Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Ice Dams and Your Sick House

The Internet can be a great thing when we are sick, right? IMG_3009We can find some reassurance or simple treatments to get us through or we can find that we are doomed. So to placate our freak out, we go to a doctor and find out it is nothing even close to what we thought, and the doctor proceeds to properly diagnose and treat us. It’s a good thing we have people who are trained and certified to determine what is best to keep us healthy.

What if we asked as much from builders as we do doctors? Isn’t a building’s health important to our own health and investment? Shouldn’t the most critical problems be dealt with appropriately? Wouldn’t it be nice to know whom exactly to ask, or even have more confidence in the advice we are given? Unfortunately, there aren’t enough or the right certifications to know if someone is worth their salt, so we must rely on their reputation, word, and a carefully defined scope and contract.

The most severe symptoms a house can have are peeling paiIMG_3019nt, leaks, moisture, movement, rot, and ice dams. Ice dams suggest a building is in crisis, requiring the right diagnosis and treatment. Ice dams are pretty simple in concept; warm air melts the snow and the water refreezes into ice. But how it happens is not why it happens.

  • Moving warm air. A roof or wall penetration, like a fan or vent stack, pulls the house’s warm air into your roof or overhang.
  • Blocked insulation. Air must flow from a soffit vent to a ridge vent unobstructed.
  • Poor insulation. Roof insulation should be either a “hot” or “cold” roof system, making a proper “hat” for your building.

Ice damming can be resolved through a proper diagnosis unique to your building dynamics. A general contractor who IMG_3013specializes in remodeling can develop an approach with the right specialists, or you can look to gather your own specialists like insulators, energy auditors, carpenters, and roofers. Yet sometimes the best team is already assembled through a general contractor.

The cost can be a big obstacle, but there may be help. You can get specific incentives and rebates from National Grid to air seal and insulate your building, either performed by the utility or by others. Also, all of the winter’s damage could be covered by homeowner’s insurance. The most important point to recognize is that while you can fix the ice damming, you will be saving money from lower heating and cooling costs, not to mention less damage by severe weather.

Be wary of quick fixes. An ice and water shield does not prevent ice damming, just protects against potential water infiltration. The sun alone does not cause ice damming; it is primarily from your house’s heat. Caulk is a mask not a fix. Blindly adding more insulation may do nothing, since wrong is wrong, and layering more wrong is bad.

A house is a system. Leaving one part out or incorrectly adding a part will cause bad things to happen, like ice damming. Proper attic airflow and building insulation, air sealing, and water management will give your house efficient and care free performance. You can patch it and buy some time, or you can fix it and save money. You wouldn’t take an aspirin for a broken arm, would you?