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Stop or Minimize Roof Leaks with a New Roof

Nothing can guarantee you’ll never get an ice dam on your roof and/or a leak in your home.   But you can make ice dams leaks much less of a danger.

The trick is simple: if you’re in need of a new roof, ask your roofer to install ice and water shielding over every square inch of your roof.

I’m not saying ice dam leaks are a roofer’s fault. 

As I’ve written in the past, if you have a leak you shouldn’t call your roofer to complain.  That’s because 99% of the time it’s not his fault, even if he just recently installed a new roof for you.  When ice dams are involved, even a new roof can leak.   That’s because roofs are designed to shed water, not to hold it.  An ice dam essentially forces the roof to hold water.

Now, could the roofer have done a better job?  Maybe.  Would an ice-dam-savvy roofer have done things differently?  Possibly.  It’s hard to determine either of those things.  In any case, you won’t get your roofer to foot the bill if you get an ice dam leak.

I’ll assume you have an ice-dam-prone roof, in which case getting your roofer to add ice and water shielding everywhere is almost always a great idea.  I say “almost” only because there’s one exception to the rule.  That exception is: I would not cover my entire roof with ice and water shielding if my roofer told me I had insufficient ventilation.   It’s unlikely you’ll be told that, though.

There’s a reason we don’t seal our roofs to be completely airtight and watertight.

If your home can’t “breathe,” you can’t breathe and will eventually take an involuntary floor nap.  We need fresh air.  If you cover the entire roof in a big sheet of rubber you’ll need adequate ventilation in the rest of your house.  Most homes do have proper ventilation, which is key to keeping your attic space as close to the ambient temperature as possible (and to minimize condensation).

Don’t bark at your roofer to “Just do it.”  Make the roofer a member of your team.  If he’s hesitant to cover your entire roof, ask him whether it’s a ventilation issue, or possibly something else.  He may say, “No, the ventilation’s fine. But full ice and water coverage will be expensive and it’s not essential.”

It is expensive. You can expect to pay approximately $1-2 per square foot, depending on the brand of ice and water shield you use and on who installs it for you.  The brand I recommend, Grace Ice and Water Shield, typically runs about $1.50 per square foot.  But it’s less expensive than fighting ice dam damage year after year.

So at that point you can tell the roofer, “I’m not worried about the expense.  I have an ice-dam-prone home and I want to keep water from leaking in.  I think I’ll save money in the long run.”  Many Minnesota roofers will understand that.

If he still resists, reframe the conversation.  Ask, “If the ice and water shielding were free, would you advise me to use it?”

He’ll say, “But it’s not free.”

“Yes, but what if it was?”

“Well, then yeah.  I would install it, for sure.”

Contrary to popular belief, many contractors will steer you to the least expensive thing.

That isn’t inherently a problem, but many homeowners are overly tightfisted and not savvy.  They hire contractors based on price alone.  Contractors get into the habit of trying to avoid anything that may raise their quote too high.  They assume they won’t get hired if they do that.  It makes them nervous.

Contractors are like most other people. Most are creatures of habit. They get used to doing things one way, and tend not to think about the full range of options.  That’s why you may get some pushback on installing ice and water shielding even if there’s no good reason not to install it.  In fact, if you read any roofer’s forum you’ll notice that there’s little consensus on whether to install ice and water shielding all over the roof or not to.

Maybe you really don’t have enough ventilation for ice and water shielding. What then?

If you don’t have sufficient ventilation to install ice and water shielding over all of your roof, you’ll still want as much coverage as possible. If it’s a ventilation issue you can ask for 12 feet of ice and water shielding instead of six feet.  The roofer may say, “We can even get 14 feet up there, but we can’t get all the way to the peak.”  That’s fine.  Snow doesn’t tend to gather on the peak of your roof anyway.  Or you can ask him to simply install some additional roof ventilation – that’s certainly easy enough to do (and cheap).

If the roofer continues to give you pushback, find someone else.  Find someone who will work with you – as in lay out your options and provide suggestions, but ultimately do what you ask.  You want to find the one roofer out of 50 who will think to call you in a couple of years to ask whether you ever had any ice dam leaks.

Ask them to install the ice and water shielding in an ice dam-savvy way.

I recommend roofers shingle ice and water shielding in an overlapping pattern. That is, they start at the bottom and work their way up, running the shielding horizontally along the overhang, overlapping each run by a few inches or so.  The overlap is if you want to avoid little gaps where water can leak in – defeating the whole purpose of the ice and water shielding.

Some roofers hesitate to do this because it will cause a small bump instead of a nice, flat surface to lay shingles on.  But with today’s architectural shingles you’ll never see that little bump.  You’ll create one fewer place for water to seep in, and it will look fine.

Make sure your roofer overlaps each length of ice and water shielding.  Although they should do this without you having to ask – do yourself a favor, and ask anyways.

Don’t forget the flashing.

Flashing is just as important for preventing roof leaks as ice and water shielding is. Depending on where you live, 4 inches is typically standard, but if I had an ice-dam-prone roof I’d ask for six. Again, you can usually get buy-in from the roofer by sharing your home’s history: “I get ice dams.  I get bad roof leaks.  I need the extra protection and I’m willing to pay for it.”

Will all precautions make your home ice-dam-proof?

No.  You can do everything right and still get ice dams.  But if those ice dams don’t cause leaks into your home, then you’ve won the battle my friend. With extended flashing and ice & water shield covering your entire roof, it will be nearly impossible for them to cause a leak inside your home.  Getting an ice dam might even be inconsequential altogether, unless the ice dam grows so big that it begins ripping off your gutters or bending the overhangs of your roof.

Ice and water shielding is a wonderful investment. Yes, you’ll pay more up-front, but your roof could last 20-30 years.  That may yield 20-30 years of never having to pay for ice dam removal.  And because the owners of some ice-dam-prone homes spend $2000 to $6000 on ice dam removal every year, you may break even on your up-front investment sooner than you think.

By the way, we practice what we preach.  Remember that photo you saw at top of this page?  That’s of our recently-built shop.  We covered the entire roof in ice and water shielding.  Sure, it cost us a little more, but we know we’ll never have a leak while we’re in the shop tuning up our custom-built steamers or taking calls from ice dam removal customers.

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