Beware of ice dams as melting snow refreezes

ice hanging from roofA weather cycle of snow followed by cold but sunny days could increase the chance of ice dams forming in your gutters.

Though not a common concern west of the Cascades, Inland Northwest residents know about ice dams. They form when snow melts in the warmer middle section of a roof only to refreeze at its colder, uninsulated edge, and in gutters.

Blocked by a dam of ice, water can't flow off the roof, so it backs up. Standing water soaks shingles and seeps into wall cavities, causing leaks and – over time – decay.

Much of eastern Washington and Oregon have been blanketed by snow recently. Clear skies today and tomorrow could allow sunshine to melt rooftop snow, only to have water and slush freeze into solid ice after dark as temperatures plummet to single digits.

Today's Spokesman-Review reports snow will return Wednesday night and Thursday, with even colder arctic air returning Friday. It's a chronic cycle familiar to many across the Inland Northwest.

So what can homeowners do about ice dams? It helps to prevent indoor heat from leaking through unheated attics and rising to the roof. Prevention is best achieved by adding ceiling insulation to a depth of 12 inches (R-38) and calking any gaps. That keeps your attic cool and lessens rooftop melting.

Also, ensure outside air flows freely through your attic by keeping your roof and soffit vents unobstructed.

person on roof removing snow and ice Hardware stores sell ice-dam remedies that range from electrical heat tape to calcium chloride stockings. But my colleagues in PEMCO's Claims department aren't fond of using chemicals, which can damage shingles. And they're leery about people climbing ladders, especially in icy weather.

So if it's too late for prevention, we say do not get on a ladder, and do not attempt to climb onto your slick roof to remove snow and ice. Call a professional that specializes in snow-removal service.

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