Ice Dams and Snow on Your Roof

With the unusually high amount of snow we’ve received since the end of January, here is information on safely removing the snow and ice from your roof.

There’s been a lot of discussion about ice dams. In addition to the information below, the Boston Globe has an excellent guide and graphics to understanding ice dams and safe snow removal.

What are ice dams?

Ice dams form at the edge of roofs or gutters during the thawing and re-freezing process. As melting occurs from the home’s heat rising and warming the underside of the roof, the water runs to the cold roof edge where it refreezes.

The melting and refreezing causes the ice dams to back up higher into the roof line. Melted snow trapped by the ice dam keeps water from draining off the edge of the roof. When this water backs up it can be forced under the shingles and cause dripping into the attic, the insulation, and possibly into your living areas.

Does removing snow from the roof stop an ice dam from forming?

Ideally, removing the first three to four feet of snow from the roofline following a storm greatly reduces the risk of ice dam formation. Care must be used not to cause damage to the roof in removing the snow.

Some tips to keep in mind:

– Use a roof rake or soft bristled broom, taking care not damage roof shingles
– Do not use the roof rake near power lines or electrical wires
– Avoid using a ladder if possible, since this can be slippery with snow and ice
– Avoid standing under roofs with large amounts of snow and icicles
– Have a second person with you in case you need assistance

Do ice dams mean there will be damage?

Not necessarily. It depends on the construction of the roof and how high the water backs up. Roofs with proper moisture barriers over the sheathing are much less likely to allow water intrusion into the home.

If water enters the home from an ice dam is there coverage?

Generally, there is coverage for damage to the structure of the home (i.e., insulation, walls, ceilings, etc.). There is no coverage for personal property (i.e., items stored in the attic, pictures hanging on the wall, curtains, etc.).

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