Ice Dams 101: How to handle winter roof hazards


Photo credit: Wikimedia

Photo credit: Wikimedia

We notice that a lot of searches for “ice dams” on our blog this year. While ice dams are a winter peril that we New Englanders have become all-too familiar with, some of our southern neighbors may be meeting them for the first time. We’ve updated information from a prior post to offer some key facts.

How do you know if you have ice dams?

Essentially, if you have large icicles hanging from your roof, you probably have an ice dam problem -see the photo above. The icicles are the symptom, not the underlying problem, which is generally one of insulation. The University of Minnesota Extension offers a solid explanation of what ice dams are and why they occur, as well as information about prevention. Don’t miss the excellent diagram that shows why they form.

If you have ice dams on your house, you need to address them with a two-fold strategy:

First, you need to get rid of the ice dams and minimize the immediate damage.
Your best bet is to hire an experienced professional to do this – it can be a risky task. Some folks want to go out and chop away at icicles, but it’s not a good idea to be climbing on snow- and ice-covered roofs or using ladders on slippery ground. Plus, using the wrong tools to remove snow or chunks of ice from your roof may cause further damage to your shingles or your gutters. Not to mention damage to you: flying ice chunks can be very heavy and sharp. Many people also use salts or other chemical concoctions to deal with ice dams, a less-than-ideal “fix” because chemicals can damage or discolor your roof and can leach into the ground, damaging plants and greenery. If you have a low roof, one of the most common ways that people deal with ice dams is by purchasing a specially-designed roof rake and removing snow from directly above the ice dam. Again, this can pose risks to both you and your roof.

Second, you need to diagnose the underlying problem and take steps to prevent ice dams from forming.
While ice dams can sometimes occur as a result of freezing rain, more often than not they are a symptom of an insulation problem which should be addressed because there are other problems besides ice dams that can occur, such as a build-up of moisture that could lead to rot, mildew or mold. Not to mention that with poor insulation, heating costs are almost literally going through the roof. While there are a number of products that can treat the symptoms and prevent ice dams, the best way to protect the value of your house would be to enlist the expertise of a weatherization, insulation, or energy conservation contractor to diagnose the and remedy the root problem. Builder and consultant Paul Frisette offers his thoughts on why ice dams form and how to prevent ice dams by treating the root cause, not just the symptoms.

Ice dams and homeowners and rental insurance
The Insurance Information Institute discusses what’s covered and what’s not in terms of water damage: “Standard homeowners and renters insurance provides coverage for burst pipes, wind driven rain and damage resulting from ice dams on your roof.” III also offers this helpful rule of thumb: “Generally speaking, water that comes from the top down, such as rainfall, is covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy, while water that comes from the bottom up, such as an overflowing river, is covered by a separate flood insurance policy.”

In a separate article on recent severe storms, III discusses winter water damage:

“Melting snow that seeps into a home from the ground up is considered flooding and would be covered by flood insurance, which is provided by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program and a few private insurers. Federal flood insurance is available to both homeowners and renters. Flood damage is not covered by standard homeowners or renters insurance policies.”

“Freezing conditions such as burst pipes or ice dams—a condition where water is unable to drain properly through the gutters and seeps into a house causing damage to ceilings and walls—is covered. There is generally a requirement, however, that the homeowner has taken steps to prevent these losses by keeping the house warm and maintaining pipes, drains and gutters.”

When in doubt about your coverage, call your agent – that’s what we’re here for!

Here’s more information from Wikipedia and from a few of our insurance partners:

Travelers: Tips to help remove an ice dam from your roof

Liberty Mutual: Ice Dams

Are you ready for snowy, icy roads? Hone your winter driving skills


It’s inevitable – the first substantial storm of the year sees vehicles slipping and sliding all over the road with fender benders galore and a few cars off in snowbanks. By the end of the winter, we New Englanders have some pretty good driving skills, but it’s almost as though we all need to re-learn every year.
Here’s a fun way to brush up on your seasonal skills and maybe even learn something new: visit Michelin’s fun and informative Winter Driving Academy. It includes videos, games, quizzes, and tips on preparing your car for winter; vehicle handling basics, such as turning and braking; tips on driving in ice, slush, snow, and black ice; and information about winter tires.
Whether you need tires or not, there’s a lot of other good information on the site about tire maintenance, tire storage, and driving and safety tips.

