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Stop Ice Dams from Causing Water Damage

14 October 2014

At RestorationClean, one of our biggest roles is to educate people about water damage, and much of that education comes in the form of preventative measures homeowners can take to make sure they never have to deal with a water loss. If you live in the north, your home is put under quite a bit of stress during the winter months which can result in an array of different water damage events. Today we are going to address one particular issue that can arise as well as things you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.


What are ice dams?

An ice dam is a build up of ice found at a roof’s edge that prevents water from melted snow from exiting the roof and draining away from the house in the gutters. When a dam forms, the water pools behind the dam and seeks an escape through the home’s roof, sending water into the attic where it can cause water damage to the ceilings and insulated walls of the home.

Below is a simple illustration from Home Partners in Vermont that shows you what happens when an ice dam forms:



What causes ice dams to form?

There are a few things that need to happen in order for an ice dam to form. First, there must be snow on the roof. Secondly, there must be a portion of the roof with a temperature above freezing in order for that snow to melt. Lastly, there must be a lower section of the roof with a temperature below freezing that once the water reaches that area it re-freezes, forming the ice dam. It isn’t all that uncommon because the majority of your roof sits on top of your attic, while a portion of your roof extends over the home’s walls where it’s more likely to be cold.


Why are there different temperatures on roofs?

roof-insulation-ice-damIdeally, a roof’s temperature should be consistent throughout. In the winter, that means the roofing deck should be cold. If sections of your roof are warmer, it’s usually because warm air from inside your home is escaping into your attic allowing it to warm up your roof deck. If you walk out to the street and look up at your roof and notice sections of the roof where the snow has melted and other sections where the snow stays, it’s a pretty obvious indicator you have some insulation issues. Attic insulation’s job is to prevent the transfer of heat. It keeps the hot air that warms your home in your home and out of your attic. If your attic is poorly insulated, not only are you having to run your heating system more often and costing yourself more money, you’re putting yourself at risk of having water damage from ice dams.

Below are the common culprits that cause warm air to escape into your attic:

  • poor insulation throughout the attic
  • poorly insulated attic doors
  • poorly insulated heating ducts
  • kitchen or bathroom exhaust systems
  • whole house attic fans


What can I do to prevent ice dams from forming?

attic-insulationThe best solution to preventing ice dams from causing water damage to your home is to make sure your roof’s deck is cold. To do that, you have to shore up your home’s attic in terms of insulation. The average cost to have your attic professionally insulated is around $1.50/square foot. So if you have 1,000 square feet of attic space, it will cost you around $1,500.

Also, consider installing solutions that address the other main areas of heat loss in an attic: duct work, attic stairway doors, whole house fans. Attic door insulation systems run about $100 and you can buy an insulated seal to cover your attic fan for under $50. When it comes to duct work, prices can vary anywhere from $1.50/square foot up to $5/sq. ft depending on the type of material used and the contractor you hire.


What happens if an ice dam is not prevented?

Much of that depends on the shape and condition of your roof. For newer roofs, there may not be any adverse effects. But overtime, water pooling on your roof is eventually going to degrade the condition of your roof and cause problems. When water seeps through your roof’s shingles, it can cause of host of problems including:


Water damage throughout the interior of your home

Ceiling-water-damageOnce water gets under your shingles it can wreak havoc. It can soak your roof deck, any attic insulation, and ultimately travel through your ceiling and down your exterior walls. And because those walls will be insulated, it will soak and ruin that insulation. The costs to mitigate and repair this type of water damage can be extensive because large sections of the home’s structure will need to be entirely removed, then the remaining areas will need to be dried and then the reconstruction efforts can take place. In many cases, your home won’t be inhabitable during the process, so not only is there the financial concerns, it can be a huge disruption to your life.

A water damage restoration project of this size can easily run upwards of $10,000 and higher if other areas of your home are affected.


Black mold in your attic

If left untreated, moisture issues eventually become a black mold problem. While it’s unlikely you’ll end up with black mold in the dead of winter, once the temperatures start to rise, if the moisture remains in your attic black mold spores will eventually grow out of control. And when it comes to black mold, most insurance policies will not cover the costs to remediate the problem which can run into the several thousands of dollars.


Damage to your gutters

Gutters can only support so much weight before they eventually collapse. Ice dams are extremely heavy and can create a significant strain on the load bearing capabilities of your gutters. With enough weight over time, your gutters can be bent or even collapse entirely.


Damage to your roof

While most shingle roofs are built to last for at least 25 years, that shelf life can be dramatically reduced should ice dams form. Ice dams can cause costly damage to your roof that will need to be repaired!


Does insurance cover water damage caused by ice dams?

As with any question related to insurance coverage, you have to check your policy to know for sure what is covered. But generally speaking, if you have an HO3 policy, you are protected against this type of loss. If you have an HO2 policy, you will typically not be able to file a claim for the costs of the cleanup and repair efforts.


Weigh the risks versus the costs

As with any preventative measures we might suggest, you have to weigh the costs/risks of water damage happening with the costs of taking action to prevent it. If you live in a place that gets significant snowfall and you’ve noticed you have large ice dams forming each winter, the risks may be high and the potential costs of fixing the problem may be high as well. So it might make sense to spend upwards of $1,000 to fix your insulation issues. But in this scenario, you’ll also be benefiting in terms of saving money on your monthly electric bills. For some, that can be a significant amount of savings that will pay for the costs of insulating the attic over the course of their time in that home.


If you notice water damage on your ceilings, please call us!

Even if it’s a small area, it can be just the tip of the iceberg. If your home has ice dams and you notice water damaged spots on your ceiling, it could point to much bigger problems that must be addressed before they become even bigger problems. We can provide a full assessment, meaning we’ll test for moisture both inside your ceilings and walls as well as your attic. Should you require structural drying or other restoration services, we can provide you with a cost estimate and should your loss fall under insurance, we can work directly with your adjuster to handle the claim!

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