What a winter! It happens every few years: After several mild, relatively snowless winters, the Northeast has an old-fashioned winter - with excessive amounts of snow cover and bitter cold. Yes, often interspersed with thaws, rain and sleet. With more snow expected over the next few days…enough is enough! Below are the answers to some questions you may have about the potential of ice dams.
WHAT ARE ICE DAMS?
A common result of such a winter is ice damming on roofs, causing water to back up and damage walls and ceilings. Ice dams occur after a heavy snowfall, followed by several days or even weeks of very cold weather. An ice dam is a wall of ice that forms at the edge of the roof, usually at the gutters or soffit. When it forms, the water backs up behind the ice dams and creates a pool. This pool of water can leak into your home and cause damage to your walls, ceilings, insulation and other areas.
WHAT CAUSES ICE DAMS?
Ice dams are usually caused by heavy snowfall and improper ventilation in the attic. This causes warmer areas in your attic where the buildup of snow is less, and even when the outside temperature is well below freezing, snow will begin to melt around these areas. Unfortunately, even properly engineered and constructed roofs can have Ice Dams; sometimes it is just a condition of a New England winter and a convergence of untimely events.
PREVENTING FUTURE ICE DAMS
Building codes have some requirements that attempt to prevent the problem of ice dams and attic condensation, but codes don't address all the issues. It's your builder (or designer's) job to understand the relationship of humidity and air movement when designing and constructing the house so these problems don't occur. Proper insulation - which is to say more insulation than most contractors think necessary - will help to keep the roof cold, but the real secret is ventilation. The roof must be as cold on its underside as the outdoor temperature. Try to get the attic as cold as possible. If the attic is partially heated, provide soffit vents and a ridge vent. Install polystyrene tunnels above the insulation just under the roof to carry air from the soffits to the ridge vent. If these vents are inadequate, ice dams and leaks are almost certain. Another probable long-term cure for leaks from ice dams, though not for the ice dams themselves, is a strip of rubberized material three feet wide laid along the eave edge of the roof, under new shingles. Six feet wide provides even better protection
WHAT TO DO
If you see any signs of damage, or believe that it might be there, but hidden, DO NOT DELAY. Contact a roofing contractor. Only bad things will happen if you wait. And, should you need to make a claim under your insurance policy, please contact us immediately at (617) 484-4600, even if the property repair work won’t be done until a much later date. Early notice is needed in order to help us manage the loss.
Many of our customers may have ice dams on their roofs as a result of the recent snowstorms. Once an ice dam has formed, they are difficult to deal with. Ideally, removing the first three to four feet of snow from the roofline following a storm greatly reduces the risk of ice dam formation. Care must be used not to cause damage to the roof in removing the snow. A roof rake or soft bristled broom is the best method. Removing snow from a roof can create a safety hazard to a homeowner due to falling ice and snow, the use of slippery ladders, etc. So consulting with a roofing professional is the recommended method to remove snow from a roof for the safety of the homeowner and to minimize risk of damage to the roof.
SOLVING THE PROBLEM
Properly ventilating and insulating the attic is usually the best way to prevent ice dams. If an ice dam occurs, the claims professionals at WTPhelan (617) 484-4600 are ready to assist you with your property claim and to provide the resources necessary.
Thank you for your business. And please stay safe during this challenging stretch of weather.
Robert J. Ramsey