After realizing just how expensive it can be to deal with ice dams winter after winter, your very next “burning question” may just be: how the heck do I minimize my chances of getting ice dams?
“Minimize” is the word, simply because there is no one, fool-proof, 100% way to completely avoid getting ice dams. Sometimes, Mother Nature does what Mother Nature is going to do, and that’s all there is to it.
However, your roof can either minimize your chances of getting ice dams, or, perhaps more importantly, minimizing your chances of having to deal with stressful leaks and expensive water damage.
You are, however, going to have to invest in some upgrades.
Option #1: Ice and Water Shielding
One great way to protect your home is to install ice and water shielding over every inch of your roof the next time you replace it.
Building codes already require roofers to put some ice and water shielding in place, but this shielding usually doesn’t go far enough to help you in ice dam shielding. It focuses on the lower perimeter of your roof, and that is all. Minnesota code calls for ice & water shield extending from the lowest edges of all roofed surfaces to a point no less than 24-inches past the interior wall line of a building. That’s just not far enough if you’d like any chance of putting an end to leaks caused by ice dams.
Instead, you want to literally sheathe your entire roof in this stuff before the roofers place the shingles. Failing that, you want to get as much of your roof covered as humanly possible (sometimes, ventilation issues make it infeasible to cover the entire roof).
Ice and water shielding is a self-adhering thick polymer modified bitumen membrane that will keep water out of your house. It won’t prevent ice dams, but it will make them far less of a concern, because water won’t be able to get into your home.
If you can get this kind of shielding on your home, you will only need to take care that the roof does not take on more weight that it can bear. You don’t want to protect your home from leaks only to suffer from a roof collapse later. That’s a concern when winter storms are raging and we’re getting record snowfall.
During most winters, however, roof collapses will not be a huge concern on most houses.
Just keep an eye on it. If you only have to pay for ice dam removal when you’re worried about a roof collapse then you’re still going to save a bundle.
Keep in mind that roofers may argue with you about this. It’s expensive, and roofers are always afraid to “name the number” when you start talking about upgrades like this. They think they will lose your business because their quote will be much higher than it would be without all that extra ice & water shield. Reassure them that they will not lose your business, because you know this ice and water shielding will pay for itself. If you help the roofer understand that you have an ice-dam prone home this may stop his protests altogether.
Option #2: Metal Roofing
Metal roofing is probably the closest thing to an ice-dam proof roof that you’re going to get. It’s more expensive than asphalt roof with ice and water shielding on it, but…it’s still well worth the cost.
First, let’s just talk about metal roofs for a moment. The things last 50-100 years to begin with. They don’t rot, they don’t lose shingles during windstorms, they don’t grow a bunch of mold or algae on them ever, nothing. They’re a great investment even before you take ice dams into account.
But when you recognize that it is very, very hard for ice dams to form on a metal roof in the first place they get even more attractive. There’s just not many places for the ice to grip the roof when you’re dealing with a metal roof. If the roof has a steep pitch they’re even less likely to form.
So what’s the disadvantage? When you have a metal roof you must remove ice dams right away should they happen to form. This is because on the off-chance they do form, they will slide right off of that roof at the slightest provocation, crushing whatever (and whomever) happens to be below. And since ice dams weigh several tons, you can bet that they will destroy, injure, or kill whatever is unlucky enough to be in their path.
Fortunately, when we see ice dams forming on metal roofs they are almost always nearly flat commercial roofs. Residential homes almost automatically come with pitched roofs, which means your chances of getting an ice dam drop so low that we can safely say we’ve never been called out to remove ice dams on a home with a metal roof before. We’re not saying they’ll never ever form on one—strange things happen all the time—but a residential metal roof is just about the closest thing to providing your home with total ice dam immunity that you can get.
Can’t update your roof just yet?
Remember, getting rid of ice dams quickly is one of the best ways to reduce your chances of suffering damage during the winter. If you can’t update your roof be prepared to call your local ice dam removal company, instead.