All About Ice Dams and Your Roof: How to Fix, Prevent and Repair

Ice on roof and gutters

The most popular roofing systems involve asphalt shingles, and most homeowners can count on that roof to remain intact and protecting everything underneath it for at least 20 years, barring massive storms.

Unfortunately, winters in the upper Midwest can offer some pretty severe weather that do significant damage. Among the worst culprits are ice dams. What are they? How do they form and what do they do to your roofing system? Furthermore, how can you prevent them from happening, and how do you approach making repairs when they do occur? Let’s take a deeper look into the issue.

What are ice dams and how can they damage your roof?

Snow that builds up on your roof will eventually begin to melt during the day, but freeze over again at night. When it freezes at the edge of your roofline, it can form an ice dam. In fact, it can get so large that it prevents water from melting snow to drain off as it should, making the dam even larger, heavier and more damaging to your roof system, including your gutters.

How to identify ice dam problems and why you should care

Take a look the edge of your roof. Do you see icicles? If you do, don’t get too concerned yet, because icicles that are confined only to the edge of the gutters aren’t necessarily a problem. However, if you have water trapped behind the icicles, you need to do something about it because this is the beginning of a potentially damaging problem.

Will ice dam cause your roof to leak?

When a deep freeze following a big snow hits your region, you’re probably going to at some point begin questioning how the accumulation will impact your roof, especially when you see an ice dam forming. Quite simply, yes, it will cause your roof to leak, but fortunately, there are ways to take care of that dam and actions you can take to prevent them from building up again.

How an ice dam creates a water leak

The roof is made up of layers that work in concert to protect your home. On top of the rafters is a layer of plywood. On top of the plywood is a waterproof protective barrier. On top of that barrier are the shingles that are strategically nailed into place.

When an ice dam forms, water backs up underneath your shingles and gets under the waterproof barrier, which happens at a faster rate when the water refreezes and expands, opening up more gaps, allowing water to get into your attic, into the walls and cause great amounts of damage.

What to do when you get an ice dam on your roof

Once you’ve established you indeed have an ice dam, faster reactions yield better results. Begin by knocking down the icicles to prevent any that might fall from hurting people below. You also want to knock these down because the shear weight of them can cause structural damage to your gutters and roof.

If you can safely access your roof, start chipping the ice off and clear the gutter area. In most situations, this is where you would call in an expert because it is quite dangerous to do this on your own. Also, when not executed properly, the chipping action can damage the shingles. A safer option could be to use hot water, but only if you’re certain you don’t already have leaks.

Calcium chloride ice melting product can also be generously sprinkled on the dam, causing the ice to break down and melt off. However, don’t use rock salt or sodium chloride, because while these will also melt the ice, they can damage your roof.

The best ways to prevent ice dams on your roof before winter

One of the most effective ways of preventing an ice dam is to improve the ventilation under your roof. It’s critical to keep heat out of your attic because this is what promotes melting, and as the water flows down to the cooler section of your roof, it freezes again, causing an ice dam and potentially damaging your roof.

The right amount of ventilation promotes a better airflow under the soffit and up to the peak of the roof, so if heat does get to your attic, it is evenly distributed and less of a concern.

You can also increase the amount insulation on the floor of the attic to prevent heat from rising up into it. This will also improve your level of comfort in the home and save on energy bills.

Clean out your gutters after the trees have shed their leaves in fall and before the snows start coming down. Check your downspouts to ensure they’re clear. Don’t give the melting snow any chance to build up and form an ice dam.

Will homeowners insurance pay for damage caused by an ice dam?

Look closely at your insurance policy, because while typical homeowners insurance will cover ice-related damages to the roof, it might not cover personal property damages that occur within the home.

According to Allstate, “personal property coverage typically does not provide protection for damage of your personal belongings caused by ice dams.”

If you’re experiencing a particularly difficult winter and you fear you could have more than one ice dam experience, talk to your agent about your coverage and what you can do to improve it.

Roof repair solutions to fix an ice dam

After you’ve removed the ice dam you’ll want to have a thorough inspection of the roof, because even if outward appearances indicate no damage, there could be some not visible from where you’re looking.

Get into the attic and look for water stains or mold. If you spot a problem, call in a professional for further examination. They’ve seen it all and know where to look. Furthermore, they will have the expertise required to make the fix.

Ice dams affect more than just asphalt shingle roofing systems – they can damage cedar shake, slate, wood and basically any type of material, and we’ve worked with all of them. If winter weather has you worried about your roof, give us a call and let’s schedule a free inspection. (630) 230-8533.