With winter just around the corner, it’s time to start planning to protect your roof from ice dams and keep it in tip-top shape. We’ll discuss how ice dams form, why they are harmful, and several strategies to prevent destructive ice dams to ensure your roof stays in excellent condition all season long. We’ll discuss roof raking, heat tape, ventilation & insulation. We’ll also provide actionable tips to defend your roof against cold weather threats. A bit of preparation now will save you big headaches later. Read on to learn how to keep ice dams at bay and safely ensure your roof weather in the winter!
Ice dams form when snow accumulates on your roof and starts to melt from heat that escapes from inside your home. Because hot air rises, the peak of your home will often gather the most heat if there is not adequate insulation. That heat is transferred out of the roof and melts the snow. As the snow melts, water runs down the roof until it reaches the roof’s edge, which is colder. Since these outer areas are not warmed from heat escaping the house, the water refreezes. As more melting snow reaches the colder perimeter of the roof, ice builds up, forming a dam that prevents water from draining off the roof.
Why are they harmful?
The buildup of ice dams causes all future water from melting snow to back up and pool on the roof surface. If the water seeps under shingles or flashing, it can leak into the attic or walls of your home. Prolonged ice damming can cause severe damage to roof decking, insulation, drywall, and paint. It can also prevent future snowfall from sliding off the roof, causing dangerous issues with the extra weight from water and a large snow load. Too much weight on a home can cause structural damage and, in extreme cases, lead to roof collapse.
What steps can be taken?
Knowing how ice dams form and the dangers that accompany them is important. It shows why they should be taken very seriously. There are several ways of dealing with ice dams that are commonly listed on the internet. We’ll discuss some of these in more detail.
To save money, some homeowners opt for knocking ice dams down using a hammer or using a pressure washer and warm water to melt it. They then try keeping up with snowfall accumulation by using a roof rake. A roof rake is nothing more than a long-handled metal scraper with a wide end for raking large areas of snow from the roof. Just keep in mind, using them can actually damage your roof. Applying too much pressure while raking can cause shingles to crack or lift. This can lead to leaks and even complete tearing off of shingles, requiring expensive roof repairs. It’s also easy to puncture or scratch the roof surface if the roof rake’s blade makes direct contact. Gouges and scratches compromise shingles’ integrity, accelerating wear and shortening your roof’s lifespan. Additionally, trying to break or chop at thick ice dams with a roof rake can undermine the roof decking beneath. We do not advise using a roof rake.
Roof Heat Tape
While heating cables or roof heat tape may seem easy to prevent ice dams, improper installation or use can damage your shingles. If the heating element makes direct contact with the shingles, it can overheat and cause cracking, curling, or melting of the shingle material. This damage can allow moisture intrusion and shorten the roof’s lifespan. Even if not touching, excess heat from cables installed too close to the roof’s surface can dry out and degrade the asphalt shingle components over time.
One of the key ways to prevent destructive ice dams is by improving insulation in your attic. Heat loss through your roof causes the snow on top to melt and refreeze at the edges. So, adding insulation helps maintain an even, cooler temperature in the attic space to reduce heat loss and ice dam formation. Upgrading to an R-value of R-50 or higher by adding insulation helps stop heat escape. It also keeps the roof deck and underlayment cooler, reducing meltwater runoff. Proper air sealing to reduce gaps and cracks in the attic floor is also necessary to control heat loss. An energy audit can help determine if your current insulation levels are sufficient or need beefing up. Investing in added attic insulation provides benefits year-round by regulating interior temperatures and lowering energy costs while protecting your roof by blocking heat escape in winter.
Proper ventilation is another key strategy for ice dam prevention. When warm, moist air becomes trapped in the attic space, it can condense and melt roof snow. Improving airflow and ventilation removes this warm, humid air and helps regulate the attic temperature.
There are two types of attic ventilation:
- Intake vents at the eaves or soffits allow fresh air to enter
- While exhaust vents at the roof peaks or gable ends let hot air escape.
Ensuring unobstructed and adequate ventilation openings can help control attic moisture and temperatures. A general recommendation is to have 1 square foot of vent space for every 300 square feet of attic floor area. Upgrading to ridge vents from individual turbines provides maximum airflow. A professional roofer can evaluate your current ventilation and suggest improvements to help minimize attic moisture and heat buildup contributing to ice dam issues.
Ice dams are preventable!
The good news in all of this is that ice dams can be prevented! They are not an inevitable chore that homeowners must deal with every year. If you take the proper steps to mitigate the problem, you can check this task off your “to-do” list for a good while freeing up time, energy & financial resources for other, more important, things.
Who to call?
If you are looking for a reputable roofing company to help you solve your ice dam problems, contact Red Diamond Roofing in the Denver and Fort Collins areas. We can provide expert advice & top quality roofing solutions for our customers.