Updated: Jan 27, 2022
It’s been a white Christmas in Minnesota, and we hope it’s been merry, but with winter elements comes the ongoing battle for every homeowner of fighting ice and snow. Standing water can be detrimental to your roof and home, including seeping under the shingles causing interior leaks, so roof maintenance is paramount to keeping your house safe and dry.
Luckily, roofing systems have come a long way over the years to help your home stay dry and protected. Roof designs serve many purposes and functions, with the most apparent being protection against the elements. The architectural design, including slope and pitch, uses gravity as a first defense. When rain or snow lands, it runs down the roof's slope and into your gutters (learn more about gutter maintenance here), directing water away from your home's foundation through a system of downspouts and drains. It’s essential to have enough gutters and downspouts to redirect the rain and snow, so they don’t overflow. When water isn’t adequately routed away, it can lead to leaks, cracks in wall foundations, moisture damage to your siding and roof, basement flooding, and eroding the soil around your home’s foundation, equating to expensive repairs.
In the winter, as the snow melts, your roof system works the same way to move water away from critical structural systems. For these reasons, it’s vital to deal with snow accumulation on your roof, so it never gets too heavy or congested. If you notice your gutters are clogged, it’s essential to take action as the added weight will strain your gutter fasteners, potentially leading to more extensive and expensive problems down the road.
Your roof isn’t just the shingles you see; it consists of multiple layers under the exterior which work in tandem to protect your home from the elements. Ice and water underlayment are affixed to the roof deck and serve an essential purpose to help create a waterproof barrier keeping moisture out. High winds can lift the edge of shingles allowing water to dampen the roof decking, clogged gutters and ice dams are all prime conditions for causing leaky roofs. Luckily, regular roof and gutter maintenance can keep your home’s exterior in good working order.
Keeping your gutters clean and clear is a great first defense to protecting your home from water runoff. Additionally, in combination with heat loss from the attic in below-freezing temperatures, rooftop snow can create ideal conditions for ice dams. An ice dam is the wall of ice that forms from the snow that thaws on warmer parts of the roof and then freezes again along the eaves. As the melted water continues to pool behind that ice wall or ice dam, it gets trapped, and with nowhere to go can start leaking into your house’s wall’s ceilings, insulation, and structural areas. If you’re unsure if your roof is creating ice dams, a good place to look is if you have icicles hanging from your roof, which can indicate a potential ice dam.
While there’s little you can do about the weather, there are steps you can take to prevent or minimize ice dams starting with ensuring your attic is adequately insulated and ventilated. Ideally, your attic temperature should be the same as the exterior temperature. Sufficient attic ventilation starts with properly located ventilation. You’ll need a proper net free vent area (NFVA) which requires intake and exhaust vents positioned in a way to provide balanced airflow. When your attic doesn’t have appropriate ventilation, your attic can warm up, causing increased rooftop snowmelt leading to ice dams. Additionally, an attic that’s too warm and improperly ventilated leads to condensation forming, causing wood rot and mold on the interior side of your roof decking.
Another solution is utilizing an ice and water barrier underlayment product beneath the shingles along your roof's entire surface, creating a tight seal to keep the moisture out. If that isn’t an option, you might consider installing these barriers in the valleys and eaves, as well as around chimneys, skylights, and vents that will offer added protection to your roof's most vulnerable areas.
Other Ice Dam Prevention Tips:
Get ahead of the damage: If you notice a spot of ice/frost build-up or accumulation, take a picture and compare inside to see if you notice any leaks.
For The Future: Use heated cables to help prevent ice dams from forming. This will act to equalize the temperature. Unfortunately, we’re too far into the winter season to implement this solution; it can be an excellent tip for the future!
Battling an Ice Dam? If you already have ice dams forming, Do NOT try using salt to melt the ice, as it will do more damage to your roof than good. Additionally, avoid chiseling or chipping away at the ice build-up as it’s not only dangerous for you but bad for your roof. Instead, try blowing in cold air. Take a fan in the attic and aim it where you notice the water leaking in. Additionally, you can try using a roof rake to rake the snow safely from the ground, helping to adjust the temperature of your roof without damaging your shingles!
If you have any questions or are concerned about your roof's susceptibility to ice dams, call Refresh Exteriors, your local roofing contractors, to inspect your roof and improve your attic ventilation system. Refresh Exteriors is based in Eden Prairie and is here for all your home exterior needs.