What are ice dams and can they be prevented?

Winters here in Upstate New York are no joke—not only are they bitterly cold, but snow, hail and high winds can wreak havoc on your home’s exterior. Often, because of their exposure, the roof and gutters see the most damage.

Ice dams are one of the worst offenders in cold regions that get a lot of snow and ice. What, exactly, are ice dams and how do they form?

What Are Ice Dams?

Ice dams usually occur after a heavy snowfall and several days of freezing temperatures. Warm air inside your home leaks into the attic and warms the underside of the roof, causing snow and ice on the roof to melt. The melted water drains along the roof to the cold overhang and refreezes, forming an ice dam and icicles. The ice dam enables the trapped water to get under the roof shingles, causing water to leak inside your home.

For ice dams to form, there must be:

Snow: Only Mother Nature can control the amount of snow and the temperature outside. As the snow piles up and the temperature drops, the potential for ice grows.

Heat: Two of the most common reasons why the snow on your roof will melt in a way to cause ice dams or icicles are:

  • The sun: Sunlight hits the highest points of your roof and melts the snow. As this occurs, it exposes the mainly dark roofing in the area, absorbing even more heat from the sun. Depending on the direction your home faces, tree coverage and wind direction, this can be a major cause of snow melt.
  • Insulation: Another reason for snow melt is lack of insulation. The main living space of your home sits directly under the ridgeline. As the heat of your home penetrates the insulation, this warms the underside of the roof deck and causes snow to melt. Building codes for our area require a minimum R-38 (approximately 12 inches of insulation).

Can Ice Dams Be Prevented?

This is something most homeowners are curious about! There’s no guaranteed single solution for preventing all ice dams, but there are measures you can take to greatly lower the risk of ice dams and icicles forming:

  • Keep your gutters clean: Contrary to popular belief, gutters do not cause ice dams. However, dirty gutters do help concentrate ice and water at the vulnerable roof eaves area. As gutters fill with ice, they often bend and rip away from the house, bringing down roofing parts and downspouts with them.
  • Remove the snow: Keep your roof clean with a snow rake, or hire a professional to do this work. Roof valleys can be a major issue, and some ice may be unavoidable.
  • Use heat tape/cables: Gutter heating cables (like Helmet Heat®) can work well in certain situations.

These aren’t all a guarantee ice dams won’t form, but they can help a lot. We always recommend taking these preventative measures. The last thing you want to worry about over the holidays is ice damage and gutter repair (or replacement)!

Gutter Contractors in the Rochester, NY Area

If you do have a problem on your hands—or experience one over the holidays (or anytime after), you can count on the MIG Building Systems team. Our comprehensive Rochester gutter services include cleaning, repair, replacement and gutter heater and gutter guard installation.

Contact us today to learn more about our services or to start your project today!

Interested in gutter services?

If you need gutter services in the Syracuse or Rochester area including installation, replacement and repair, then look no further than MIG Building Systems.

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