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When Winter Roof Leaks Aren’t Caused by Ice Dams

If you have a roof leak in the middle of January and live in Minnesota, assuming you’ve got ice dam problems is not a bad guess.  However, there are other reasons you might start seeing some water inside your home during the colder months.

For example, sometimes we get calls about flat roofs that are leaking, but that only have a “mini” ice dam: a small ridge of ice at the edge of the building that’s just big enough to trap a small amount of water.  In this case, the leak is almost always caused by a small hole or a puncture in the rubber membrane.

During the summer it’s easy for water to flow off of a flat roof thanks to one of three common drainage systems (inner drains, scuppers, or gutters).

The water on a flat roof flows much more slowly than does water flowing on a sloped roof.   If any ice forms along the edge or in your drainage system, your flat roof will pool water quickly.  Assuming you’re your flat roof is watertight (and can withstand the excess water-weight) you’ll probably be OK.  But…should you have even the smallest of holes in your roofing material, water will find its way through and cause mayhem.

When we get called to a leaky flat roof, we typically clear the ice that’s present, allow the water to drain, and refer our customer to a roofer.  Some of our technicians are commercial roofers, so we’ve even been known to patch a few leaks ourselves over the years when the situation demands it.

The majority of flat roofs we deal with are on businesses, but each season we see a few on homes, typically above porches.  On porches these flat roofs are often made out of rubber.  Sometimes these roofs get beat-up in a hailstorm, or a critter thought the rubber looked tasty.  Any snow-melt goes right through those little holes.

We see many people who have serious problems with their flashing.

Flashing is a thin metal strip or square (often copper or another galvanized type of metal) that should be installed anytime anything penetrates your roof.  That includes chimneys, ventilation fans, skylights, and so on.  Some hack roofers cut corners by caulking those areas rather than use flashing, or they install the flashing haphazardly.  Over time the caulking fails, or the sub-par flashing springs a leak, or both.  The leak will usually show up in the winter, when the water is pooled-up and can’t come racing down the roof.  Research your roofers!

Sometimes the problem doesn’t have anything at all to do with the roof.  One time, one of our customers had installed residential-grade fire sprinklers.  He had a slow leak in one of the pipes in routed through his attic.  He did have a lot of ice and snow on his roof, but that wasn’t the problem.  Seeing a sprinkler system in a home seemed odd to our tech, so he felt the need to peek in the attic.  The leak was close to the attic door, so he got up there with a ladder and a flashlight to have a look.  Our Ice Dam Guys® tech spotted the leak immediately, and saved the homeowner thousands of dollars of unnecessary ice dam removal.

This is a great example of why it’s good to be home when an Ice Dam Guys® pro shows up.  If the homeowner had not been there, we’d have had no choice but to remove the ice and snow from the roof.  He’d have had a big bill and the leaks wouldn’t have stopped!  (This particular gent insisted on paying us for our time anyway).

I’m not trying to convince you your winter roof leak isn’t caused by an ice dams.  99 times out of 100 an ice dam is the cause.  If you see water entering your home, calling an ice dam removal pro is still the best bet.  We’ll probably be able tell you if it’s something else.  You may just want to check quickly first to make sure it’s not one of the rare other culprits.







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