Winter Roofing Repairs: Preventing And Repairing Ice Dams

One of the hallmarks of winter is a roof encrusted with overhanging icicles. Although this archetypal image of a winter may seem innocuous, icicles are the harbinger of a major winter roof issue: ice dams.

Here are some tips to help you prevent ice dams from forming and repair them when they do:

Prevention: Why and How?*

Why do ice dams form?

Ice dams occur when warm air from your home moves through your ceiling and into your attic. Once this heat transfer occurs, the underside of your roof heats up, melting accumulated snow, forcing the melted snow water to drain off your roof. Unfortunately, this melted snow will freeze when it hits the overhanging portion of your roof that is not being heated from your attic. Over time, this frozen water forms a dam, which backs the water further and further up your roof.

Since your roof shingles are designed to drain water only on a downward slope, the freezing water will breach your shingles and eventually penetrate your roof, leaking into your attic. This can cause all manner of issues: black mold, ceiling damage, wood rot, and host of other potentially costly roofing issues.

Thus, ice dams stem more from an insulation issue than an exterior roofing issue.

How can you prevent ice dams?

To prevent ice dams you will need to insulate your attic. In most municipalities, this requires laying down or spraying insulation products with a rating of R38 or higher.

  • Attic Floor: your attic's floor is relatively easy to insulate. First, you will need to clean the attic surface of dust and debris. You can do this yourself with a little sweat equity and Shop Vac. However, if you fear that your home contains asbestos, this process should be completed by a professional crew with proper ventilation equipment and training working with this potential hazardous product. Once the surface is clear, roll out the insulation product so that entire surface is covered without gaps. Additionally, if you notice any holes drilled for wiring or other purposes, you should seal these with a caulking gun and a silicone sealing product.

  • Roof Ceiling: to satisfy building codes, you will likely need to have the roof's underside (or ceiling) spray with an insulation product. Since this process requires sophisticated machinery and training, it is not advisable to attempt to complete this process on your own.

Repairing: Melting and Fixing

Once an ice dam is allowed to form, it must be melted and the resulting roof damage must be repaired.

How can you melt an ice dam?

Ice dams can be melted in a number of ways.

  • Brining (de-icing): the easiest way to melt an ice dam is by applying a topical brining product. These de-icing products are offered by a number of manufacturers. Before purchasing a brining product you should look for a product with the highest possible sodium count. This is important because the sodium is what will actually cause the snow to melt. You may need to apply several treatment of brining product before the process is complete.

  • Heat coils: you can also lay heat coils in the areas of your roof where you notice the highest concentrations of icicles.

How can you repair ice dam damage?

Repairing ice dam damage is similar to replacing roof shingle damage. First, you need to isolate the damaged roof shingles. Next, you will need to replace the damaged shingles with new shingles. 

You can also call in a professional roofing service, such as All American Roofing Incorporated, to help you get rid ice dams and repair any damage they've caused.

*In addition to preventing ice dams, this insulation process will help you save money on your energy bill. In some parts of the country you may be eligible for energy efficiency tax rebates to help offset the cost of this insulation process.