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Your roof is one of the most exposed parts of your home to winter weather. This is, of course, part of its major function and is essential to effectively keep you and your family warm and dry at the coldest times of the year. Unfortunately, this is also one of the reasons it can be vulnerable to damage. 

Ice dams are one of the most common issues that homeowners face in this regard when the temperatures start to drop. Most people who have lived in climates that see extremes of cold are likely to be familiar with how ice and snow build up on their roof. When left unaddressed, there is a chance for ice dams to form.

As these dams can be both damaging and hazardous, it’s important you take steps to prevent them forming on your roof. Let’s take a look at some of the things you need to know. 

What Causes Ice Dams? 

Before you can prevent ice dams, it’s useful to understand how they occur in the first place. During winter weather, snow can build up on the surface of your roof. The underside of the snow is closer to the heat of your home, so this can melt at a faster rate than the upper, exposed side of the snow. The water from the melted underside can leak under the surface of your shingle or tiled roofing and run toward the eaves, where it freezes to create a dam. The issues here can come in a variety of forms. 

  • A dam can prevent water from flowing to the gutter and this results in problems with leaks and dampness. 
  • The weight of an ice dam can also cause damage to the roof material. 
  • The water leaking beneath the surface of your roof that freezes again can expand and cause additional cracks and displacements.

There could be various reasons your home experiences ice dams. These include insufficient insulation in areas of your property, poorly sealed features like pot lights or skylights, and ventilation or heating equipment stored in your attic space. Each of these can contribute to heat escaping from your home, which during periods of winter weather can cause the underside of settled snow to melt, seep under the roof material, and freeze again.  

Preventing Ice Dams

There are some ways to take care of ice dams when they occur. This usually involves melting the ice and regularly raking the snow from the roof — particularly if you have installed snow guards. But this isn’t always either convenient or particularly effective. As with so much else in life, prevention is better than cure. 

Some of the ways to prevent ice dams on your roof include:

  • Fix Air Leaks

During the winter months, it’s only natural that you want to keep your home as warm as possible. Yet, in some ways a warm home contributes to the underside of the snow melting, then refreezing overnight. In many cases, this is because the heat from your living spaces rises through the house and enters the attic through unseen openings. This could include light fixtures, gaps in the attic hatch or door, and through the drywall. Perform an inspection of the upper areas of your home to establish where there may be problematic gaps and seal these off wherever possible. This will keep much of the warm air in the occupied areas of your home and away from the roof. 

  • Review Your Insulation

People usually consider insulation for its ability to reduce their energy bills and heat their homes more effectively. This is important, but it can also serve the purpose of keeping heat where it belongs. In this instance, the more insulation you place in your attic, the better able you are to keep the hot air away from the roof, where it can melt the snow and lead to ice dams. It may be the case that you have to go beyond the minimum building regulation amount to be effective here — mainly as these regulations are geared more toward maintaining standards of energy efficiency rather than preventing ice dams.    

  • Improve the Ventilation

Airflow is an important component of a functioning attic space, and it’s key for preventing ice dams, too. Keeping cool  air circulating around the roof avoids the potential for warm air to gather in the attic and melt the underside of the snow. If you have recurring problems with ice dams, it may be the case that you don’t have sufficient ventilation for the size of your attic space. You can utilize a mechanical ventilation system for this purpose or install vents underneath the eaves of your home. It’s always best to consult a professional for this, as they will have a full understanding of how best to place and install these so that you can also minimize the potential for leaks.

  • Utilize Heat Cables

If you can’t immediately make permanent preventative measures to your home, you may find it effective to use a heat cable during periods of snowfall. This is a way to provide a consistent source of heat across the surface of your roof so you can melt snow before it gets a chance to settle. Usually this is most effective when dispersed evenly and in a zig-zag pattern across your roof, but it can be helpful to run a cable through your guttering so ice doesn’t freeze here too. However, you must still make sure that your gutters are clear so the melted snow has somewhere to flow toward. It’s also wise to recognize that this should be treated as a temporary solution — it is safer and more energy efficient to attend to the permanent preventative measures. 

Wrapping Up

It is not uncommon for snow to settle on your roof during the winter months, but this can create issues in the form of ice dams. You’ll usually find that this is caused or exacerbated by heat rising to and staying in the attic area, resulting in the underside of the snow to melt and later form ice dams. It’s important to take the time to understand what aspects of your home design need to be addressed to prevent heat reaching and becoming trapped in this space. In some cases, this will require professional intervention to install vents or apply better insulation. If you’re unsure, it’s always better to reach out to an expert for advice.