Posted in: Homeowner tips

How to prevent and fix ice dams this winter

How to prevent and fix ice dams

Key insights:

  • Ice dams, which form in the eaves and gutters of your home, can lead to significant water damage if left untreated.
  • Poor insulation and air leaks could be the culprit of your ice dams. Have a professional inspect the upper level of your home and recommend solutions.
  • To help minimize your risk of ice dams, remove leaves from your gutters before winter hits, and clear snow from your roof with a roof rake throughout the winter.

As the coldest months of the year approach, homeowners in Minnesota and western Wisconsin are preparing their homes for winter. On top of clearing the gutters and switching on fireplaces, homeowners may be wondering how to prevent hazardous ice dams from forming on their roofs.

Here’s everything you need to know to keep your home safe from ice dams and the damage they cause.

What are ice dams?

Ice dams typically follow a weather pattern that is all-too-common in the Midwest: A generous dumping of snow, followed by a warmer “heat wave” that causes the snow to melt rapidly.

After snow melts on a housetop, it travels down the roof and ideally drains out. However, melted snow can back up in eaves and gutters due to:

  • Leaves that weren’t removed before snowfall.
  • Ice that hasn’t melted.
  • A large volume of water draining all at once, caused either by weather or structural issues in the home.

If a backup occurs, water can freeze into larger, continuous chunks of ice, which are called ice dams. Big icicles on the side of your home could signal that an ice dam is forming. If you suspect an ice dam, you’ll want to act right away, because significant damage can follow.

Melted snow can build up behind an ice dam and eventually cause water to leak back into your home through the shingles and roof. Water can then seep into the walls, ceiling and insulation. This damage often goes unnoticed, especially if it’s hidden in an attic that isn’t accessed in the winter.

Can ice dams form even if snow isn’t melting?

Sometimes, homeowners may notice ice dams forming even if the weather has been consistently cold. In that case, the ice dams may originate from poor insulation or inadequate air sealing, which allow warm inside air to seep out and melt patches of snow on the roof. Then, melted snow drains down and quickly refreezes, causing a build up.

If you notice empty or melting patches on a roof that’s otherwise covered in snow, you’ll want to act quickly to mitigate any damage.

How can I fix ice dams after they form?

Whether due to the freeze-thaw weather cycle or structural home issues, ice dams are a prevalent winter problem for homeowners in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Local news station KARE11 aired this segment detailing how specialists remove ice dams even in the middle of the winter by:

  • Sealing air leaks with caulk or spray foam.
  • Adding a layer of insulation to the attic.
  • Conducting a home energy audit to locate problem areas.

Keep in mind, if an ice dam has already formed, it’s best to call a professional rather than trying to handle it yourself.

How can I prevent ice dams this winter?

The best long-term prevention for ice dams is to keep your roof cold, so that snow doesn’t melt and create damaging buildup. Be sure to check your upstairs for leaks in insulation and to air seal the attic if you haven’t already.

If you’re looking for immediate ice dam prevention until you can invest in a professional home improvement, try using a roof rake. Roof rakes provide an effective way to clear snow from the top of your home, and can be conveniently purchased from your local hardware store. Always use caution when removing snow with this tool.

Key takeaways for dealing with ice dams

Homeowners that have experienced warm weather following a heavy snow, hot spots on the roof or the accumulation of icicles may need to investigate their eaves and gutters for potential ice dams.

When in doubt, call a professional who can help inspect your roof for damage and recommend potential short- and long-term fixes. And remember, Edina Realty and your agent are here to support your homeowner concerns all winter long! Reach out for more seasonal home tips.

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