I bet you didn’t ask for an ice dam for the holidays. However, the deep freeze that grips much of the country in January and February will deliver unwanted ice dams to many homeowners.
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How to Spot an Ice Dam
Ice dams usually form from melting snow. As snow on the roof melts frozen gutters and downspouts prevent the water from being directed to the ground. Instead, ice forms in the gutters preventing the water from the snowmelt from even getting to the gutters. The melting snow water refreezes creating an even larger ice dam.
Ice dams can be found anywhere on a home, but are most frequently found on the north side of buildings. The north side is particularly vulnerable due to not getting as much direct sunlight to melt the ice. A telltale sign of an ice dam is an icicle hanging from your eaves.
How an Ice Dam Creates a Water Leak
Let’s start with some background on roof construction and how an ice dam causes a water leak. First a plywood sheathing is installed. Next, a waterproof protective barrier is applied on top of the plywood. Finally the roof shingles are nailed in place. The determining factor on how much trouble an ice dam on your roof can cause depends in large part on how far up the waterproof protective barrier goes underneath the shingles.
When the weather warms, snow melts and flows toward the gutters. Ice dams block the flow of this water, causing the water to backup underneath the roof shingles. When the water backs up above the waterproof protective barrier, it begins leaking into your house. That’s when sheetrock on the roof gets soft and caves in with attic insulation coming with it. The damage only gets worse from there as the water seeks the lowest point in the house. This means the water can run in multiple directions, potentially causing significant damage.
What to do When You Get an Ice Dam on Your Roof
Once an ice dam forms you have limited options. To start with, make sure the ice forming doesn’t get so heavy it can fall and hurt someone or cause structural damage. With this in mind, here are your options once an ice dam forms:
- Knock down the icicles to prevent them from falling on someone and from getting so heavy they cause structural damage.
- Get up on the roof and chip the ice off the roof and away from the gutters. This is a poor option for the reason that the roof shingles can be damaged in the process.
- Use hot water to melt the ice dam.
The Most Common Cause of Ice Dams
Inadequate insulation is the most common cause of ice dams. The reason for this is that warm air escapes from the heated portion of your home into the cold attic. This warm air collects in the uppermost portion of the attic, causing snow near the top of the roof to melt. As the water from the melting snow runs down toward the eve, the water refreezes forming an ice dam.
The Best Ways to Prevent an Ice Dam
Knowing that poor insulation is the primary cause of ice dams, it’s obvious that adding more insulation in the attic is one of the most effective ways of preventing ice dams. This is often a longer-term project, as opposed to a project that is undertaken on an emergency basis when an ice dam forms.
Another way of preventing ice dams is to make sure the waterproof protective barrier runs far up the roof underneath the shingles. This will not prevent heat from escaping your home through the attic like insulation will. What this does do is make sure that when an ice dam does form the water on the roof cannot leak into your home.
Will homeowners insurance pay for damage caused by an ice dam?
Homeowners insurance typically will cover damage from ice dams. However, be sure to check your insurance policy to make sure there aren’t exclusions that would prevent you from being covered. You will of course be responsible for the deductible amount specified you insurance policy.
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Will my homeowners insurance company offer a fair settlement?
This is a completely different question than whether damage from an ice dam is covered. The reason this is a different question is that just because your insurance covers something doesn’t mean your insurance company will pay promptly and in full.
Unfortunately, consumers don’t know how willing their insurance company is when it comes to paying claims. The analysis ValChoice performs shows how well insurance companies perform when it comes to claim payment. The result of the analysis is an easy-to-read, fuel-gauge-style image showing how any insurance company compares to the industry.
In reality, this is one of the most important pieces of information consumers need when buying insurance. After all, what good is insurance if it won’t pay a legitimate claim.
ValChoice analyzes nearly every homeowners insurance company in the country. The analysis is done in every state where the company operates. This analysis enables consumers to know which companies will provide them the best protection.
Note: ValChoice does not receive any form of compensation from insurance companies for grading them in our auto and home insurance report cards. Our analysis is independent and unbiased.
For Those Adding Insulation to Their Attic
If you plan to add insulation to your home, be sure to check on available tax credits, rebates and savings programs. There are multiple ways to find these. One way to find tax credits, rebates and savings programs is to check the department of energy website. Be sure to select your state before beginning your search.
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