Ice that freezes in gutters and then overflows onto rooftops and into homes can cause extensive damage, if not prevented or dealt with promptly.

Ice that freezes in gutters and then overflows onto rooftops and into homes can cause extensive damage, if not prevented or dealt with promptly.

Photo provided by Fred Grennan

As winter temperatures fluctuate, beware of ice dams

By: Brendan Losinski | Metro | Published March 9, 2021


METRO DETROIT — Icicles hanging off the roof of a house can be beautiful, but they can also do damage to the home in multiple ways.

Water freezing in gutters and causing backups can create a variety of problems resulting in harm to the gutters, the roof and even the attics of houses. These backups, known as ice dams, are a subtle danger to Michigan homes each winter.

“Ice dams form when heat inside the house enters the attic and melts snow on the roof,” Adrienne Woodland, a spokesperson for AAA, wrote in a press release. “The melted snow drips down your roof and re-freezes when it reaches the colder eaves (the part of the roof that overhangs the wall). This ice accumulation is called an ice dam. As more melted snow travels down the roof, it begins to re-freeze sooner, pushing its way under the shingles. The water then finds holes in the roof decking — between sheets of plywood or around nails — and begins to drip into your attic.”

By seeping into parts of the roof, gutters or home during thaws and then freezing again when the temperature dips back down, it can tear apart parts of the roof and gutters or leak into the house.

“Once the water is inside your house, it can cause paint to peel, floors to warp and soggy insulation that could lead to mold and mildew,” Woodland continued. “Additionally, ice dams can cause major damage to the roof by loosening shingles or tearing off gutters.”

There are methods that homeowners can take to reduce the risk of ice dams.

“There’s several things homeowners can do to prevent this,” explained Fred Grennan, the owner of Grennan Construction in Pontiac. “One is proper ventilation of the attic, both intake ventilation and exhaust ventilation. Number two is proper insulation in the attic. Number three is removing snow from the areas of concern from the roof. They also can install hot-wire systems in their gutter so it helps prevent ice from forming, so water always has a path to run off the roof and away from the home.”

“The key to ice dam prevention is to keep your roof the same temperature as your eaves. There are several ways to accomplish this before snow begins accumulating,” Woodward stated in the AAA press release. “Increase attic ventilation through the use of soffit, gable and ridge vents to help circulate air through the attic, ensuring a consistent temperature. Examine your insulation to make sure it’s not blocking the vents and check its depth. Prevent heat from escaping into your attic by ensuring all attic ducts are sealed and properly insulated and any exhaust fans lead outdoors, not to the attic. Consult a professional if your attic is a living space, you need vents installed or insulation added. Remove snow from the first 3-plus feet of the roof when possible to safely do so.”

If there is a minor problem, or to prevent ice dams from forming, Grennan suggests using calcium chloride.

“You also can use calcium chloride to melt some of the ice,” he said. “Only use calcium chloride, since it won’t cause any damage to the roof or gutters, but you do need to know how to use it. You need to know where to use it on the roof or on the gutter to melt the snow and ice without causing it to pool elsewhere.”

Experts advise that, if the home is already suffering from ice dams, it is generally best to speak to a professional home-care expert.

“If you have these problems already, it would be best to call a professional to remove the snow and ice from those problem areas,” Grennan said. “If you’re capable, you can do it yourself, but that could cause damage to the roof or the rest of the home if they don’t know what they’re doing or unprepared. … During a heavy snowfall, it can be best to remove the snow before it has a chance to melt and create an ice dam.”

If an ice dam has already formed, AAA recommends that homeowners do not attempt to remove it themselves. It is a dangerous task to remove ice, and if not done properly, homeowners risk causing damage to their home and themselves. AAA agrees that hiring a professional contractor with experience removing ice dams and removing snow from roofs to ensure it is done properly and safely is the best course.

“AAA never recommends that homeowners get up on the roof and shovel snow off,” wrote AAA claims manager Derek Michalak. “And when utilizing a roof rake, keep in mind that you are pulling snow off the roof. Make sure no one is underneath the location you are working on and that there is no fragile vegetation or objects that can be damaged by the weight of the falling snow. Always watch out for overhead power lines when doing any type of home maintenance and stay away from that area.”

If damage has already occurred, Grennan said that homeowners should check their insurance policies to see if the costs might be covered.

“Sometimes, damage can be covered by homeowners insurance, so people should be aware that it may be an option for them,” he said.

He added that help for repairs can be found from a variety of sources.

“To find a good professional like our company, people can look on Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau,” said Grennan. “If all else fails, they can search online to look for contractors in their area. Just make sure you vet who you are hiring.”