by Steve Bench

Leaks in the attic? Stains on the ceilings? Damaged roof shingles after a long winter? You may be suffering from ice dams. This article is an explanation of ice dams and possible solutions to prevent them from occurring in the future.

Ice Dams

An ice dam occurs when the temperature at the base of the roof is below freezing, but higher portions of the roof are above freezing. We all know that heat rises, and that makes the apex of a roof the warmest part. Snow on the warmer portion of the roof will melt, flow down and freeze when it reaches the base of the roof, thus starting an ice dam. As more snow melts at the top of the roof, more ice forms at the base of the roof, and the dam increases in size. Eventually, the water stopped by the ice dam will back up and remain stagnant on the roof, or it will gradually seep into the building’s structure. Varying roof temperatures are primarily caused by heat loss from within a structure. Inadequate insulation, leaky ducts and poor ventilation are all contributing factors to this heat loss.

Solutions to Prevent the Formation of Ice Dams

Uniform roof temperature is the key to preventing the formation of ice dams. However, there are a variety of methods to ensure this unvarying temperature. The following is a list of options on how to prevent the formation of ice dams or minimize damage:

1. Install roof de-icing and snow melting system: A system is installed under roofing materials to provide uniform heat across the roof.

Advantages: fast and effective, maintenance free, roof retains aesthetic beauty

Disadvantages: costly

Note: An affordable, high-quality system may be purchased from Heatizon Systems.

2. Remove the snow from the roof and gutters: A person manually scrapes the snow off the roof before it forms an ice dam.

Advantages: inexpensive, immediate results in emergencies

Disadvantages: temporary fix, dangerous, may damage roof shingles, laborious

3. Increase insulation: More interior insulation prevents heat loss from the interior of a structure from reaching the roof.

Advantages: inexpensive, helpful in preventing ice dam formation

Disadvantages: not 100% effective, laborious

4. Seal leaks: Seal interior leaks to prevent air flow from inside a structure to the roof.

Advantages: inexpensive, helpful in preventing ice dam formation

Disadvantages: not 100% effective, laborious

5. Ventilate attic: A properly ventilated attic helps prevent moisture from building up on the inside surface of the roof.

Advantages: helps keep roof dry, helpful in preventing ice dam formation

Disadvantages: time consuming, laborious, not 100% effective

6. Install rubber-type sheets under roof shingles: These sheets protect against water that may leak through roof shingles.

Advantages: more leak protection, good alternative if better solution not possible

Disadvantages: expensive, does not prevent formation of ice dams