Ice Dam Prevention Tips for Winter is Coming

I know we always say, "If you don't like the weather in New England, wait 5 minutes!", and that definitely seems true as of late.

From the harsh, windy snow days to the mild, 50 degree melt days, and back to the deep freeze again, we have to keep an eye out for a troubling winter foe.

The Dreaded Winter Ice Dam

While it's easy to get caught up in the awe of epic icicles hanging from the trees in your neighborhood, it's a whole other thing when you find them congregating en mass on your roof, forming an ice dam.

Now we're not trying to ruin anyone's winter wonderland fun times. We're Team Ana and we WANNA build a snowman! 

We just want to share a bit of knowledge about ice dams, how to prevent them, and what to do if you find yourself faced with the damage from one.

What is an Ice Dam Anyway?

This is where we should start. Explaining how to identify an ice dam versus (mostly) harmless icicles. All ice dams are formed from icicles but not all icicles are ice dams. The way to think about ice dams is in terms of icicle size.     


large icicles on a house


If your thin, tiny icicles start growing, and you find yourself with icicles with 2-3" girths, you will need to monitor the formation for ice dams. 

Would you want to stand under them on a balmy day is another way to think about it.

It's Not the Ice - It's the Dam

Now when ice dams form, it's not really the large chunks of ice that cause problems themselves. It's how they enable water to become trapped - dammed off on your roof - which can go on to cause damage to your home by leaking into your attic, down through your drywall and saturating your insulation.

Water leakage from the ice dams can become an incredibly expensive problem for home owners. It's not simply cosmetic - water stains, paint peeling from the walls - but it can also have a serious effect on energy efficiency. 

Take a look at our drawing of how an ice dam forms.

How Ice Dams Form


Stopping Ice Dams Before They Start

There are a lot of opinions out there on how to prevent an ice dam. Many experts state that maintaining a cold roof is the best way to prevent ice dams. The thinking behind this is that when you find yourself faced with a cluster of serious icicles, you should ensure the snow (and thinner layer of ice) on your roof stays frozen to prevent a gap from forming and water gathering behind the slower melting, larger icicles.

Frosty the Cold Roof was a Jolly Happy Soul

 The folks at Family Handyman list the following ways to maintain a cold roof:

Close Up Attic Bypasses - It can be a challenge to catch all of the air leaks, but by surveying your attic and checking the insulation (along with other places where warm air can sneak from your home into your attic) you'll be investing in a two fold preventative measure. What we mean is you'll be on your way to keeping your roof cold while keeping your heating and air conditioning costs down.

Measure Your Attic Insulation - If your insulation is not at least 8 inches thick, you need to add more. Some folks are comfortable installing their own insulation, but if you're not, you should definitely hire a professional so you can make sure it is done right the first time. 

Add Roof and Soffit Vents - Ensuring you have a properly ventilated attic is another way to keep your roof cold, especially if insulation proves to be a challenge from air gaps that are tough to plug up. Welcoming in cold air from outside will counteract any warm air that is slipping through the cracks (literally). 


The image below shows my particular problem area where it comes to ice dams and a cold roof. Our side entry way doesn't stay cold enough and ice dams just love to form right on that corner you see. It's a combination of where my kitchen it located, how the sun hits that corner and other warming factors.

ice dam problem area


But Baby, it's Not Cold Inside

Now, being proactive about maintaining a cold attic (and therefore a cold roof) is absolutely one of the first things you should do. That being said, you should also make sure to explore the following, especially if you are treating a chronic ice dam problem, according to UMass Amherst former faculty member, Paul Fisette:

Snow Raking: By consistently, and safely, removing snow from your roof, you will have less that can melt and become trapped in ice dam prone areas. Again, PLEASE be careful when attempting anything on your roof. If you aren't comfortable, hiring a professional is always an option. 


Can someone please send my toddler the memo about clearing the snow off his roof??

snow removal roof


Self-Sticking, Rubberized Sheets: This material can be be attached to dry, clean roof decking and will catch water that finds it way in through the roof covering. Many people place it where ever they have known ice dams to act as a solution when keeping a cold roof isn't working. You can find these at your local hardware store and a variety of brands manufacture these as rolls. 

Sheet-Metal Ice Belts: If you have a chronic, seemingly unsolvable ice dam problem, this is definitely something to consider. You may not like the look of these metal strips, but they can help to remove the snow and ice before the problem starts. Caveat - sometimes a second ice dam can appear on top of the belt. It would make sense to get a second opinion before moving forward with this project.

The Ice Dam-age is Done

Hopefully you are able to prevent ice dams from causing damage to your home. If you find yourself with damage, though, what should you do now?

Initially you should review your home owner's insurance policy to see if you are covered.  

According to Cushman Insurance Group, most home owner's policies will cover damage after your deductible. 

They list example of damage that might be covered as:

  • Interior water damage
  • Damage to insulation
  • Mold and mildew
  • Damage to shingles
  • Damage to siding
  • Rotten roof sheathing, fascia, soffit

Of course, you should check with your insurance provider to see what your specific policy covers and what your deductible will be.

I'm Too Busy for Ice Dam-mit!

We know. Life is busy.

You probably don't have time to go to work, come home, take care of the kids, the pets, feed everyone and THEN try to make sure you house isn't being decimated (like the Falcon's were in the 4th quarter through OT) by ice dams. 

This is where we are happy to help. Give us a call or contact us HERE and we'll take care of it for you. 

We're Sidekick Home. 

Simple. Convenient. Trusted.