Posts Tagged ‘roof ice’

Icicle and ice damming problems–it’s déjà vu all over again!

February 2, 2011

GreenHomes; Roof IceIt’s a bit like Groundhog Day, that charming movie starring Bill Murray.  (And incidentally, Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow today, and thus we’re due for an early spring—hard to believe given the weather over the last two days.)   Just like BM’s character reliving Groundhog Day again and again, we keep seeing homes with icicle and ice damming problems over and over.  And we keep seeing some short-sighted “solutions”.

We’ll likely see a lot of problems over the next week or so with all the snow that’s been dumped across the Midwest and Northeast in the last couple of days. 

And so it’s interesting to see an article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, Homeowners Beware:  After Snow, the Ice Dam Cometh.

big icicles; roof iceReporter Gwendolyn Bounds points to some of the risks to your home from ice damage and leaks.  (And the danger from falling ice or falling off your roof if you’re foolish enough to climb up threre to try to shovel it.  Don’t get up on your snow covered roof—it’s very dangerous, and you could get seriously injured or die.)

It was interesting to see some of the solutions offered:

  • Pay someone to remove ice from your roof.  Cost $200-$300 per hour!  Perhaps $1,000 per instance.   And keep losing heat from your home.  And next big snow storm, do it again.  And so on, and so on.  I guess that’s OK, if you’ve got money to burn.
  • Pay to install electric ice melting cables.  Hmmm, send a lot of money to the utility to heat your home, create an ice problem on your roof, and then pay somebody to install electric cables so that you can send more money to the utility.  Sounds like a good idea…for the utility.  (BTW, don’t forget to turn the cables off and not let them run all summer.)
  • Or, fix the underlying problem so that you don’t get the ice build-up to begin with.  And save energy and lower your utility bills permanently.  And make your home more comfortable, cozy, with few drafts.

OK, I’m biased.  But there really only seems like one solution that makes any sense in the long term.  It’s too late for this storm.  So keep your fingers crossed that the ice doesn’t hurt anyone or lead to a roof leak.  But learn more about the real causes of big icicles and ice damming, and take the steps to have a good home energy assessment and air-seal and insulate your attic properly to avoid the problem—and save a lot of money that you currently pay the utility—in the future.


After the big icicles form, Watch Out!

January 19, 2011

Some of those big icicles can weigh hundreds of pounds.  They can pull gutters off houses, or wreck havoc on your car or on your head when they fall!  Be careful.  And fix the underlying problem.

Ah, Syracuse, snow brings problems with roof ice.

January 15, 2011

Driving down Court Street and the surrounding area in Syracuse yesterday, I saw literally hundreds of homes with tell-tale snow melt patterns on roofs and some monster icicles, some as long as 20 feet.  I didn’t have time to stop and take pictures–you you can search this site for examples of what this looks like and why it isn’t a good thing.  But it’s clear we’ve got to reach thousands more homes in Syracuse.  How can we spread the word?


Syracuse pounded by snow–and roof ice problems follow

December 13, 2010

Normally snowy Syracuse was hammered with snow over the past week.  And there’s more snow on the way.  The weather service has issued a lake effect watch, and estimates are as high as 2 feet of new snow by Thursday.

With the snow, comes the potential for big ice problems, icicles and ice damming.  And it’s started already, as evidenced by the pictures from Syracuse Advisor Ed Nedell.

We’ve discussed earlier about how poor air-sealing and insulation can lead to ice problems.  And we’ll renew that conversation.  Bottom line:   While nothing can totally prevent ice and icicles on your roof under these conditions, good insulation and air-sealing details can drastically reduce the problem. 

If you’re in Syracuse or central New York, and you’re experiencing this, you’ve got a clear sign that your home isn’t performing like it should, and the energy problems may lead to structural problems from ice damage.  Give us a call (315-474-6549) and we’ll get an Advisor out as soon as possible to help determine help to prevent this in the future.


Fixing Ice Dams Right Now

February 9, 2010

OK, so you know the best way to address ice dams is to prevent them from forming in the first place, with proper attic insulation and air-sealing to keep the heat and warm in your house, and then attic ventilation as the backstop to remove heat that does escape into your attic.

But you live in the mid-Atlantic region, from Virginia and DC to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and Delware up into New Jersey, you’ve been pummeled with snow, and there is more on the way.  What about the ice dam that is on your roof right now?

First, stay off the roof. Walking on an icy, snow-covered roof is dangerous. And falls even from a low roof can result in serious injury or kill you.

Chipping away at the ice with shovels, axes, hammers is also NOT a good idea. It can damage your roofing (or siding or gutters) and it too is dangerous for you.

Instead, try these temporary home remedies:

  • Use a long handled snow rake–while you stand safely on the ground and far back from where the snow will be falling—to pull off snow from around the eaves.
  • If you’ve already got an ice dam formed, with water building up behind it, fill a panty hose stocking with calcium chloride and lay it so it runs up the roof, across the ice dam. This is a last resort, and the calcium chloride may harm plants below it.  [Amazon sells a special “sock” for thick, but old nylon stockings, or even a cheap new pair from the nearest store,  should work just as well.]
  • If you’ve got water leaking in through the roof, you may be able to stop the leak by sticking a box fan in the attic and having it blast cold air on the leak, freezing the water. Of course, this is a short term fix only, and it works only if the air in the attic is sufficiently cold.

Ice dams can cause water leaks that result in thousands of dollars in damage. The best fix is good insulation and air-sealing to help avoid them in the first place. And it really works. Take action now to avoid the problems coming back in the future.


