By Josh Deakin

Winter time in Maine can be a beautiful time of year. The snow hangs on surrounding trees with such grace it at times appears to defy gravity itself. Unfortunately, winter also brings a variety of potential problems for homeowners. One particularly pesky and persistent problem that comes with cold weather is snow and ice build-up on roofs and ice dams. 

Ice dams are large mounds of ice that form along the edges and seams of your roof. If the air is cold, you won’t have any issues. But when the sun decides to shine, those chunks of ice melt and the water can work its way under your roof shingles and cause serious water damage to your ceilings and walls inside. Heavy ice dams can also damage and tear off gutters. Water can work its way several feet from the original site of the ice dam, and get under the shingles and under the eaves of the roof. The damage an ice dam can cause can be significant and result in quite the headache between dealing with your insurance company and trying to get the actual problem fixed.

Preventing an ice dam is an invaluable task. The idea behind it is simple in theory but more complex in practice. You have to keep your roof the same temperature as the eaves. This can be done by increasing your ventilation. Creating vents under the eaves of your roof to circulate the air under your whole roof is a good way to do this when paired with a ridge vent at the peak of the roof. A good rule of thumb for how many vents in your eaves is one square foot of ventilation for every 300 square feet of attic. Keep in mind that to maintain a cold temperature in the attic, you need to have any paths into the attic sealed. Use weatherstripped caps to seal up all attic hatches or fans that may offer an opportunity for heat to enter.

Adding insulation can be an excellent way to ensure that heat stays in the proper area of the house and doesn’t flow into the attic region where heat’s not needed. Putting an extra layer of insulation on your attic floor helps hold the heat in the habitable parts of the house. 

If you have recessed lighting in your home, consider using sealed can lights. The older style of lights can give off lots of heat and as a result cannot be insulated due to it being a fire hazard. The solution would be to instal sealed IC fixtures which can be insulated without fear of a fire.

A chimney passing through an attic can also give off unwanted heat from the source below. You can prevent this heat from spreading by installing steel flashing between the chimney and the space in your attic. The steel should be held secure with fire-stop sealant. Please take note that canned insulation isn’t a fire safe alternative.

Another important tip is to make sure your house’s various exhaust vents — from the kitchen and dryer for example — vent to the outside but never through the eaves of the roof. The exhaust from a dryer is very warm and can raise temperatures quickly. If it exhausts through the eaves, or soffit, it will most likely lead to melting ice dams. 

Other preventative measures include products like adhesive ice and water barriers that can be applied when you put on a new roof. It’s a special type of sealant that will waterproof the area.

Be diligent when raking the snow off of your roof after a heavy snowfall. By raking the snow off of your roof, you are withholding the opportunity for the snow to melt and create an ice dam on the roof. It’s very effective but requires a lot of discipline. Depending on the height of your roof, some areas may be difficult to reach with a roof rake.

A final option for preventing ice dams is installing heat cables on your roof. You’ve likely seen them before and possibly questioned what they were. If you mount heat cables in high risk spots on your roof, you can melt away any issues before they arise. Be sure to create a path for the water to travel or the melted water will refreeze in a gutter. Be sure to run some heat cable in a downspout to prevent this.

Ice dams can be a large pain for a new homeowner who is unaware or otherwise uninformed of the dangers they possess. The damage that can be caused by one can be large and expensive. With winter fast approaching, it’s important to consider these potential challenges and take proper preventative measures.