That Row of Icicles Along the Roof Better be Electric

12-14-14The natural rows of icicles sometimes seen along the eaves of a home are not as lovely as you think. They are an indicator of serious problems within your roof and/or the attic of your home. Those rows of icicles are called ice dams and they form when the melting snow and ice refreezes along the eaves of your roof. The subsequent damage ice dams cause can change your mind about how pretty they look in the winter twilight.

In a well-designed and well-maintained home, the attic is its own cool and dry environment. It is separate from the home’s living space and isolated by proper sealants and insulation. The intent is to have a proper barrier between the roof, which traps water and snow away from the attic. and the warm living space beneath the attic. When there are leaks from the living space into the attic, the attic gets unnecessarily warm and it can melt the bottom layer of snow and ice on the roof. The resulting water runs down into the gutter, where it freezes – starting the ice dam. The icicles that flow and freeze down from the gutter are actually a really big problem.

Ice Dam Damage

Contrary to popular belief, gutters do not cause ice dams but they do help concentrate ice and water in a very vulnerable place – along the edge of your roof and help in the creation of icicles. While the icicles are pretty, they can tear off your gutters, loosen shingles, and cause water to back up into your house. Essentially, the water that should be rolling off your roof and into the ground isn’t. It’s hanging around and causing problems.

Some of the damage caused by ice dams includes:

  • Peeling paint

  • Warped floors

  • Sagging ceilings

  • Soggy insulation

  • Stained walls

There are a number of ways to prevent ice dams, but the essentials come down to proper home maintenance and, in some cases, a home inspection to find the warm air leaks.

Preventing Ice Dams

Keeping your attic cool and dry is the key. You can prevent ice dams by:

  • Making sure your gutters are clear of debris and leaves

  • Sealing places where warm air can leak into the attic

  • Ensuring your home’s attic has good ventilation and insulation

  • Installing snow and ice slides to prevent snow from bonding to the lower roof

Keeping your entire roof cold means blocking all air leaks into the attic from the living space below.

Infrared Home Inspection for Warm Air Leaks

In some cases, the only way to determine how your attic is getting heated when it shouldn’t is by following the cool and warm air signatures with an infrared camera. In the cooler weather, the heat that is leaking into your attic is never more clearly ‘seen’ than by infrared.

Another word of caution: if ice dams are forming along your eaves, skip the shovels, rakes, crowbars and other manual methods of removing them. While it might seem like an obvious way to prevent further damage, it’s an incredible risk to life and limb. Call in the professionals instead.

Andrew MacDonald has been performing infrared inspections on the roofs and in the attics in Elgin, Algonquin, St. Charles, and surrounding towns for over a decade. If you suspect your attic is warmer than it should be, request a return call today and we’ll tell you how we can help.

One response to “That Row of Icicles Along the Roof Better be Electric

  1. Hi Andrew. Nice article on a very hot topic. All good points. We still find new homes around Chicago with ventilation and modern insulation that still develop ice dams. When it’s just not enough ( and add to that recessed lighting, furnace and plumbing flues, skylights, intersecting valleys, etc.) one might take it to the next level. We manufacture and design roof ice melt systems that eliminate ice dams and icicle formations, and then carry the melt water safely down a heated gutter and downspout. Add this information into your arsenal. We are at http://www.summiticemelt.com, and have several high performing products that make easy to stop ice dams in an attractive, energy efficient way. Best, Brian Casey Summit Ice Melt Systems, Inc.

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