Snow in Northeast creates conditions for roof icicles and ice damming—signs of wasted energy

January 6, 2010

Burlington, Vermont got hit with a 33 inch snow storm (and several more inches from a couple other storms) last week. Syracuse, Fulton, and much as Central New York are getting pounded with snow much of the last ten days and more on the way. Snow on rooftops often leads to problems with icicles and ice damming, as we’ve discussed here before, but primarily for homes with air leakage into the attic and poor insulation. (Some will tout inadequate ventilation as the cause—but roof ventilation is often insufficient, it can make energy leakage worse, and it’s possible to solve this issue with no roof ventilation!). I thought I’d take a quick stroll and capture some examples of signs that we look for to help spot problems.  These pictures were taken within 30 minutes of each other on homes within a half mile radius of the first home shown.  What a difference good insulation and air-sealing makes!

This first home is an example of what we’d like to see.  An even snow pattern with no signs of excessive melt or ice build-up.  The attic is well-sealed and insulated to R-60+.  This particular home is more than 80 years old–so existing homes can indeed be made more energy-efficient.

This example shows that “New” isn’t always better.  After an extensive remodel completed within the last two years, this home should perform like a newly constructed home.  And in many ways, it does–unfortunately that means not as well as one would expect.  Too often new construction detailing isn’t done well and homeowners don’t really get the performance they should.

Cape Cod style homes are notorious for the poor air-sealing and insulation installation.  The changes in the roof plane and top and side attics require special attention.  More often than not, the details are missed, and the homeowner is left with deficiencies that create an inefficient home.

It’s hard to see in this photo, but there are some interesting melt patterns which probably mean some big air leaks and/or missing insulation.

Again, more recent remodeling means a big missed opportunity to improve efficiency.  I suppose this much ice, though, does make it harder for the neighbors to sign in the first floor windows!

Notice the melting along the ridge, and heat loss at the rafters telegraphing through the snow.

This looks like a semi-cathedralized ceiling, with a fair amout of air moving through the insulated rafter bays–and the ridge vent at the top may be accelerating the heat loss.

Something to think seriously about.  Excessive melting and ice damming is a good way to wreck your roof.  Now, I don’t know if that’s what happened here, but winter is not the best time to replace a roof–it’s generally done only in an emergency.

A fair amount of this home’s heating bill goes toward melting snow!

Now here’s an example of what we’d like to see those Cape Cod roofs to look like (even if this isn’t technically a Cape Cod style house)!

Whoops–looks like someone missed insulation in a couple of bays…

And several more examples follow.  Any ideas what’s going on with these?

Roof killers—icicles and ice damming

November 18, 2009

I touched on insulation and air-sealing in a few recent posts. And as happens in the winter, we’ve noticed a big increase in the last few weeks on people asking about icicles and ice damming. It’s probably time for a quick refresh and retread of an earlier post.

What is Ice Damming?
Big icicles and ice dams are typically caused by poor or missing insulation and air leakage from your house into your attic.  In the winter, this warms the roof and causes the snow to melt. The melting snow then moves down the roof slope until it reaches the cold overhang, where it refreezes.

The process forms icicles and can actually create a dam that eventually forces the water to back up under the shingles and sometimes into the ceiling or wall inside the home. In addition to roof and water damage, ice dams can cause structural decay and mold and mildew to form in attics and on wall surfaces. 

Big icicles are a good sign of too much heat loss through your attic.

Big icicles themselves, like those shown here, are obvious signs that you’re at risk.

But snow melt patterns can also indicate a problem of too much heat loss. In this photo below, you can see snow melting off the roof at different rates, driven by heat loss from the house. 

roof snow melt patterns

Uneven snow melt also is a sign that something is awry

And in the townhouse complex below you can see the building that GreenHomes treated with even snow still on the roof—a sign the building isn’t losing energy rapidly. Conversely, you see the untreated building with the snow melted–a sign that it’s losing a lot of energy. No big icicles this time—but had it been a bit colder, the melting snow would have refrozen at the eaves and created big problems.
treated townhouse retains heat
The townhome treated by GreenHomes loses heat more slowly through the attic and thus snow melts slowly and doesn’t accumulate as ice out at the eaves.


a leaky and poorly insulation town home attic melts snow quicly

This town home has not been treated and the wasted heat melts snow quickly. In the right temperatures, the melted snow would refreeze and create ice problems--bad news. And in any event, this folks in this building are spending a lot more on energy than they should.

The Fix
Fortunately, you can dramatically reduce damage from ice damming by sealing the holes connecting your heated living space and the attic, as well as properly insulating your attic. There are different techniques to stop air leaking through recessed lights, leaky heating ducts, attic access doors, and plumbing and electrical penetrations. Sealing these leaks keeps warm air in your house were it belongs. Together, with adequate levels of insulation, this greatly reduces the chance of ice damming and large icicles.  You do NOT just want to add more insulation before sealing the air leaks—this can actually create additional problems that can also damage your roof. 

It’s important to not that you can’t eliminate icicles completely.  Small icicles are normal.  And some roof architecture–especially big valleys draining to a small corner–are especially challenging.  But if you have long icicles or thick heavy ice you should act quickly to prevent damage.  (And this means preventing the ice from forming in the first place, not risk life, limb, and your roof trying to chip off ice that’s there.)
 Do it right.  Find the important leakage points and seal them up.  Then add a lot of insulation.  And afterwards, as with any time you change the way your house works, have your combustion appliances tested to make sure they’re operating safely and efficiently.

An added benefit to this, of course, is you’ll save energy, save money, and be more comfortable in your home, too!

Save the ice for your holiday cocktails!

[Update, see more roof melt and icicle photos.]


P.S.  The added insulation can qualify for the $1,500 federal credit.  Save money while you save you roof!

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