As we enter the long, warm days of summer, the next couple of months are an ideal time to give your roof, gutters and metal siding some of the TLC that it needs, and begin to address problems that may have exposed themselves over the past fall and winter. It is also an opportunity to have your home or business evaluated for the installation of heat tape (also known as heat cables or de-icing cables) to help prevent ice dam formation during the winter snow.
Each winter we receive an almost overwhelming number of requests to remove ice dams, fix roof leaks, perform emergency roof repairs, along with other snow-related issues during or immediately after the first significant snowfall. Often, people do not realize their roof may have sustained damage from the previous winter season. If homeowners, property managers, and commercial business owners prepared during the spring and summer months, they could easily forego the added expense and schedule delays of doing so during winter.
Frankly, by then it is too late.
One of the most common problems that keep us busy and result in home damage during winter are leaking issues due to ice dam formations. If you have never experienced an ice dam event in your home or business, consider yourself fortunate. But chances are you know someone who has.
WHAT IS AN ICE DAM AND HOW DO THEY FORM?
Heavy snowfall combined with below-freezing temperatures (32 degrees and below) are the natural ingredients for the creation of ice dams on the edges of your roof that often lead to roofing emergencies. The result are leaks that make their way into your home, causing water damage to floors, sheetrock, and insulation. Unless these areas are dried thoroughly, mold and mildew can form, leading to the potential for respiratory issues.
However, a third and critical ingredient for ice dam formation is the loss of heat from the home’s interior to the attic, where it causes snow to melt on the roof. This meltwater then travels downhill to the non-heated edges of your roof where it begins to freeze and create a “dam” of ice at the eaves/edges of your roof. This heat loss happens in many ways, and in modern homes, it can often happen through skylights.
This dam creates a barrier where the water collects behind it and thus, begins to travel back up your roof, doing the opposite of what your roof shingles were designed for. The uphill traveling water gets beneath the shingles and enters your home via the ceiling and walls. That's a big problem.
PREVENTION: FROM THE INSIDE
While dry snow is the fuel for an ice dam, warm air escaping to the outside of your home is often the ignition source. Inspect the interior of your home and make sure your dwelling is thoroughly insulated and ventilated . Most importantly, your attic.
Insulation: Any home care professional will tell you that eliminating heat loss entirely is nearly impossible. This is especially true in some older homes which may allow warm air to make its way from the heated parts of your home and up to the attic through hidden air passageways - known as Attic Bypasses.
An example of this would be the vent pipe for the furnace that goes from the basement, through the middle of the home, and passes through the attic floor, eventually venting outdoors through the roof. If gaps exist between the vent pipe and the floor of the attic, the warm air will naturally rise and accumulate in the attic. The result is warming of the roof and snowmelt which often starts the ice dam process.
If your attic floor is currently insulated between the joist bays with Batt (roll-in type) Insulation, try applying another layer in a perpendicular direction. This will cover any gaps between the wood and insulation that might be allowing heat to escape. Another good option would be to insulate the roof of the attic between the rafters with either open or closed cell spray foam insulation.
Ventilation: Clean, efficient air-flow in the attic is also very important - proper attic ventilation will allow warm air to dissipate evenly. This can be done through the installation of Eaves or Soffit Vents which will draw air into the attic from the outside. The warm air is then cooled and exits through the ridge vents at the top of the roof. This ventilation will also keep your attic cool in the warm summer months.
PREVENTION: FROM THE OUTSIDE
Now that you have a good idea of how to help mitigate the potential for ice dams from the inside of your home, let's talk about the outside. After all, they work hand-in-glove.
Heat Tape: In the event of significant snowfall, the best prevention for your roof is the installation of heat tape. When correctly applied, this solution will cause snow to melt from the edges of your roof, prevent gutters, downspouts, and/or chains from freezing, and allow the heated water to flow through the gutters, valleys and downspouts of your home. In a sense, you create a heated path from the roof areas prone to ice dams, and off of your roof, to the ground.
However, the application of modern heat tape systems is not a DIY job. Professional installation is highly recommended as significant electrical hazards exist if it is not installed correctly. Additionally, it needs to be applied to the roof and pipes in a certain design - not all applications are the same. Special consideration must be paid to the valleys, gutters, downspouts, and other areas of the roof.
River Roofing-Bend has performed many efficient and long-lasting heat tape installations for both home and commercial structures throughout Deschutes County and Central Oregon. Our fully warrantied systems can even be controlled remotely when you are away from your home - especially convenient in turning the system off when it is below freezing, but there is no chance of snowfall (thereby saving you electricity).
Snow Removal: While the obvious solution to minimize ice dams is to remove snow from your roof, this can present an extreme danger to yourself, your home, and your loved ones.
Before tackling this job with a roof rake and a ladder, be aware that your shingles are vulnerable to damage and replacement. But far worse, you risk serious injury (or death) due to falling from a cold, slippery ladder or roof. Falling icicles and the potential for avalanche-like scenarios when clearing the edges of your roofline are other dangers to be aware of.
A much safer and cost-effective solution is to call a professional roofing contractor with decades of experience in snow removal, such as River Roofing-Bend. We are fully licensed, bonded and insured, and can not only safely remove the snow from your roof, but tailor custom solutions to minimize the damage caused by ice dams and other snow-related issues that can affect the structure and value of your home.