Updated: May 18
When it comes to ice dams, the more appropriate question might be “what damage WON’T one do to your roof.” Torn gutters and flashing, loose shingles, roof leaks, mold, and mildew - our home improvement gurus agree roof ice dams left untreated can be destructive and costly. Read on to learn more about ice dams and how to avoid them.
Ricky Southers is the founder and President of Southers Construction Inc.
Tear Gutters Off Your Home
Ice dams can cause significant damage to your roof and gutters if they are ignored for long. Large ice dams can tear the gutters off of your home. Smaller ice dams can bend or warp gutters beyond repair. This can lead to water damage in the fascia, soffits, and siding if the gutters can’t direct water away from the home properly. Ice dams can also damage roofing shingles and lead to water damage.
As the ice dams melt, water will get trapped under lifted shingles. Once that water freezes, the shingles can crack or lift-off of the roof, leaving the entire roofing system susceptible to further water damage like mold and wood rot.
Four Ways Ice Dams Can Damage Your Roof
Ice dams can lead to leaks
If your roof has a build-up of ice or an ice dam, then one problem can arise when water from melting snow begins to back up as a result. The roof is designed to drain water off it, however, if ice is blocking that process, then it will begin to seep under the material and into the attic. The average cost to repair a roof leak is around $750.
Rotting roof decks and trusses cause mold
If water gets trapped underneath shingles, for example, it can reach the wooden roof deck and trusses. This wood can become soaked which leads to rotting. Rot usually results in mold build-up. The cost of mold removal from the underside of a roof deck is between $500 and $1,000.
Ice dams can destroy gutters and downspouts
The build-up of ice dams can mean that the gutter can break under excessive weight, or even tear off completely. Gutters and downspouts need to remain unclogged for snow and water to drain away.
Damage to shingles
Ice dams can loosen shingles, meaning they will need to be replaced. A big enough ice dam that breaks free can result in shingles being ripped off along with it.
Loosens Shingles and Tears Off Flashing
While ice dams are best known for causing damage to your gutters — and anything in the way if the gutter comes crashing down, including windows and siding — they can cause damage in several ways to your roof if left untreated.
If an ice dam is not taken care of and ice is allowed to melt, or there’s melted snow or water trapped there that builds up because of the ice dam, that could cause damage to the edge of your roof’s surface, allowing for possible water damage to your home’s interior.
Major ice dams can cause damage to your roof by tearing off the flashing, which directs water away from certain areas of your roof to prevent leaks. Ice dams can also cause roof damage by loosening shingles, which allows for water from a melted ice dam to seep into your home and also damage your ceilings and walls.
Ice dams can cause damage to your roof if you don’t take care of ice dams properly. The improper solution is chipping the ice away, which is likely to damage the shingles and do more harm than the ice dam you’re trying to get rid of.
The less-damaging solution to clear ice dams, which is also safer for you, is to hire a professional roofing company to steam the ice away. You can also prevent them from forming by maintaining 10-14 inches of insulation, sealing air leaks, and maintaining proper ventilation in your attic.
Water Caught Under Roof Shingles Can Drain into Home
Ice dams can pose a serious threat to your roof if left untreated. They can tear off gutters and loosen shingles. As a result, water collects under them and drains into your home through the attic, seeping through insulation, ceilings, walls, and other areas. Water soaks the wood which eventually causes rot and warping. Due to this, the paint peels off and the ceiling sags and stains. In some cases, mold and mildew can grow as well.
Kim Abrams is a roofing expert with over 10 years of experience as the CEO of Abrams Roofing. Ralitsa Brennan is a Home Improvement and renovation expert for Australia and UK’s leading property maintenance company, Fantastic Services.
Steps To Minimize the Risk of Ice Dams
Ice Dams are a serious concern and could cause a lot of damage to your home if they’re not addressed promptly. They form when water seeps into the cracks in the roof or fascia board and freezes at night, creating dangerous icicles that can weigh several tons.
The damages that ice dams can cause in roofs are usually related to whether or not there is a leak from the roof. If the roof does not have a leak for water for example, then an ice dam will likely form because of temperature changes and poor ventilation found at the base of the ceiling.
The main problem with this, though, is that damage to ceilings and other parts of a home may not be immediately visible which could make it difficult to diagnose. Additionally, trusses could also become a problem as they could succumb due to their weight-bearing icy buildup - a process known as weld failure.
