Glistening icicles adorning a frozen rooftop may look beautiful in a Hallmark movie, but they are far from picture perfect. These winter staples can cause big issues for your roof and leave you with a hefty repair bill.

Louisville winters are often unpredictable, but it’s no secret we get one or two good snow falls each year. Ice damming is a complicated interaction between snow, temperatures, and roof structure. We are here to demystify these formations and discover how they form, why they cause damage, and how to protect your home from ice dams.

What Is An Ice Dam?

Ice damming in a Louisville gutter.Most roofs can handle a decent snowstorm, but when the top of your roof warms, the snow starts to melt and slide towards the gutters. This is where the problem starts.

Ice dams are a continuous chunk or ridge of ice that forms a dam on the edge of your roof. While the ice itself doesn’t pose any harm, that ice is eventually going to turn into water, and when it does, it has nowhere to go, as ice dams prevent melting snow from draining properly off the roof.

Because of the ice damming that has built up during a Louisville deep freeze, running water coming off your roof seeps into eaves, loosens shingles, and causes roof leaks. When that happens, that water is now coming into your house causing wet, stained ceilings and walls, and peeling paint, warped floors, soggy insulation, and rotting.

How Do Ice Dams Form?

Ice dams occur after a heavy snowfall when the warm air in your home rises to the ceiling, into the attic, and causes the top of the roof to warm and the snow to melt. That water running down the roof refreezes when it reaches the colder roof edge, forming a mound of ice. The ice traps the water and causes serious damage. However, this process doesn’t happen all at once, it builds up over a typical Louisville winter.

The Life of an Ice Dam:

  • Birth: The first element of an ice dam is collecting heat in the attic. This is usually caused by lack of adequate ventilation in the attic space, which causes the roof to heat up. This warmth only radiates at the top – leaving the eaves and edges significantly colder.
  • Growth: Once you have heat in the attic, and it snows outside, the snow is going to melt off the top of your roof. The water (melted snow) flows down the roof, but if it is cold enough outside, it will refreeze at the edge of the roof, along the gutter and/or eaves.
  • Maturity: This frozen pool of water builds over time, as it snows again and again throughout the winter. The ice accumulates, the cycle continues, forming a bigger and bigger dam. The warm air from the attic keeps the water flowing, the cool air outside keeps it freezing, and you’re left with a problem.

Ice Damming in Gutters

Gutters are like a welcome mat for ice dams. Particularly if they are already clogged with leaves and debris from the fall. When the snow melts at the top of your roof, gutters provide a perfect landing spot, where they can refreeze before draining, causing ice dams.

Ice damming and melting snow on a Louisville home.

When you get an ice dam in the gutter, it can become heavy over time and actually tear off the gutter from the house, leaving your roof exposed to even more damage. Gutters that are not properly prepared for ice dams can lead to expensive roof repairs and replacements down the road.

What Causes An Ice Dam to Form?

Obviously, winter weather and freezing Louisville temperatures are two apparent reasons why ice buildup happens and causes ice damming. However, two major factors in the formation of ice dams are nonuniform roof surface temperatures and inadequate attic ventilation.

  • Roof Surface Temperatures: The temperature of your roof is largely determined by the heat inside the house. Sure, the sun could shine on one spot a little more than another, but solar heat doesn’t account for the gain or loss and doesn’t create the massive temperature changes that create ice dams.
  • Attic Ventilation: The goal is to have your attic be about the same temperature as the weather outside. Why? Because when your attic is significantly warmer than the outside temperature, it will melt any snow that falls. If the temperature outside is below freezing, it will refreeze and cause ice damming. One option is to increase the amount of insulation in your attic, or install roof vents to remove hot air from the attic. You can also get ducts and vent lines insulated and seal all attic bypasses (usually the space behind outlets and switches) to reduce the amount of heat that seeps into the attic.

Going Unnoticed: Damage that Can Occur Because of Ice Dams

Ice dams can cause more damage than most people realize. This damage can occur over your entire home, not just your roofing system.

Ice dams can lead to peeling paint, warped floors, and stained and sagging ceilings. Not to mention soggy insulation in the attic, which becomes a magnet for mold and mildew.

If the ice dam breaks free, it can pull off whole sections of shingles and gutters with it. When that happens and it all comes tumbling off your roof, it will damage anything it falls on: shrubs, windowsills, cars, pets, and even people. Underneath, if the roof sheathing stays wet, it can form mildew and start to rot.

Repairing the interior damage caused by roof leaks tends to cost many times what ice dam removal costs. Still, insurance companies pay millions of dollars to thousands of homeowners every year in Louisville and across the country to repair the damage caused by ice dams.

Getting Rid of Ice Dams: Prevention and Removal

The principle for preventing and eliminating ice dams is simple: keep the entire roof the same temperature. However, achieving this can be a little more difficult. Lucky for you, Abrams Roofing & Sheet Metal is here to help!

  • Step 1: Increase Ventilation:  A ridge vent paired with continuous soffit vents should be adequate to circulate cold air under the entire roof.
  • Step 2: Cap the Hatch: If you have an unsealed attic hatch or whole-house fan, this is a massive opening for heat to escape. Cover them in the winter with weather-stripped caps.
  • Step 3: Check the Exhaust: Make sure that the ducts connected to the kitchen, bathroom, and dryer vents all lead outdoors through either the roof or walls, but never through the soffit (the underside of these structures).
  • Step 4: Add Insulation: If you’re still getting build-up on the roof, it’s time to add insulation on the attic floor to keeps the heat where it belongs (inside the home).
  • Step 5: Install Can Lights: Old-style recessed lights give off a lot of heat. If your lighting is outdated, consider replacing them with sealed “IC” fixtures, which can be covered with insulation.
  • Step 6: Check the Flash: Add flash between the chimney and house framing.
  • Step 7: Seal and Insulate Ducts: Spread fiber-reinforced mastic on the joints of HVAC ducts and exhaust ducts. Cover them entirely with R-5 or R-6 foil-faced fiberglass.

But I think I already have an Ice Dam!

If you already have buildup on the edges of your home, you want to take steps to remove it before it gets worse. While there are DIY ways of doing so, the only way to make sure your home is properly cared for is to call in a professional.

Prepare for Winter with Abrams Roofing & Sheet Metal

Don’t wait until those ice dams form to start thinking about winter preparation for your roof. With winter weather quickly approaching, make sure your roof is ready to go by contacting Abrams Roofing & Sheet Metal for a free inspection for your Louisville home today!

The best way to get rid of the ice damming is to hire a Louisville roofing company to steam it off. A steamer is like a pressure washer, except that the water is hot. It melts the ice away without damaging the roofing. Then, you can take steps to prevent future issues.