Ice dams can bring winter problems indoors

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published March 11, 2015

METRO DETROIT — They have a certain austere beauty and create remarkable sculptures when they begin to thaw and refreeze around trees, bushes or just the ground, but those large icicles growing from your roof could be an indication of a larger problem — ice damming on the roof.

An ice dam is a buildup of ice on roofs caused by melting snow that refreezes around the eaves of a house; it is usually quite easy to spot, experts say, because of the large icicles and pieces of ice that form on the edge of the roof of the house.

“It’s very visual; you’ll have a lot of ice built up in the valleys,” said Pjeter Dema, of PD Roofing in Detroit. “Icicles will form. You don’t have to be a professional to see an ice dam being formed.”

“The water can back up underneath the shingles, causing it to leak between the shingles and the wood,” said Chuck Smith, of Multi-Roofing Systems in Warren. “It can cause a lot of interior damage, and roofs that have overhangs ... are not heated by the inside of the house; therefore, they are more likely to have more ice dams because that’s the same temperature as outside.”

Dema said ice damming occurs for two reasons: a lack of insulation and improper ventilation.

“You’ve got that heat escaping the interior of the house and it goes into the attic, so the attic gets kind of warm and it melts the (underside) of the ice and snow. The water generally tends to go toward the gutters ... (but) because the soffits are outside of the attic, the temperature is the same as what it is in the outside, so the water, unfortunately, starts to freeze,” Dema said. “Then water has nowhere to go once ice builds up in the gutters, so it starts to back up under the shingles and cause leaks.”

Proper attic insulation will prevent that problem, Dema said, making sure that no heat escapes the house and heats up the underside of the roof. In addition, ridge vents and soffit vents will create airflow through the attic that will help keep the temperature constant.

Smith said a way to try to prevent ice damming is to lay down an ice-and-water shield around the edges of the roof when it is installed.

“You tear the roof off and you lay this material down onto the wood and, according to the Michigan code, it’s supposed to be 18 inches up from the exterior wall. Most contractors like to go further up than that — 3 feet, at least,” Smith said. “It adheres to the roof and then, when you pound nails into it, the nails are sealed ... so the water can’t leak through the nail hole, and then it prevents any water from leaking underneath the wood.”

He said the ice-and-water shield has been required for new roofs — where the old roof is completely torn off and a new roof is installed — for the past 15 years. Older roofs, however, may not be protected, he said.

Smith said several solutions are available for homeowners suffering through ice dams this winter. Heat tape can be installed in the gutter to help the water continue to flow instead of freezing in the cold air.

“In a problematic area, you would want to put (heat) tape on there, (such as) on a low-pitch area,” he said.

Or for a quick fix, he said, throw some calcium chloride into the gutter to melt the existing ice and snow.

Using a professional for the job is recommended.

“He comes and removes the snow that’s built up at the gutter edge, (and then) they can put calcium chloride in the gutters to melt it down,” Smith said. “Typically, we don’t chop the snow off because you don’t want to damage the roof.”

Dema said trying to fix an ice dam yourself can be dangerous.

“It’s kind of slippery and very dangerous, and you don’t want to get hurt,” he said.

If your house has an ice dam and you’re concerned there may be damage to your home, check where the wall meets the floor on an exterior wall; Smith said that dripping water there can lead to mold, which creates black marks. A peeling ceiling is also a good indicator of damage, he said.

“Once the ice is built up, the ice damming is created, the process of the snow being melted is continuous, so you will always have ice melting and the water needs a place to go,” Dema said. “It finds its way through the shingles and into the attic and, eventually, into the interior of the house. It causes damage to the attic, wood, ceiling and walls. Those damages can be costly.”

Dema said it’s hard to say how much fixing a roof damaged by ice damming would cost, as it depends on how much damage was done.

“Assuming that the roof is reasonably new, you might be able to get away with repairing the damaged shingles. If the roof actually has a couple layers and does not have (an) ice-and-water shield, in that case, it is recommended that that a new roof be installed,” he said. “At that point, you can do proper installation and ventilation in accordance to the code.”

For more information on Multi-Roofing Systems in Warren, call (586) 757-8001.

To contact PD Roofing in Detroit, call (313) 893-7077 or visit