Ice dams can be costly. Ventilate & insulate!

Here in the Northeast, one common and costly headache for homeowners is the problem of ice dams. Are ice dams something that could happen to your home? Here’s a quick summary of the conditions that lead to ice dams: snow buildup on the roof + heat loss from the home + freezing temperatures. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IIBHS) explains it this way:

“During freezing weather, heat from your home or business can escape through your roof and melt snow on your roof. The snowmelt can then trickle down to the roof’s edge and refreeze, creating an ice dam that leaves additional snowmelt with no place to go but possibly under your roof.”

This IIBHS infographic offers a visual for how ice dams are formed.

We have a pretty good prior post on the topic: Ice Dams 101: How to handle winter roof hazards. In that post, we talk about how the unsightly icicle buildup is a symptom of a more serious underlying problem that can lead to water damage, rot, mildew and mold. We talk about the importance of a two-fold strategy for dealing with ice dams:

  • First, you need to get rid of the ice dams and minimize the immediate damage.
  • Second, you need to diagnose the underlying problem and take steps to prevent ice dams from forming.

If you have damage to your home from ice dams, you’ll want to contact your insurance agent to report a claim. The Insurance Information Institute explains whether ice dam damage is covered by your insurance policy in their article, Water Damage: What’s Covered; What’s Not. They offer this helpful summary:

 “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.”

Resources for preventing ice dams

Here are some of the best resources we’ve found to help you learn more about how ice dams happen and how to prevent them from occurring:

Liberty Mutual: Ice dams – tips for preventing ice dams and a series of three excellent videos: Causes, Combats and Cures. These offer detailed explanations about how ice dams form and conditions that lead to them along with methods to combat and correct the problem with insulation and ventilation.

Travelers: How to Identify and Help Remove an Ice Dam

This Old House: Preventing Ice Dams

Housing Technology from the University of Minnesota Extension: Ice Dams

Building and Construction Technology, UMass Amherst Department of Environmental Conservation: Preventing Ice Dams

It’s Never Too Late To Winter Proof Your Home

Insurers are still tallying up storm-related losses for the Halloween storm that has been called the freakiest ever. It’s thought that when the final price tag comes in, losses will fall between $1 and $3 billion.

If you remained unscathed from this storm then you are one of the lucky ones, but don’t count on your luck holding out in the future. Winter storms cause more than one billion dollars in damage annually and are the third largest cause of catastrophe losses. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts the following about New England weather: “…the upcoming winter will be the equivalent of a cold slap in the face, as we forecast much colder-than-normal temperatures.”

All this should serve as a reminder that it’s important to take the necessary precautions to prevent unnecessary damage to your home. The Insurance Information Institute has posted a list of helpful tips to Winter-Proof Your House. We’ve reprinted a summary of their recommended preventative measures here:

Outside Your Home

  • Clean out gutters
  • Install gutter guards
  • Trim trees and remove dead branches
  • Repair steps and handrails
  • Seal cracks in holes in outside walls and foundations.

Inside Your Home

  • Keep the house warm.
  • Add extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces.
  • Have the heating system serviced.
  • Check pipes.
  • Install an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system.
  • Make sure that smoke and fire alarms are working properly.
  • Consider installing a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Learn how to shut the water off and know where your pipes are located.
  • Hire a licensed contractor to look for structural damage.

While all these tips are helpful the most important thing is to review your insurance coverage to make sure you are adequately covered. Remember, flood insurance is not included in standard homeowners or renters insurance policies. Don’t wait to learn your coverage limits until after something happens — it may make for unpleasant surprises — talk to your insurance agent today!