Icicles hanging from your roof may look cool, but they’re typically a signal of a greater problem with your home. When icicles begin to form into big hard chunks of ice on the edge of your roof, these are known as ice dams. They can lead to costly leaks in your roof that can damage your drywall, ceiling joists, and wall studs. Ice dams can also allow water to get into your home’s insulation, resulting in mold growth, compromised air quality, and reduced thermal insulation.
At Minnick’s, we work to create healthier and higher performing homes in Maryland and we often find that homeowners are unaware and even shocked to find out that those water spots or the leak from the ceiling are a result of the ice dams outside of the home.
Living in Maryland, we’re used to preparing homes to deal with snowy, icy, cold winters. In this article, we hope to educate you on the danger ice dams pose to our homes. But first, before you can understand the problem with ice dams, let’s discuss how they form on our homes.
What Causes Ice Dams?
Ice dams usually start to form after a heavy snowfall followed by freezing temperatures. Since heat rises, the warm air inside your home eventually causes the underside of your roof to warm up, causing the snow and ice on the roof to melt. The melted water will drain along the roof until it refreezes and form ice dams and icicles This build up of ice at the edge of your roof and gutters can cause the snow to pool up in the gutters and prevents melting snow from draining down the gutters, as it should. The water that backs up behind the ice dam can eventually leak into your home and cause water damage to walls, floors, ceilings, insulation, and other areas of your home.
Now that we’ve reviewed how ice dams are formed, we can now talk about the repercussions in detail, more specifically, mold growth.
Do Ice Dams Cause Mold?
The main problem caused by ice dams is that water and moisture can leak into your home because the ice buildup keeps the water from draining properly. Mold thrives on moisture and grows by feeding on your home’s building materials: wood, drywall, wallpaper, carpet, ceiling tiles, etc. Mold is essentially feeding on your home to survive and compromising its structural integrity. Whether or not mold grows depends on how long surfaces remain wet, what the surfaces consist of, and whether there is insulation in the framing cavities. If a musty smell develops from ice damming, that’s a sure sign that mold growth is underway. Exposure to mold can trigger respiratory issues such as allergies and asthma, and some types of mold can even cause infections in people with a weakened immune system. We’ve touched on how ice dams and the resulting leaks can create the perfect conditions for mold growth. Now we can examine some of the other physical damage that ice dams can cause to the exterior and interior of your home.
Can Ice Dams Cause Roof Damage?
As we mentioned, when ice dams form on the edge of your roof, gutters can quickly become clogged with frozen ice. Your gutters are meant to carry and funnel water away from your roof, not carry a huge chunk of solid ice! When ice dams form on top of gutters, the added weight can cause the gutters to tear loose from your home. Once your home’s gutter drainage system is destroyed, your siding will be more vulnerable to leaks and damage, as well.
If your roof has shingles, thawing and freezing of ice dams can rip, crack, and tear them, making your home even more vulnerable to leaks.The ice buildup forces water against your shingles, so even a small crack can allow water to slowly drip into your walls, ceilings, and insulation. It’s important to note, wet insulation is poor insulation. Fiberglass insulation, in particular, is composed of recycled glass fibers suspended in tiny pockets of air. When water fills those pockets, it conducts heat, pulling it right out of your interiors and drawing it away into your walls. The good news is that ice dams can be easily removed and mitigated. If you’re home has an ice dam, here’s what you should do about it.
How to Remove and Prevent Ice Dams?
The best way to stop ice dams is to have a professional perform a home performance energy audit of your home’s attic ventilation, floor sealing, and insulation. If hiring a professional is not an option for you, a quick temporary fix is for you to lower the temperature in your attic. An easy DIY way to accomplish this is to set up a box fan and aim it at the spot on your ceiling under the ice dam. At Minnick’s we love to educate homeowners so they can be empowered to perform their own DIY fixes, however, one very important word of caution is:
Do not climb on your roof with a chisel and try to chip the ice away by yourself. The surface will be slippery from the ice and put you at risk to fall. Additionally, you can permanently damage your shingles with the chisel and create your own leaks.
These are only short-term fixes, to permanently prevent ice dams, you need to limit heat loss from your home into the attic or ceiling. By sealing any air leaks and properly insulating your attic, you can keep warm and moist air from entering the attic space from inside of your home. A good starting point is to look at where your appliances are being exhausted. You should always vent your appliances to the outside of your home and not into the attic because condensation will form on your roof’s sheathing. Proper attic ventilation also helps keep a uniform roof temperature. One final tip is to clean and remove any obstructions in your gutters before each snowfall to make sure any water can properly drain off the roof and avoid leaks.
If you think your home has ice dams that are causing moisture issues that could lead to water damage. Contact us online or call us at (301) 605-9112 and we’ll be more than happy to help you out with any questions you may have about ice dams, especially in regards to the damage they can cause to your home.
Minnick’s is an industry leader in providing Heating, Cooling, Plumbing, Insulation, Indoor Air Quality, and Whole Home Energy solutions to Montgomery County, Howard County, Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County, and Baltimore County.