Icicles: A Winter Scene or Ice Dams In Progress?

Do your gutters look like a gingerbread house?

icicles on gutter

Those icicles are a pretty addition to a snowy day… if they aren’t on your roof.

Why do I say that?

Icicles are an early sign of ice dams forming on the eaves of your roof. And that means some un-happy holiday surprises for homeowners, like

  • shingle damage,
  • attic leaks,
  • and even interior damage.

Before we hit the heart of winter here in Schuylkill County, let’s talk about ice dams:

How to identify them, how to stop them, and how to prepare your home long-term for winter storms.

But first, how do you tell the difference between a snow covered roof- and one that’s underperforming in the winter weather?

It’s a good question. In our area, we’ve got a special breed of weather. With 20% more snow, 22% more rain, and fewer sunny days than what the rest of the US experiences, it means homeowners here in Pennsylvania need to be prepared for the extra wear and tear on their home’s exterior.

Here’s the good news: If your home is in good condition there are simple ways you, as a homeowner, can maximize the longevity of your home without major overhauls.

All you have to do is know what to look for.

Is Your Roof Blocked By Ice Dams?

An ice dam happens when melting snow refreezes at the edge of your roof. That ice builds up and blocks your roof from draining water efficiently.

It’s a real problem for asphalt shingle roofs.  When melting water is blocked from reaching your gutters, it’s pushed up under the shingles instead of draining off.

Here’s a graphic from the National Weather Service  that shows what’s going on within the entire system of your home:

ice dams on roof

Ideally: Attic ventilation, roof type, insulation, and the heat from your home’s interior all work together to keep your home shedding snow and water throughout the winter. Without the perfect balance between these parts, melting snow can’t escape and freezes on the edge of your roof.

We get a lot of calls in January and February from homeowners caught completely by surprise by a sudden leak. After all, you’d expect leaks to happen during those torrential spring downpours. But sled-worthy snow and a sunny day?

If you aren’t prepared, it’s easy to miss the early warning signs of ice dams and other winter roofing problems.

That’s where those gingerbread-house icicles are a tip off to smart homeowners. Not all icicles mean your roof is damming. If they just cling to the edge of your gutter and water is draining freely? Your roof is probably all right.

But if the ice has backed up over your gutter? Watch out!

Now is a great time to prepare your home safe for the winter.

ice on roof

An Ounce of Prevention…

I love that saying:

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

When it comes to construction? The extra effort put into the initial construction of a home can make problems like ice dams a non-issue. When our crew replaces roofs, ventilation is a top priority to us because I want our work to last for decades and to be a worry-free asset to our clients.

If you’ve worked with Martin to replace your roof, chances are you and I have already had the conversation about

  • Choosing a roof that’s best for PA weather
  • Making sure the best ventilation is included in your bid
  • And looking at whether your current attic insulation is adequate for our climate (pro tip: the best time to boost your home’s insulation is when the roof is being replaced)

Maybe you suspect your roof needs more than a simple fix. You have some shingles missing, or some storm damage that’s become more of an issue over time. Still, December might not be your ideal time to talk about footing the bill for a roof replacement.

Let’s table that conversation and talk about what you can do right now to protect your home from ice this winter.

#1. Clean Gutters Prevent Ice Dams.

Anything you can do to make sure your roof has the best drainage possible before the snow flies is top priority.

Jenny covered gutter cleaning in our 5 Fall Maintenance Checks here. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is! Pine needles, leaves, debris from your shingle roof- it all builds up and keeps your gutters from shedding roof water. Add a few inches of snow and you’re asking a lot of your roof.

Are you a little unsteady on a ladder? Or do you live in a 2+ story house and just don’t have the access to give your gutters the seasonal attention they deserve? There are plenty of landscaping and handyman companies who will be happy to assist. A good professional clean costs under $250, even for two-story homes.

It’s an investment you can’t skip if you want to give your roof the best chance this winter.

#2. Prep Your Roof for Big Storms.

If your roof has dammed before, a warming system could help.

Now- they aren’t a cure all. Warming systems don’t make up for poor ventilation, inadequate insulation, or dips in your roof’s slope.

But they can help boost your home’s defense in the worst of the weather. (Think of them more as a back-up generator for your roof)

If you’ve lived here a while, you might remember the Valentine’s Day Blizzard of 2007. This marathon storm dumped 20” of snow in northern PA, but the real danger came from its length. For days, our entire state was consistently barraged with snow, sleet, and ice that melted and refroze…turning the entire state into a glopping mess.

heavy snowfall on house

Weather like that makes it difficult for you to safely remove snow and ice from your roof. Having a professional install a heated gutter guard or a heated cable can be a good preventative measure- especially for rural homes that aren’t easy to service in an emergency.

#3. Be Ready for Action!

Say the storm is already here. Now you’re faced with a roof that isn’t draining because of ice dams as well as giant icicles hanging right over your front door.

While the best protection is in prevention, there are a few things you can have on hand before the storm like:

  • Calcium Chloride (the same used to melt snow on sidewalks. DON’T substitute rock salt- it can damage your shingles!)
  • Long socks or panty hose
  • Lightweight Roof Rake with Extension

Safety first: Ice is heavy, sharp, and dangerous. It’s better to let your roof leak and have a professional fix it later than risk a major injury trying to keep your attic dry. You can fix a home a lot easier than a broken back!

As snow falls, you can keep it from building up along your eaves with a lightweight roof rake. By raking the bottom few feet of your roof free of snow, you reduce your risk of ice dam formation.

rake snow to prevent ice dams

The next day if you notice ice forming? Fill long tube socks or panty hose with Calcium Chloride and place the tubes vertically across the ice on your roof. This will melt a channel into the dam and give the water a way to drain off.

A word of caution: large chunks can break loose as ice dams melt. Steer clear and stay safe!

There’s Time to Get Your Roof Ready for Winter

Are you reading this and thinking…

“To be honest…I can’t patch up my roof any longer.”

I get it. Sometimes you can’t put another bandaid on a big problem. What you need is a solid, worry-free solution that will last for decades. And our crew can help!

Let’s talk about your roof before the cold weather sets in. Even if your budget isn’t going to free up before the holidays, we get you on the schedule for 2021 and give you the peace of mind knowing this will be the last winter you spend fighting against your roof.

You can schedule a call here or just pick up the phone at 570-345-0406. We’d love to help you out.

Wishing you a safe and warm winter,

Vern Martin

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