Top 7 Questions on Ice Dams Answered
The icicles are beautiful to behold, but there’s a dark side. If you see them hanging from your gutters, you may be in for some trouble. Here’s why:
When you see icicles, it means you have ice dams, and ice dams wreak havoc with roofs. They prevent melting snow from draining, and that means the water has no place to go – except into the tiny little crevices and cracks beneath the roof. And that means the water can seep into your interior walls, attic, and underneath the roof shingles. Dampness can cause mold growth within 24-48 hours, and mold can wreak havoc with your health, causing asthma, headaches, fatigue and more.
1. Water is leaking into my house – What should I do?
Act quickly and don’t panic. Report the problem to your insurance company, but don’t wait for their response. You’ll need to take these steps right away:
- Take pictures or video of the damage, and start to remove the water immediately. Don’t wait for your insurance company to get back to you, because waiting — even for a few hours — could mean more water and mold growth;
- Wet/dry vacuum, mop, or pump water out of the affected area as quickly as possible. Remove wet items;
- If you are using towels to catch the water, be sure to change them every few hours so that mold doesn’t start to grow;
- Outside, pull off snow from above the ice dam with a long-handled aluminum roof rake, while you stand safely on the ground. According to This Old House, this action will help prevent the melting snow from forming new ice dams;
- Dry out residual moisture that is left in the wood, concrete, and other affected materials inside your home. To do this, you can use a dehumidifiers or plain ventilation;
- Unplug electrical devices and turn off the circuit breakers in the wet area, if possible;
- If a material cannot be dried within 24 hours, it should be thrown away. Unfortunately, this includes carpeting, mattresses, pillows, upholstered furniture, and items containing paper, including wallboard;
- Have your home tested for mold.
2. I don’t see any water, so my roof isn’t leaking, right?
Not necessarily. Ice dams can cause seepage in areas the naked eye can’t see, including behind walls and under floor boards or carpets – wherever the water finds a path to travel. Mold can grow from even a very small leak, which can have detrimental consequences to your home, and ultimately, to your health. If you think the ice dams on the eaves of your house or gutters are causing indoor leaks, the safest thing to do is hire a certified microbial investigator, who can use a moisture meter to check for wet and damp areas behind walls, as well as take air samples to see if there is a mold problem. If you decide to wait, be diligent about checking attics, basements, and other less trafficked areas in your home for musty odors or visible mold, which are telltale signs of hidden mold. If there’s mold, you should have your home tested for other infestation (often unseen) by an independent mold inspector – one that does only testing, and not remediation, as this would be a conflict of interest.
3. What should I do about the icicles and chunks of ice in my gutters?
This is a tough one, because a lot can go wrong. The first instinct is to just get the ice out, but that is easier said than done. Getting up on a ladder that is set on snow and ice is dangerous in itself, but add to that a swinging axe, ice pick, or chainsaw, and you could be in trouble. Not only will you mess up your roof and shingles, you can cause yourself bodily harm. If you go online, you may discover some “creative” ideas to remove ice dams, but you should stay away from blowtorches, steam cleaners, heating pads, salt, boiling water, and hot bacon grease. To be safe and not cause further damage to you or your roof, remove the snow from the bottom portion of your roof, closest to you, with a roof rake or long-handled broom. Tip: Don’t stand on your roof to do this! You could slip and fall off, or worse, the roof could collapse right under you from the strain of your weight coupled with the weight of the snow and ice. Stand on the ground to remove roof snow. Just be sure to watch for falling icicles.
4. Can damage from ice dams go further than my attic?
Depending on how and where your ice dams form, the water can go anywhere. We’ve even seen water pouring into the basement. How? The ice dam grew so large that water traveled to a deck attached to the house, pooled, and then headed into the basement. If ice dams travel down your downspouts or the icicles get so large that they are nearing the ground, water may be pooling near your foundation with nowhere to escape.
5. What is the most common mistake made in dealing with ice dams?
It happens all too often: people do cosmetic repairs without making sure the area is completely dry and checking for mold growth. Then, when the weather warms up, they discover they have a full-blown mold infestation. That’s why when there’s water damage, it’s important to test for mold. Hire an independent mold inspector, one who does not do remediation, to get honest and accurate results. An independent testing company can conduct air monitoring and surface sampling tests; identify affected areas and measure the amount of mold – even if it cannot be seen by the naked eye.
6. Will homeowners insurance cover damage from ice dams?
According to the National Association of Realtors®, most homeowners insurance policies cover conditions such as damage caused by ice dams, when water can’t drain into the gutters and instead seeps into the house. But, if the water from an ice dam enters the home from the ground, homeowners insurance generally won’t cover mold remediation. You would need flood insurance for that.
7. How can I prevent ice dams in the future?
There are a number of ways to prevent future ice dams, depending on your situation and how your home or place of business is constructed. Here are a few tips:
- Properly insulate.
Proper insulation of the attic is one solution, as is a tight vapor barrier to prevent moisture from passing from the living areas into and through the insulation. If air from your home finds its way to the underside of the roof sheathing, the heated air raises the temperature of the roof, causing snow to melt, then refreeze when the temperature drops again. Important: make sure you have enough insulation. An insufficiently insulated home is more likely to suffer damage caused by ice dams. To find out how much insulation your home should have (based on location and age), refer to this chart on the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association webpage.
- Protect your gutters.
Whether it’s a snow and ice shield or electrified gutters, there are several products that will prevent water from working its way into the home. (A snow and ice shield consists of a membrane that seals the roof under the shingles, forming a continuous barrier to water.)
- Ensure adequate ventilation.
In order to make sure that your attic and roof are properly ventilated, there should be venting at both the eaves and soffits and/or at the gable ends of the attic. You need to have a space for cold air to flow above the insulation to keep the roof cold and prevent the snow from melting. If you have a finished attic, it is a little more complicated, but it can be done. House Logic shares some additional tips here.
If you are experiencing damage from ice dams and melting snow, call RTK Environmental today at (800) 392-6468 to discuss your options and figure out a plan to keep your home and family safe.