Keeping your basement dry and your home safe is a year-round concern, and that means understanding ice dams, how they form, the threat they represent to your property, and how to prevent and remove them. We’ve all seen icicles dangling from neighborhood roofs, but an ice dam is much more than just a few extra icicles. It’s a dangerous condition that may point to a problem in your home while also causing more issues in the form of water damage to your roofs, the home’s interior, and even its foundation. As your basement waterproofing experts, we want to help you stop them before ice dam removal becomes necessary so you can keep your property safe and sound.
What an Ice Dam Is
An ice dam is an area on your roof, along its edge, or in your gutter and downspout system where ice has formed to block the normal flow of water that removes moisture down and away from your home. This usually happens when either snow and ice melt then refreeze or when water freezes around an existing partial blockage, such as leaves and twigs stuck in a downspout. As water backs up, more and more freezes, creating a larger blockage that traps moisture. When warmer temperatures finally begin to melt the snow and ice behind the dam or rainfall occurs, the solid ice dam is last to go, forcing water to pool.
Pooling water leads to leaks. Your roof’s materials are designed to prevent water from leaking in when it can move freely, limiting the time it is around any joints or insufficiencies. When water pools, it finds a way in through minuscule cracks, creating larger voids as it damages the underlying layers of material until your roof leaks like a sieve. In gutters, it creates added pressure and weight on the structures, pulling them away from your food or home or splitting them at seams. Alone these risks are enough to concern any homeowner, but as either of these conditions worsen, they also begin to place your foundation in harm’s way.
Your foundation is the support for your home’s structure, whether it’s a simple crawlspace or a fully finished basement. That’s why keeping it safe from the damaging effects of water is so important. Roof and gutter damage alters your home’s ability to collect and remove water away from the home, instead depositing it next to the foundation, saturating the soil around it, and increasing the hydrostatic pressure pushing on its walls. This can lead to both cracks and water seepage into the foundation itself. In addition, leaks that enter the walls of your home are driven by gravity to find the lowest point they can reach, which means they not only may create water damage in your walls but directly in the foundation on their own.
Identifying Ice Dams
Most homeowners only notice ice dams when they’ve already formed and are putting a strain on the home’s structures. A few icicles are easy to pass off as normal, but when large sheets of heavy or thick icicles are hanging ponderously over the roof or gutters, especially if they appear to be causing sagging or stress, there is a good chance you need immediate ice dam removal. Pooling water on a roof where it usually flows freely can signal an issue, as well as a visibly developing sheet of ice underneath covering snow at the roof’s edge. Water runoff dripping around the edge of the house rather than following its usual path to your gutters and downspouts can also indicate an advanced ice dam.
Preventing Ice Dams and Protecting Your Home
While they can be dangerous to your property, there are steps you can take to prevent ice dams from forming. While no prevention technique is foolproof, identifying the opportunities for protection on your property will go a long way toward keeping ice dams at bay.
- Watch for roof hot spots – Many ice dams are formed when a section of the roof heats up faster than other areas, melting the ice in that section that then refreezes on another area of your roof or in your gutter. In an unfinished attic, the air should be no more than 15 degrees warmer than the outside air, while finished attics should have enough insulation to prevent rapid heat loss in these patches. Primary culprits are attic lights that haven’t been converted to LED bulbs, leaking air ducts that bleed extra heat into your attic space, or damaged insulation on a section of the roof. These issues need to be addressed when identified to limit hot spots.
- Maintain your gutters – Another leading culprit is gutters that are damaged or clogged. Make sure your gutters and downspouts are cleaned out regularly, especially in the fall. Install gutter shields that prevent leaves, sticks, and other objects from entering this important runoff-management system. Don’t forget to ensure any downspout extensions or French drains are cleared as well, as a dam anywhere in the system can lead to failure or damage.
- Inspect your roof annually – Annual roof and gutter inspection is a must. This helps you spot potential problem areas before they have a chance to cause an issue in winter. If you suspect you’ve located a problem, contact an experienced professional who can help you ensure your roof is ready for inclement weather.
- Clear snow and ice from around your home’s foundation – Keeping the area directly around your home clear of moisture helps prevent over-saturation of the soil, improving the drainage system that protects your home from hydrostatic pressure. This can be especially important as a mitigation step when you suspect you may have an ice dam that’s compromising your usual drainage system or dripping water over the side and directly onto the ground near your basement or crawlspace.
- Waterproof your basement – One of the easiest ways to prevent damage from excess water caused by ice dams is to make sure your basement or crawlspace is waterproofed beforehand. Professional waterproofing helps seal gaps, make sure you have a sump system set up to actively move excess moisture away from the home, and improves the drainage from the soil surrounding it.
Removing an Ice Dam
Removing an ice dam can be tricky, and doing it the wrong way can easily create even more damage to your home. It’s usually best to contact a professional about the ice dam, as they have the specialized experience, tools, and equipment if removal is necessary or can help you alleviate some of the pressure on your roof now while setting up an appointment to address the full nature of the problem once weather warms. You should always be cautious about setting foot on a frozen, damaged roof where covering snow may hide patches of slick ice or instabilities that may no longer support your weight.
As a temporary solution, a divot can be chipped or drilled through the ice dam to allow pooled water to escape. Care should be taken not to damage your roof or gutters, and it’s important to understand that the hole you create will refreeze, so this is a short-term fix only. If you have a leak in your attic roof or a dam forming due to a hot spot, setting up a box fan directed at the spot to drive cold air toward it, lowering the area temperature, may help keep the situation from getting worse. Finally, using an old stocking or pantyhose leg with an ice melter, like calcium chloride, tied up in it can help clear a dam. Lay the tied stocking across the dam or gutter, then as the water from ice, snow, and melt mixes with the calcium chloride, its freezing temperature is lowered, holding it in the liquid state so it can flow freely.
Protect Your Home
If you suspect you have an ice dam endangering your home, we’re ready to help. When you schedule a free inspection, our experts will work to help you identify the issues facing your home and tailor a mitigation plan to help keep the ice dam from doing any further damage and a prevention plan to keep it from coming back after the ice dam removal is complete. You’ll get a written quote backed by the local expert your neighbors trust and work done with American parts you can count on to last. Call and schedule your appointment with A.M. Wall Anchor & Waterproofing today.