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Prevent ice dams on your roof and damage to your home


Learn how to recognize and prevent damaging ice dams during cold winter months. 

The classic image of a snow-covered roof dotted with icicles has a certain seasonal charm. But a cold and snowy winter and those icicles can can lead to ice dams — and cause some not-so-fun damage to a home.

Ice dams can lead to mold, rot and water leaking into the attic and nearby ceiling. But there are ways to help prevent this damage. From simply raking the snow off the roof to installing heated cables to completely redoing the attic, there are a number of answers to fix these issues. 

What are ice dams and how do they form?

Ice dams are the result of snow collecting on a roof. As the snow accumulates, heat from the home escapes through the roof and melts the snow, which then flows down toward the gutters. Soon after melting — and particularly on frigid days — the water freezes in the gutter, and once full, freezes over the top of the gutter. And those icicles can grow big and heavy very quickly.

Ice dams typically form near the edge of the roof when water runs off the warmed roof and then freezes again at the eaves, but this isn’t the only place they are found. They can also form on gutters that don’t drain completely and around skylights, because of the less-insulated design.

Why are ice dams a problem for my home?

Ice dams can cause big problems. The weight of these heavy icicles has been known to rip gutters from roofs and cause shingles to break free from the nails holding them in place.

But the damage doesn’t stop there. Water-stained ceilings and peeling paint are also the result of ice dam damage.

Ice dams increase the chance of water seeping into the attic and soaking the insulation. This significantly brings down its R-value, or it’s heat-retaining/insulating capacity — and worse yet — it can cause structural damage if left unchecked. Over the years, the effects of ice dams can lead to blistering of the interior and exterior paint. It can also spur the growth of mold and mildew, as well as weaken structural beams and rafters. Take into account the high cost contractors will likely charge to fix the problem and it's easy to understand why it’s wise to take a proactive approach to managing ice dams.

How do I assess ice dam damage?

It may be necessary to bring in a contractor for an estimate in order to have a solid understanding of how extensive the damage is. Here are some other tips to consider:

Snap some photos. From the exterior of the home, take a few photos to use as a reference to look for signs of water damage on the interior. Look for tea stains on ceilings and walls near the position of the ice dam.

Check in on the attic. Get into the attic and look for water dripping or staining on the rafters and roofing underlayment. It can be helpful to flag these areas to easily locate them later.

Inspect your chimney. See if there is evidence of ice forming around the base of the chimney, where it meets the roof. If the flashing has come loose or isn’t sealed well, this can be another place where ice and meltwater can do some damage. From inside the attic, review the way heat escapes from around the perimeter of the chimney. If daylight can be seen through that seal, take action to seal that up ASAP.

How do I prevent ice dams?

From upgrades to a home’s attic to quick do-it-yourself fixes, here are some ways to prevent ice dams from forming:

Keep the roof in good shape. One of the best answers to prevent ice dams is to maintain the roof well, and to be sure there is enough insulation keeping warm air from getting through.

Roof raking. Using a roof rake is one of the easiest ways to prevent ice dams from forming, and they can be found at most hardware stores. A roof rake can clear snow from the bottom portion of the roof from the safety of the ground. Clearing the snow away helps to prevent moisture from damaging the home. Do not attempt to clear the snow by getting up on the roof. A contractor can also be hired to do this job.

Install heated cables. Another short-term but effective answer is to warm up the area where the roof meets the gutters. Heated cables may need to be professionally installed, but it’s a sure-fire way to keep the water flowing into downspouts and away from the home.

Insulation + ventilation = protection. A more costly but also more permanent way to prevent ice dams is proper insulation and ventilation. Ice dams are usually caused because the attic is warmer than the air outside. Ideally, the insulation keeps warm air in the home and out of the attic. The venting system in the attic helps to keep it cool, and hopefully close to the temperature outside. Together, this clever combination keeps snow on the roof from melting — and if the snow doesn’t melt, then ice dams shouldn’t form.

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About American Family Insurance
Madison, Wisconsin-based American Family Insurance group is the nation's 13th-largest property/casualty insurance group and ranks No. 311 on the Fortune 500 list. The company sells American Family-brand products, including auto, homeowners, life, business and farm/ranch insurance, primarily through its exclusive agents in 19 states. American Family affiliates (The General and Homesite) also provide options for consumers who want to manage their insurance matters directly over the internet or by phone. Affiliate Main Street America sells insurance products through independent agents. Web; Facebook; Twitter