Icicles: A Sign of Poor Insulation?

If you live in a colder climate, you are familiar with icicles. They are a well known feature of any winter wonderland. Icicles simply form due to the melting and refreezing of water. As water melts, drips, and freezes again, icicles get bigger and bigger.

A few icicles here and there are unavoidable in freezing winter conditions, but what many people don’t know is that icicles could be a symptom of a much more serious issue with your home: ice dams.

What Are Ice Dams?

Ice dams are typically much bigger and heavier than ordinary icicles, and rather than just dangling from the edge of your roof, ice dams form on the edge of your roof and in the gutters. Ice dams eventually form thick sheets of ice along the eaves of your roof. The formation of these layers of ice could be a sign that the insulation in your attic is inadequate.

What Causes Ice Dams to Form?

If your attic is insufficiently or unevenly insulated, escaping heat energy can cause accumulated snow to melt and flow from the peak of the roof and run towards the edge and refreeze.

This perpetual cycle of melting and refreezing will eventually lead to a build-up of ice on the edge of your roof, which can eventually turn into an ice dam.

In addition to insufficient insulation, ice dams can also form from warm air as the result of an air leak allowing the flow of warm air into your attic.

Why Are Ice Dams Bad?

While icicles can be beautiful, and an icon of the winter season, ice dams can be damaging to your home, and even dangerous to its inhabitants.

An ice dam can compromise the effectiveness of your gutter system. As your gutters start to fill up, water backs up and can cause leakage into the rest of your home. Once the water finds an access point, it can cause serious damage to your roof and walls. Mold is one serious problem that could develop as a result of this excess water accumulation.

The weight of excess ice can also lead to roof collapse. A severe ice dam can weigh a ton, and put immense pressure onto the roof. Ice will accumulate on the roof until it is too heavy for the structure of the house to hold up, and eventually collapse.

Preventing Icicle Formation

Now that you know what ice dams are and why they form, the next question is how do I prevent them? First of all, make sure that your attic is properly sealed and insulated. To check for air leaks, use an infrared camera to identify where your home may be losing heat energy.

Making sure your attic is properly vented and insulated is probably the single most important thing you can do to prevent ice dam formations. Insulation will keep your attic cool, so the snow on your roof won’t be able to melt and form an ice dam in the first place.

If your find yourself already accumulating ice on the eaves of your roof, there are few things you can do to mitigate the damage

  1. Keep your gutters clear. Make sure your gutters are free and clear of debris before the winter season comes. That means cleaning out all the leaves from fall before the snow hits. You will also want to be sure that your downspouts are functional, and properly direct water away from your roof. If your gutter system isn’t working properly, the melted snow will have nowhere to go and thus be prone to ice formation.
  2. Rake off the snow. While it is never advised to climb up onto your roof to handle snow accumulation, you may be able to knock off some of the excess snow with a long handled rake. It’s not necessary to get too involved here, but if you can pull down the snow from the lower few feet of the roof’s edge after a heavy snowfall, you might be able to help prevent some ice formation from occurring. Be sure to use care when using this technique; you don’t want to accidentally cause any damage to your roof or shingles.
  3. Try and ice melt. If the formation of an ice dam is already well underway, and you’ve already tried keeping your gutters clear and using a rake, you might try an ice melt product. Calcium chloride or similar de-icing products can be found at your local hardware store.
  4. Install heated cables. If you’ve been battling ice dams year after year, you may try installing heated cables. You can use plastic clips to install such a cable in a zig-zag pattern along the edge of your roof. This will allow you to avoid the accumulation of ice altogether. Just make sure you get the cables installed before the bad weather settles in.
  5. Hire a professional. When the ice dam build up starts to get out of control, you’d do best by hiring a professional contractor to assess the situation and map out a solution for you. Some roofing contractors in your area may be able to offer this service. While it may put you back a few bucks, it can save you a few more by preventing any significant damage to your roof. Avoid hiring anyone who proposes the use of a high powered pressure washer with heated water, as this could damage your shingles. A real professional will be more likely to use a low pressure steam system with a high temperature.

We hope you’ve found this article on ice dams helpful. If there are any questions left unanswered or if you want to share your thoughts with us, please don’t hesitate to reach out! We will be happy to help answer any of your queries and provide more insight into what is involved in preventing icicle formation. It’s important that homeowners take the necessary steps before winter arrives so they can avoid costly damages like roof collapse or mold growth. Let our team know how we can help with all of your insulation needs; contact us today for a free quote!