Other possible damage caused by ice dams includes:
Rot in attic frames, walls
Water stains on ceiling and walls
Leaks from walls and the roof
The following are some precautions that can be taken to minimize the risks of ice dams on roofs:
Make sure your roofing is insulated properly. Insulate between walls and ceilings to prevent cold air from seeping into gaps which will promote cold surfaces for water to freeze on.
Insulate all exposed pipes, especially near the roof.
Ventilate your attic space, as this will help to keep the roof and ceilings cooler.
Install heat tapes on gutters and downspouts as well as near water pipes which run near the exterior of your home.
Shovel snow off of your roof regularly to reduce the amount of snow that could eventually melt when the weather warms.
Never remove ice dams yourself as this can cause additional roof damage and could be dangerous as well.
Ensure your gutters are clear of debris such as leaves and branches to allow water to move freely off of your roof during wintertime.
Keep vents open on your roof to allow for proper air circulation.
Have regular inspections of your roof. This will help you to identify any potential problems with ice dams before they become a bigger issue.
Excess Moisture Can Lead to Mold and Electrical Damage
Ice dams are formed due to heat escaping your home's roof and water refreezing. This can cause real damage to your roof and gutter channels.
They can break due to contraction, and water leaks into your home. You might be unaware of the leak in the attic, which might complicate the situation. The seepage into the walls and roof will ruin the paint job with time.
The moisture allows mold to grow, which is a serious health hazard. Moreover, it is also unpleasant to look at green mold.
If the moisture levels are not controlled, it might affect the insulation and dry the walls as well. The water leak may result in electrical damage, which is quite costly to fix. So, take preventative measures rather than incurring the cost of fixtures due to ice dams.
David Clark, a Contractor, Home Improvement Expert, and CEO at Basement Guides.
Jeneva Aaron, Founder of TheHouseWire.
Water Damage, Mold, and Gutter Damage
Ice dams can cause so much damage, not just to your roof. The damage can start with as little as putting weight on your roof.
As ice meets the warm air from inside the house, that will cause damage to walls, ceilings, floors, and insulation.
Stagnant water can cause mold and sometimes black mold, which is the most dangerous type of mold and very difficult to get rid of.
Ice dams, when heavy enough, can rip off the whole gutter from the house.
Cause Roof Leaks that Can Damage Your Ceiling
Ice dams do not permit melted ice to make its way out of your roof, which means that water will soak your shingles and find another way out - usually through your attic, causing disastrous leaks and damaging your ceiling in the process. An ice dam also puts unwanted pressure on your gutter because of its weight, which can result in tearing. Lastly, an ice dam can also encourage the growth of mold and mildew, leaving your roof unsightly and most of all, unsanitary.
Inspect Roof Often to Prevent Ice Dams
Ice dams can damage both your roof and the interior. For the roof, old and brittle shingles are easily damaged by freezing water, rot, and warp the wood roof deck if water under the shingles reaches it and tear off both the gutter and unrepaired roofs. More durable roofing standards are necessary for some places to avoid damage by ice dams as old shingles can give way under large amounts of wet snow or get destroyed in follow-up rains. It’s advisable to have the roof inspected and repaired before winter sets in, to avoid damage caused by ice.
Damage Isn’t Always Readily Apparent
Ice dams might cause some unseen dangers in their early stages as they slowly harm and destroy the roof and the ceiling. When the day becomes a little bit warmer, it will start dripping water that will cause you to open up a part of the ceiling just to let the water drain out. It will also prevent the water from spreading to other areas.
But the problem doesn’t stop there as you also need to test for mold and moisture to see how wet it was behind the walls and the ceiling. It is needed to dry out those wet areas because mold can start to grow within a few days and when warmer days come up, it will be a full-blown mold infestation that may cost you more.
That's why it is important to address this immediately to avoid it becoming a major problem for you.
Leaks in the Attic
Ice dams can weigh down your eavestroughs, causing them to collapse from the roof and damage it. They also indicate possible points of ingress for moisture or paths of heat escape. All these points to possible points of mildew and mold to form.
However, it can also cause leaks in your attic, which can warp shingles and cause leaking roofs which may further damage your attic, insulation and even any electrical units present therein.
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