areas and the attic. Typically, experts recommend insulation on the attic floor to be laid to the top of the floor joists.

• Check ducts and vents in the attic to make sure they aren’t leaking conditioned air into the attic.

What to Do After Ice Dams Form

A good sign that your home has ice dams, short of obvious infiltration of water in the attic, is icicles that form below gutters and weigh them down, or obvious accumulations of snow and ice near the gutters. Preventing ice dams is best, but if they form, here are some ideas for dealing with them:

• Set up a box fan in the attic and point it toward attic roof areas where water is leaking inside. The chilled blowing air can help refreeze that melted snow, arresting further water damage and related future damage from mold and mildew.

• Buy or borrow a “roof rake” (a lengthy rake with wheels) to pull snow from the roof while you’re on the ground. Avoid doing this sort of work from a ladder, and by all means DO NOT climb up on the roof in an effort to remove an ice dam. Your life and health are more important than any potential damage to your home.

• Do not try to hack away at an ice dam with a shovel or some other type of implement. You could easily damage your roof and gutters by doing this, and put yourself at risk of falling.

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When your furnace conks out, it’s important to have a trusted professional HVAC outfit on call to make the repair as soon as possible. Waiting days for heater repair, in the depths of winter, is not a desirable outcome. Before calling, however, try some troubleshooting of your own, just in case the problem is something as simple as an incorrectly set thermostat or a circuit that’s blown. Once you’ve established that you can’t fix it yourself, call a company that will make a prompt, effective repair at a fair price with a solid guarantee. Jansen Heating and Cooling fits that description to a “T.”