What the Heck are Ice Dams?

What the Heck are Ice Dams?

If you are from the southern United States, you may be asking yourself, “What the heck is an Ice Dam?!” Well, I took the liberty of doing a deep dive and here is what you need to know about ice dams and why people of the north HATE them.


What’s an Ice Dam?

This will take a little bit of explaining. Ice damming happens when water from melted snow trickles down your roof and refreezes in the process. The heat from the roof causes the snow to melt, but once the water hits the deck above the eaves, the heat is no longer available and the water refreezes. As more water comes down and refreezes, it builds a frozen water wall (or “dam) which blocks the subsequent run off. The water will pool and seep under the shingles on the roof which leads to significant water damage to the rest of the house.

I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to explain why that’s a bad thing for your home. These ice dams can rip of gutters, loosen up shingles, and tons of water damage on the inside of your house. That means you can have peeling paint, warped floors, mold and more. No thanks!


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How to Prevent Ice Dams

If you have a good amount of time and money and you are willing to put in the work, here is how you can proof your house against Ice Dams:

  • Ventilate The Eaves and Ridge.A ridge vent paired with continuous soffit vents to circulate cold air under the entire roof.
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  • Cap Your Attic Hatch.An unsealed attic hatch or whole-house fan is a massive opening for heat to escape. Cover them with weather stripped caps made from foil-faced foam board held together with aluminum tape.
  • Make Sure Your Exhausts Face Outside.Make sure that the ducts connected to the kitchen, bathroom, and dryer vents all lead outdoors through either the roof or walls, but never through the soffit.
  • Add Insulation.More insulation on the attic floor keeps the heat where it belongs.
  • Install Sealed Can Lights.Old-style recessed lights give off great plumes of heat and can’t be insulated without creating a fire hazard. Replace them with sealed “IC” fixtures, which can be covered with insulation.
  • Flash Around Chimneys.Bridge the gap between the chimney and house framing with L-shaped steel flashing held in place with unbroken beads of a fire-stop sealant.
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Before you begin construction, make sure you talk to a licensed contractor or an experienced home builder before making any changes to your home. There are plenty of DIY people who think they can handle tough projects like this, but in the end, experience and proper execution is the only sure way to protect your home.


How to Deal with Surprise Ice Dams

Let’s say you don’t have tons of money to throw around or you move into a home not even knowing what an ice dam is in the first place, here are some quick fixes to get you through the night:

  • Use Heated Cables. Attach the cables with clips along the roof’s edge in a zigzag pattern. This will allow you to equalize your roof’s temperature by heating it from the outside. Note: this is a trick you do BEFORE the bad weather comes, NOT after.
  • Blow In Cold Air. Get a box fan into the attic and aim it towards the roof where the water is actively leaking. This will freeze the water where it is. Though you will have some water damage from the water that already made it in, you are going to stop the water damage from causing a lot more damage.
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  • Rake It. With a roof rake, you can pull off the snow from your roof, thus reducing the amount of snow and water your home gets exposed to. It’s a lot of hard work, but let’s face it, you probably needed the exercise anyways.


While I am NOT AN EXPERT on such occurrences (sitting comfortable in my Southern Californian home), you don’t have to be stuck in a tough situation. If you have a home that lives in an area where snow fall is a likely event, do your research, talk to your neighbors and the experts and see what else you can do to fortify your home against ice dams and all the damage they can do to your home.

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