A January thaw is on its way by later this week (listen above). While that will undoubtedly be a relief the recent subzero temperatures, the rapid warm-up also comes with some hazards, especially for homeowners.
The build-up of ice along roofs and gutters can lead to sudden problems when the ice melts, says Mike Wood, a sales manager at Callen Construction in Milwaukee.
"When it refreezes, it causes ice damming. And that ice damming can cause things like water stains inside the home, water dripping through your soffits, it can push gutters off of your home, it can push shingles – there’s a lot of things it can do," he says.
So what can you do to prevent an ice dam from building up?
Keep your attic space at the same temperature as the outside air. As heat rises from your home into the attic, Wood says it will cause the snow and ice on your roof to melt quickly, which when it refreezes causes the ice dam. Using proper insulation will keep the heat in your house, but more importantly, keep it from escaping into your roof shingles through your attic.
"The more that we can prevent from melting and refreezing later, the better off we're going to be," Wood says.
Insulation also prevents moisture from forming inside your attic, which can create mold and mildew.
Wood says whenever there is a big snowstorm, homeowners should use a roof rake to scrape the first two to three feet of their roofs free from snow. This should be done within 24 hours of that snowfall.
"That frees that bottom area up so that as the water does run down, it doesn't get stuck in the snow and gets right off the gutter and gets right off the roof," he says.
But be careful not to chop at your roof with the rake, as this can damage shingles.
If you can't reach the first few feet of your roof to rake it, Wood suggests having heater cables installed. These cables line the first few feet along the eave of your home and even run through the gutter, to help ice and snow melt and keep the moisture free-flowing.
Ice can pose a danger to gutters as it is heavier than water and snow, causing gutters to droop under the weight. Expanding ice can also push apart gutter seems and push gutters away from the fascia, which attaches them to the home.
Pantyhose and calcium chloride
Calcium chloride acts like a salt, but is safer for your roof, Wood says. Putting it inside a pair of pantyhose makes a long, snakelike solution to lay on top of an ice dam and help break it up.
"It's not a great solution, but in an emergency situation or sometimes when you have to get it free or get it out of there, it should help too," Wood says.
Do you have an ice dam? What homeowners should look for:
- If you see water spots inside your house, Wood says this could just be the tip of the iceberg - you may have inches of damp insulation in your attic. "The moment you see that, you have to realize that you've got a problem," he says.
- If you see water pouring off of the soffits of your home, it is likely running out through your attic and could be rotting out your wood/
- If you see water running between your gutters and the fascia board, there may also be problems.
- Have your chimney inspected. Cracks and pieces of brick lying on your roof are indications that ice and water have gotten in between the mortar and expanded.
Wood is also a representative of the Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Council.