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The Final Ice Dam Solution

Ice Dam Solutions

Every spring, following a rough winter, the calls come in for ice dam -proof roofs.  Across the country,  roofers in Connecticut, Missouri and Washington shoveled and snow raked upwards of 3 feet of snow off of roofs.  In some cases this was done as a precaution to prevent building collapse, in other cases to stop interior leaks caused by ice dams.

Come spring time, the phone rings, the question many times it, “my roof needs to be repaired, what can we do to stop leaks from ice damming?”  The answer is not simple.  To prevent ice dams, one must understand what causes them.

An ice damn, is of course a product of snow on your roof.  When you look at your home, you must envision a heat map.  The interior of your house is heated, since most heat loss is through the attic, the sections of roof above your attic are, in turn, heated.  The soffit area, which is closest to your attic, is not heated.  The ice dam occurs when the snow on the heated section of the roof melts faster than the snow on the unheated section of the roof.  When this water flows down it hits the soffit area and refreezes.  When this water refreezes, it becomes solid ice, and additional water flowing down the roof cannot escape into the gutter, its only place to go is into the house.

  There are many different possible solutions to leaks caused from ice dams, and also a few things you can do to prevent them from forming in the first place.

To Prevent An Ice Dam

1. Insulate your attic to proper insulation levels, in CT this is R49, a total depth of 18 inches.  Proper insulation depth keeps your home warmer, and your attic cooler.  A cold attic will keep the snow on your roof from melting faster than the snow on your gutter eaves.

2.  Add ventilation.  To assist the new attic insulation you should encourage the flow of cool air into your attic.  Since heat rises we suggest you add a ridge vent so that air can escape through the peak of the roof.  To encourage this flow of air you should also have a soffit vent.  As the warm air exits from the peak of the roof, it will be replaced by new, fresh, cool air entering from the soffit vents.

3. Roof fans.  To also encourage the flow of air through your attic a roof fan can be a great ventilation asset.  These fans can be mounted quite easily on your roof by a professional roofer, and installed by a qualified, licensed, electrician.  For those who are particularly concerned about having a positive environmental impact, there are solar roof fans, that use no electricity, and also draw no electrical current.

To Prevent Leaks From Ice Dams

1. Most roofing contractors swear by ice and water barrier.  This self adhering, elastomeric barrier, is not a guaranteed solution, but can be helpful.  Applied properly, along all eaves, entering into heated space a minimum of 2 feet.  Ice barrier should also be used along all walls and any protrusions, such as vent pipes, skylights and chimneys.

2. Heat tape.  Electric heat tape is the solution for those who just bought the Cadillac of roofs, get 3 feet of snow, and now need their ceilings repainted because they were destroyed by ice dam leaks.  The initial investment for heat tape can be a few hundred dollars.  Installation of heat tapes can run in the thousands when you factor in an electrician..  For heat tape to be effective it needs to be plugged in and running from the first snow flake, till the snow is gone.  The additional cost can be thousands of dollars a year on your electrical bill.

3. Metal Roofing.  The cost of an new asphalt roof varies state by state.  In CT the labor and materials price per square can be anywhere from $350 to $1,000 a square, depending on the number of layers and the difficulty and height f the roof.  Metal roofing can easily be 30% to 200% more.  The benefits of metal roofing, removing the existing roof is often not necessary, keeping asphalt debris out of land fills.  Metal, it just lasts longer.  Most metal roof manufacturers warranty their products for 50 years, or as long as you own your home.  So why don’t metal roofs leak from ice dams?  They cannot form, as the snow often slides right off the roof, and in the event that it does not, the water can still escape, as the snow and ice do not freeze to the roof.

4. Using single ply membrane.  Low pitch roofs, being an roof that is a 4/12 pitch or less, are much more susceptible to leaks and formation of ice dams than steeper pitch roofs.  Many roofers suggest using all ice and water barrier on these low pitch roofs.  This is not a guaranteed solution however.  The most effective roofing material on a low pitch roof, is a single ply membrane.

When most homeowners think of single ply roofs they usually envision rubber roofs.     Most people do not want an ugly, industrial, black roof on their home.  They are not to be blamed.  Come summer time, while you did make it through the winter unscathed, when it is 90 degrees outside, it will be 170 degrees   on you roof.  This can lead to a dramatic rise in cooling costs.

There is another issue with EPDM roofing systems.  The initial investment in becoming a rubber roofing contractor is rather low.  All you need is a contractors license, a seam roller, decent scissors, and a screw gun.  One of the downfalls of the roofing industry is product distributors really do not care whom they sell materials to.  We have come across leaking, new rubber roofs that have been installed by landscaping contractors.  Proper detail work is a must when it comes to EPDM roofing systems, as a flat roof specialist, we rarely encounter it when it comes to finding leaks on rubber roofing systems.

TPO is another option for single ply roofing membrane .  TPO membranes have been around for about 20 years and is the roofing industries’ answer to PVC membrane.  It is cheaper to produce, however, like anything else, you do get what you pay for.  TPO manufacturers constantly tinker with their “TPO Recipe.:  This has lead to numerous product failures, from pin-holing, to premature deterioration.  While they all claim to have worked out the kinks in 2012, we really won’t know until these TPO membranes have been time tested for at least 30 years in the field.


That leaves us with previously mentioned PVC single-ply membranes.  The initial problem with PVC was that it shattered in cold weather.  This issue was fixed 30 years ago with the introduction of fiber reinforcements.  Since then, PVC, in particular, IB PVC, has been time tested for over 30 years, with not one instance in material defect.  Additionally, PVC roofs come in a range of colors from white (which is 97% solar reflective) to brown, red, grey, and even blue ,as seen in Disneyland.  IB Roof Systems also make PVC with an imprint of architectural style shingles, called “Traditions”. This gives your roof the appearance of traditional shingles, with the quality and protection of a superior product and a lifetime warranty. These membranes are marketed to consumers who are looking for a one time, final solution to their roofing woes.

We hope that this article has been informative, and has helped you find not only the answers to your questions, but the correct questions to ask.

article was written by
Marcus Bernice Keilche ( of Marcus Anthony Construction LLC, CT Roofing Contractor.

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