Sharing the road with snow plows & more winter driving tips


Here in the Northeast, it’s been a mild winter so far — if you exclude the freak Halloween storm that caught us all by surprise. But the roads are slick today so you may need a refresher in winter driving and car care.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation offers a great page of safe winter driving tips – including everything from preparing your vehicle, supplies you should have in the car, safe driving pointers, and advice for what to do if you are stranded while driving. One of the things that always seems difficult is sharing the road with plows and snow clearing equipment – to pass or not to pass? So the common sense tips for driving near plows offers some good guidance. The graphic that accompanies the tips is excellent so we are reprinting it below.
driving near plows

 

 

Brrrr! Extreme weather survival tips for your home, your car & you


Here’s a winter survival kit: we’ve compiled expert tips with advice for protecting homes, cars, and people in extreme winter weather:
Ice Dams, Burst Pipes, Broken Tree Limbs: Saving Your House From Winter – good article in The Hartford Courant.
Dealing with Ice Dams and other winter hazards – our blog post from last year.
Winter Fires – safety tips for the home – PDF from FEMA and the US Fire Administration.
Precautions for Extreme Cold Weather – from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
Winter Hazard Awareness – the Minnesota Department of Public Safety offers tips for safety outdoors, indoors, and in your car.
Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety – from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including winter checklists and info on indoor and outdoor safety.
Working in the Cold – from the Canadian Center for Occupational Health & Wellness.
Winter driving tips from Car Talk .
Safe Driving and Good Car Maintenance Take Center Stage In Winter – from the Insurance Information Institute.
Icy Road Safety – tips, news, statistics, and links to current road conditions by state.
Driving Tips on Snowy & Icy Roads from How Stuff Works.

Dealing with ice dams and other winter weather hazards


For homeowners in snow-prone areas of the country, roof damage or leaks from snow and ice dams are common winter threats to your home. How do you know if you have ice dams? Wikipedia has a good photo of an ice dam forming on a slate roof. Essentially, if you have large icicles hanging from your roof, you probably have an ice dam problem. The icicles are the symptom, not the underlying problem, which is generally one of insulation. How Stuff Works offers a pretty good non-technical explanation of what ice dams are and why they occur.
If you have ice dams on your house, you need to address them with a two-fold strategy:
First, you need to get rid of the ice dams and minimize the immediate damage.
Your best bet is to hire an experienced professional to do this – it can be a risky task. Some folks want to go out and chop away at icicles, but it’s not a good idea to be climbing on snow- and ice-covered roofs or using ladders on slippery ground. Plus, using the wrong tools to remove snow or chunks of ice from your roof may cause further damage to your shingles or your gutters. Not to mention damage to you: flying ice chunks can be very heavy and sharp. Many people also use salts or other chemical concoctions to deal with ice dams, a less-than-ideal “fix” because chemicals can damage or discolor your roof and can leach into the ground, damaging plants and greenery. If you have a low roof, one of the most common ways that people deal with ice dams is by purchasing a specially-designed roof rake and removing snow from directly above the ice dam. Again, this can pose risks to both you and your roof.
Second, you need to diagnose the underlying problem and take steps to prevent ice dams from forming.
While ice dams can sometimes occur as a result of freezing rain, more often than not they are a symptom of an insulation problem which should be addressed because there are other problems besides ice dams that can occur, such as a build-up of moisture that could lead to rot, mildew or mold. Not to mention that with poor insulation, heating costs are almost literally going through the roof. While there are a number of products that can treat the symptoms and prevent ice dams, the best way to protect the value of your house would be to enlist the expertise of a weatherization, insulation, or energy conservation contractor to diagnose the and remedy the root problem. Builder and consultant Paul Frisette offers his thoughts on why ice dams form and how to prevent ice dams by treating the root cause, not just the symptoms.
Ice dams and homeowners and rental insurance
The Insurance Information Institute discusses what’s covered and what’s not in terms of water damage: “Standard homeowners and renters insurance provides coverage for burst pipes, wind driven rain and damage resulting from ice dams on your roof.” III also offers this helpful rule of thumb: “Generally speaking, water that comes from the top down, such as rainfall, is covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy, while water that comes from the bottom up, such as an overflowing river, is covered by a separate flood insurance policy.” When in doubt about your coverage, call your agent – that’s what we’re here for!
Snow overload and other perils for public and commercial buildings
Commercial and public buildings with flat roofs are susceptible to other winter woes. In addition to the risk of ice dams, flat-roofed buildings can also suffer damage or collapse from an accumulation of deep snow. Deep snow followed by heavy rain can be particularly perilous, especially for older buildings. One of our insurance partners, Utica National, has issued a handy risk management advisory about severe winter weather and roofs. The advisory includes general guidelines to help estimate the weight of snow.