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  • How To Avoid An Ice Dam Forming At Your Home

A photo of ice dams on a house

Heavy snow, daytime melting, and refreezing overnight are the perfect recipe for an ice dam to form.

Winter is unpredictable in Massachusetts, some seasons we escape the wrath of Mother Nature giving us a much-needed reprieve from feet of snow. Then the next winter rolls around, and it begins snowing in November, and it falls until March! You just never know what’s in store from year to year.

As the area’s foremost local, independent insurance agent, Morse Insurance, of course, wants to make sure you prepare for everything New England winters may have in store for us, and that includes weather that can wreak havoc on your home causing an ice dam to form on your roof. Many South Eastern Massachusetts residents are all too familiar with the dreaded cycle of heavy snowfalls, mild sunny days and freezing overnight temps and the damage this weather pattern can cause.

The winter of 2015 is a perfect example. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), there was an estimated 2.1 billion in insured losses along the East Coast that winter, and much of the damage was done during the month of February, imagine that! For most New Englanders, that doozy of a winter, and the heavy snow, freezing temperatures, and icy roads that came along with it, will definitely be a tough one to ever forget.

Perhaps one of the most memorable things about that winter of 2015 was the epidemic of ice dams forming on homes in our Marion, Norton, Bridgewater, and North Easton MA neighborhoods. Whether your home was damaged by an ice dam in previous winters or you have so far escaped this aggravation, making sure that you understand the ins-and-outs of this winter hazard is important to Morse, of course. We’re here to share helpful information about ice dams, including what they are, how to recognize one may be forming, and some key prevention tips.

Why do ice dams seem to fancy our Massachusetts’ homes?

Ice dams are formed when water from melting snow on your roof runs down the surface of your home and refreezes at the bottom, causing ice to build up and “dam.” Our winters are the perfect breeding ground for this damming process, mainly because they are so unpredictable. It’s not uncommon during a winter in Massachusetts to experience a snowstorm on a Tuesday, have above-average temperatures and sunshine on a Thursday, and then wrap up the week with freezing cold temperatures on the weekend. This variance in temperatures and undulating weather conditions puts your home at a much higher risk for an ice dam, not to mention the potential damage that comes along with it.

In addition to our temperamental winters, there is another culprit for our ice dam affliction in New England: the very popular Colonial and Ranch home styles. IceDamRemovalGuys.com explains that the jutting overhangs, common to a Ranch and Colonial, increase the odds of an ice dam and subsequent water damage.

What damage can an ice dam cause?

If you’re wondering about the extent of damage an ice dam can cause, it’s likely that you have been lucky enough to avoid having one of these monstrous ice sculptures affixed to the side of your home, extending from your roof and gutters all the way down to the ground.

Given their gargantuan height and breadth, it’s probably no surprise that ice dams can trigger some serious damage. ThisOldHouse.com warns homeowners that dams can tear off gutters, loosen shingles, and cause water to back up and pour into your house. The results are even less appealing and include peeling paint, rotting wood, damaged drywall, warped floors, and stained and sagging ceilings, not to mention soggy insulation in the attic, which can quickly become a magnet for mold and mildew.

This is why ice dams can prove to be one of a homeowner’s worst nightmares and can lead to you spending thousands of dollars in repairs. But, Morse, of course, is here with the good news! This damage can be prevented when caught early enough.

What are the warning signs of an ice dam and how can I prevent one?

There are a couple of tell-tale signs that an ice dam may be forming:

  • Large icicles hanging from the gutters during cold-snaps following snow storms are an indication that internal heat is melting the snow from beneath the roof.
  • Water dripping inside your home is a hint that a dam may already be forming overhead.
  • Stains, peeling paint, or soft spots on the ceiling and drywall are something to look for all year-round, but particularly during a New England winter.

ThisOldHouse.com offers a great homeowners tip to keep ahead of water damage. Snap photos wherever you note a buildup of ice around the outside of your home. Then, use these pictures to target interior areas of your home that you should check for leaks.

There are also several things you can do to prepare your home and potentially prevent an ice dam debacle from happening in the first place. The best tactic, according to IBHS, is to try and inhibit the accumulated snow from melting and refreezing on your roof so they recommend the following five safeguards:

  1. Keep It Clean. Clearing drains, scuppers, gutters and downspouts of fallen leaves, branches and other debris will reduce the likelihood that water gets trapped, pools and eventually freezes, which is the beginning stage of an ice dam.
  2. Properly Insulate. You may want to increase the insulation in the area above ceilings to keep your heat inside, where it belongs, reducing your risk for an ice dam, all while making your house more energy efficient.
  3.  Supply Heat. By installing self-regulating heating cables along your roof’s edge, gutters, and downspouts, you may be able to minimize the water buildup behind ice dams. Heat cables conveniently provide a clear path for melted water to flow off the roof.
  4. Improve Ventilation. You want your attic temperature as close as possible to the outside temperature because keeping your attic chilly can help prevent warm air from melting the snow on your roof, which is what causes ice dams to form.
  5. Schedule Preventative Maintenance. Create a roof preventative maintenance schedule, including periodic roof drainage inspections, so you can stop an ice dam in its tracks before it takes hold of your roof and home.

Knowing that an ice dam can cause potential damage to your home is unsettling and it’s understandable that you may want to take immediate action to protect your investment. Before you take matters into your own hands though, Morse Insurance strongly recommends that you contract an expert to do this work and to arm your home against icy intruders.

What should I do if I have an ice dam? First and foremost, you will want to have the ice build-up on the roof removed before it melts from underneath and any barrier of ice at the gutter line. If an ice dam is detected early enough you can significantly reduce your risk for potential damage. Below are just a couple of tips to help diminish damage, all of which can be done with two feet safely on the ground.

  • To remove snow buildup from your roof: Safely remove snow from roofs and relieve your roof of unnecessary weight, but using a roof rake. Do not use a roof rake near any electrical wiring.
  • To remove ice buildup around gutters: For a safe and efficient application, put calcium chloride, a melting agent, inside a pair of pantyhose and toss it up on top of the roof. This will release the melting agent gradually, extending the melting process, allowing the water to drip harmlessly to the ground.

Morse, of course, again strongly encourages you to hire a professional to do this kind of work, as it is dangerous and requires a specific skill set. Ask your neighbors, family members, and friends for referrals and/or check sites such as Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor for construction companies, roofers, and other reputable businesses that will take care of the snow and ice removal for you.

It’s also important to note that, while these actions may offer a short-term, inexpensive fix, you are not solving the problem for good. There is significant likelihood that an ice dam will come back if you do not work with a professional to properly insulate and ventilate your home, especially your attic space and eaves.

Will insurance pay for ice dam related repairs? Damage caused to your home by an ice dam can be disruptive to your daily life and very costly, as we noted at the beginning of this blog. Most standard homeowners policies will not cover the removal of an ice dam or accumulated snow from your roof; however, the damage caused by an ice dam itself may be covered.

Be sure to talk with your Morse Insurance agent today for help determining what protections your current policy has in place and whether you may benefit from additional coverage. We are prepared to help from the moment you identify damage and need to file a claim until satisfactory repairs have been completed and you’re resting easy again.

Morse Insurance Agency is a family-owned business serving Southeastern Massachusetts communities with four, convenient local offices: North Easton, Bridgewater, Marion, and Norton, MA. Contact us today.