icicles on a brick roof

Ice Dams and Your New England Home

ice icicles hanging from a roof of a new england home

They might look magical but icicles signal that you have problems on your roof. If you have icicles hanging off your roof this means that melting snow is not able to flow freely off the roof, which in turn creates an ice dam. Behind the ice dam is water that can’t escape and flow off your roof. This water will often find its way into your home following the laws of gravity. The resulting damage is anything but magical.

Icicles also present a safety hazard as they ultimately melt and fall off the roof. Icicles can fall and hit someone so it’s important to reduce your risk by blocking the area with yellow hazard tape that you typically see around work zones. If you are intent on removing them, wear protection, stand clear and encourage them to fall away from you and your house.

There are many reasons why ice dams form and this article explains why they form and how to reduce the possibility of ice dams occurring. We also explain the type of damage that can occur to your roof and the interior of your home, from an unfinished attic down to your living spaces.

Ice Dams: what causes them?

icicles on a brick roof of new england homeUnderstanding how ice dams form requires an understanding how air circulates in your home. Using the diagram to the right:

  • Your heating system warms air in your living or “heated space”.
  • Warm air rises and some heated air leaks into your attic.
  • The roof over your attic gets warmer than the eaves that hang out past the house and don’t have any warm air underneath.
  • As the snow melts on your roof and rolls down, some of the water freezes when it reaches the colder eaves. The freezing water builds up to form an ice dam along the edge or eave of your roof.
  • The icicles are formed by water getting past the roof edge but freezing before it can fall to the ground. When icicles become visible, it tells you there is an ice dam or ridge of ice on the roof even if hidden by snow.

The New England Home & Ice Dams: How much Damage can they Cause?

Ice dams can cause significant damage to your roof your gutters and when the water finds ways into your home, you can find yourself dealing with lots of damage from the insulation in your attic to stains on ceilings and walls, and more. Here are the most common types of damage from ice dams:

  • Ice is heavy and it can loosen gutters and downspouts, and even tear them off your home.
  • When water freezes, it can shift roofing shingles so they’re no longer protecting your home.
  • Melting water sitting behind an ice dam can cause roof sheathing to rot if it gets wet and can’t dry or escape quickly.
  • The most common insulation, batts or blown in fiberglass insulation compresses when it gets wet and looses its insulating value so you need to replace it.
  • Water that leaks through the ceiling and/or down the walls can stain or compromise the sheet rock (also called drywall). It may only need a stain block and painting or the drywall may need to be replaced … and in either case, you then have to paint.
  • Water that pools inside the house can cause the collapse of a ceiling.

Less common is the risk that the weight of snow and ice over an extended period, will cause a roof to cave in.  In New England we are getting more snow and the trend has been that places that don’t usually get significant snowfalls are getting more snow events of late. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont are all in the snow belt so if you live in any of these states there is a high likelihood that your roof may develop damaging ice dams. And it may take years to determine the extent of the damage this can cause to your home.

Ice Dams and How to Reduce the Risks to your New England Home.

You can reduce the loss of conditioned (warmed in winter & cooled in the summer) by adding insulation to your walls and attic. Adding insulation to an unfinished attic is fairly easy while more insulation in your walls is something you want to address when replacing the siding on your home. You also want to seal around electrical outlets/switches and any type of opening into your home (letting outside air in) or into your attic like the attic stairs, ceiling fixtures, plumbing, etc.

Along with insulation, you need ventilation to remove warm, moist air from unfinished attics. Ideally, if your attic is unfinished, you want the temperature of the air in the attic to be the same as outside. When your attic is cold, most snow will melt evenly on the roof, reducing ice dams due to uneven melting. Ventilation requires proper venting for outside air to flow into the attic, typically from soffit vents and out through a ridge vent. Older New England homes often only have gable vents on either end of the attic so a new roof should include the addition of a ridge vent to help maintain the temperature in your attic.

Common problems that we see in when installing Bylin Roof Ice Melt systems are when homeowners have blocked air flow through gable vents and improperly installed insulation blocking air flow from the soffit vents.

Does Your New England Home have Ice Dams and Icicles? Call us today! 877-705-1356