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Why You Can’t Completely Prevent Ice Dams From Forming

“I’ve done everything right,” my customer said to me this winter. “I did the dumb energy audit. I have been religiously raking the snow off my roof. And I still got ice dams. Am I ever going to be rid of these things?”

I had to shake my head no. Unfortunately, you can do everything right under the sun, and you’d still be under the sun. And nobody has any way to control the sun, which means to some extent we’re always at its mercy.

You’re never done with ice dams for good, unless you can keep your roof completely snow-free all winter long. Easier said than done, of course; you probably have things like a job and a family which require your attention and make babysitting your roof impossible.

I’d love to be able to offer you a magic formula to prevent ice dams, but the best I can do is to is to offer you suggestions that will greatly reduce the likelihood of getting an ice dam. There are even certain styles of houses you can buy that will make you a little less susceptible.

Reduce the risk of ice damming

Please don’t think, “Well, why bother raking my roof? Why bother with that energy audit? Why bother improving my insulation, ventilation, or sealing my attic bypasses?”

Doing those things will dramatically reduce your risk of getting an ice dam, and in most cases these steps will eliminate ice dams altogether.

Whether you eliminate ice dams, or just reduce their frequency, that means you’ll spend much less money on ice dam removal over the next 20 or 30 years than will your neighbor who completely ignores all ice dam related preventive measures (as well as ignores that 12-inch block of ice forming on his roof year after year).

It’s no different from brushing your teeth. Will brushing your teeth daily mean you never have a cavity? Of course not, but it makes your trips to the dentist’s chair much less eventful (and less expensive), and nobody will mistake you for Austin Powers.

Why an ice dam forms

With ice dams, there’s just an element that’s out of your control any time there is snow on your roof.

If it’s 14 degrees below zero, and the sun is providing enough radiant heat, then the snow on your roof will melt. And when that melted snow reaches your overhangs or other colder spots atop your roof, it’s going to refreeze. Once the sun sets, everything will refreeze in place within a matter of minutes.

If there was heavy snowfall when you were on vacation, for example, and you were unable to rake the snow off of your roof (assuming the temperature and/or sunshine were conducive to melting some of that snow), then you’ll probably be greeted by the presence of an ice dam upon your return home.

More snow means more snow to melt, and more melted snow (i.e. water) means faster ice-dam formation.

At the end of the day, the risk of ice dams is just a part of life here in the Midwest and other snowy regions across the U.S.

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