January 26, 2009 | by Mike Milliman

How to Prevent Ice Dam Damage

For those who enjoy the cycle of the seasons, winter can be a time of beauty, with snow-covered vistas and a sense of peaceful tranquility. However, for the homeowner, the extra demands put on your house by the winter weather can be the source of surprises and frustration.

One of these surprises can come when you suddenly find the plaster or drywall of an outside wall, or the ceiling near an outside wall, is damp, maybe even wet. Alternatively, you might notice that your rain gutters are encased in ice and snow with a ridge of ice on the roof above the gutter. Welcome to the world of the ice dam.

This is a situation where your rain gutters are totally innocent bystanders in another, unrelated problem. What you have is an insulation and attic ventilation problem. Snow accumulated on the roof. Your furnace system responded to the winter cold by heating the interior of your house. Some of the heat (too much of the heat) passed through the insulation and into the attic. There was inadequate venting from the attic to the outdoors, allowing heat to build up in the attic, warming the roof. As the roof warmed, the snow on top of it began to melt, starting near the ridge of the roof. The water ran down the roof. Along the lower edge of the roof, the roof remained colder and the water turned to ice. The ice gradually built up into a ridge. Water formed a pool against the ice dam and ran up under the shingles, found a leak path, and flowed inside. The moisture dripped onto the insulation in the attic near the outside wall, wetting the plaster or dry wall of the ceiling or outside wall.

What do you do about it?

Improve the attic ventilation, improve your attic insulation, and fix any roof leaks you have found. Maybe install a roof deicing system to prevent the formation of future ice dams.

What does any of this have to do with your gutter system? The event made you aware that the gutters can be overwhelmed by the winter weather. While examining those rain gutters, which are completely filled with ice and gaily decorated with icicles hanging down from the gutters, you might come to realize that the gutters were partially filled with leaves, twigs, tree seeds (like maple tree “helicopters”), and other debris. This debris created pools of water that turn to ice and facilitate the blockage problem. Time to start planning to (1) clean out the rain gutters in the spring, and (2) install a gutter protection system. This would consist of gutter guards, gutter covers, gutter screens, or gutter filters.

In the process of collecting rainfall, your gutters also collect all that other debris mentioned above. Inevitably, the debris level builds up and blocks the rain gutter. You might have to clean out the gutters two to four times a year, depending on local conditions, to keep the gutters empty and clean. A gutter protection system will keep most of the debris out of the gutters (Note “most”—not “all”). Practically all of these systems will still require some periodic maintenance, but maybe once every two or three years rather than two to four times every year.

How do they work?

They all have some device to try to block the debris while allowing the water to flow through. A gutter screen has a coarse open screen, which catches most of the debris as the water flows. A gutter guard will usually have narrow slots the water can flow through. The gutter cover is shaped so the water flow will follow a curved surface and fall into the gutter while the debris falls outside the gutter. A gutter filter uses open cell foam to allow water flow through while blocking out the debris.

Any one of these types of systems will improve the cleanliness of your rain gutters and reduce your gutter maintenance requirements. There are many different designs and they have different levels of performance in avoiding debris inside your rain gutters. But most experts agree that you should not expect any of them to eliminate the need for some maintenance of your rain gutter system.

For further information about the different types and models of gutter guards, gutter covers, gutter screens, and gutter filters search our website. You can view photographs and descriptions of many of the different products currently available. Whether you are interested in hiring a gutter contractor or doing it yourself, you need to learn more about the products and their features and costs before making a decision on what kind of product to install on your home. Improving your attic insulation and venting in order to prevent the future formation of an ice dam on your roof should probably be your first priority. However, number two should be selecting and installing a gutter protection system.

Category: DIY

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About the Author
Mike is managing partner at Gutter Supply Inc. and has over 20 years of experience in the industry. His expertise and vast knowledge of the industry, along with his priority on customer service, has contributed to the continued success of Gutter Supply, it’s contractor customers and homeowner DIY’s.

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