Dealing With Ice Dams
Carols have been sung, presents have been opened, and New Years kisses have been planted. The holidays are officially over, and with more than two months of winter left, everyone can agree: it’s cold. Winter is a harsh season and it’s important to protect yourself as well as your home. As you don your extra layers, put on your thickest socks, and bundle up tight, safety comes first when you head outdoors.
With temperatures well below freezing, the winter wonderland of December has become January’s slippery slope. Ice is everywhere, hanging from gutters and covering driveways, walkways, and sidewalks. Although it can be beautiful, it’s also very dangerous, so we’d like to encourage you to take the appropriate precautions. The de-icing guide below will help keep you and your property ice-free this season.
We aren’t talking about creative seasonal cussing – an ice dam is actually something that occurs on your roof. Ice damming happens when snow and ice collect, usually at the eaves.
Heat escapes from the interior of the home into the attic through air leakage in the ceiling or poorly insulated sections of the attic, melting the snow on the roof above. As the snow melts, it runs down the roof until it encounters unmelted snow on the unheated eaves. There, it will refreeze. This process will continue until an ice dam is formed. If the dam is large enough, water will back up under the shingles and leak into the eaves, exterior walls, and building interior.
Some roofs are more prone to ice damming than others. Ice dams are most commonly formed on roofs with low slopes or roofs that change from a steep slope down to a low slope. The largest dams tend to form over unheated areas, such as eaves, porches, and attached garages. Ice dams are also common above party walls and below skylights.
Ice damming doesn’t necessarily happen every winter. Ice dams normally form after periods of heavy snowfall when daytime temperatures are at, or slightly above, freezing, and night time temperatures are below freezing
The trick is to keep the attic, and therefore the roof surface, cold enough that the snow does not melt. There are three major preventative measures to consider when approaching the issue of ice damming:
1. Adding attic insulation
This will work well depending on the attic in question. However, some attics have so many warm air leaks that it would be impossible to add enough insulation to fix the problem – which is why you should also consider the second approach.
In many cases, with proper sealing tools, a homeowner can take care of this task themselves. However, some situations require a specialist to find and fix the issue. Common air leakage paths include attic access hatches, ceiling light fixtures (especially potlights), and plumbing stacks.
3. Improving attic ventilation
Additional attic venting can help to flush out excess warm air in the attic before it can heat up the roof and melt the snow.
Salting & Other Ice Removal Alternatives
Ensuring your driveway and walkway are clear of ice and snow is imperative not only for your safety, but for the safety of others. Falls are a leading cause of injury in North America, and it is the homeowners’ responsibility to keep their property accessible for visitors and pedestrians.
We know shovelling can be a pain in the back, but it’s a fairly manageable chore. De-Icing, however, can be less straightforward. There are a few natural methods you can undertake; we’ve listed our top four:
Urea is the second most common de-icer. It is a liquid, making it easy to apply to pathways, and more convenient to clean up. However, its state also means it can cause more damage to surrounding plants. It’s also less convenient to purchase.
3. Alfalfa Meal
Alfalfa meal is a less popular solution. Like urea, it is a natural fertilizer; however it contains less nitrogen so it’s a bit less damaging. It’s a very effective de-icer, and due to its dry and grainy nature, it provides additional traction to those walking and driving on it. Unfortunately it is more difficult to purchase.
4. Sugar Beet Juice
Sugar beet juice is becoming a more popular method for de-icing, being adopted by many municipalities for winter road care, like Toronto and Niagara Region. The juice from sugar beets lowers the freezing point of water, and helps with de-icing. It is colorless, odorless, and harmless. However, it’s more expensive than its salty counterpart and less convenient to purchase
We hope our guide helps keep you free of ice dams, ice patches, and ice-related damage or injury. For more seasonal maintenance tips and advice, please visit the Carson Dunlop blog. Our frequently updated articles are easily shared and meant to help homeowners and their homes stay healthy and happy. If there’s a Home Inspection topic that we’ve yet to cover on our blog or in our newsletter, make sure to let us know via Twitter or Facebook and we’ll do our best to help out.