Q&A: Ice dams—What you need to know

Winter, especially where it’s cold, can be a beautiful, frosty wonderland. Still, the colder season can come with some hazards. While most people are aware of the dangers of frozen pipes and slick driveways, there is one unsuspecting offender that slips many homeowners’ minds—ice dams. We interviewed Risk Management Consultant Jerry Forrest and Agency Experience Manager Frances Brodeur to find out what you can do to help protect your home.


Q: What is an ice dam and how is it formed?


Jerry: An ice dam is a thick ridge of solid ice that builds up along the eaves of your house or in your gutter after a period of heavy snow. If there are issues with your home’s insulation or ventilation, your attic may become too warm. This causes the shingles on your roof to heat, melting the bottom layer of snow on your roof and causing the water to run down to the eaves. Once it reaches the eaves, the cold air outside causes the water to freeze again, eventually creating an ice dam that allows meltwater to back up into your home.

Frances: It may seem counterintuitive, but you actually want a cold attic to prevent ice dams. Changes in temperature can cause an ice dam as well if the weather fluctuates back and forth. For many of us, we’re in the prime time for an ice dam to form.


Q: What kinds of damage do ice dams cause?


Jerry: Icicles that form on the exterior of your house can indicate a problem on the interior. They’re beautiful, but can be problematic. If you have an ice dam that’s causing a leak, you may see brown streaks on the ceiling and/or going down your walls.

Frances: If you notice wet streaks on your ceiling, there’s likely a problem up above. Look in the corners where it might not be as obvious.

Jerry: Consider the fact that to reach a point where it is visible, the water has had to work its way through the insulation of your home. At this point, in addition to any potential water damage repairs, it’s common to have to replace gutters and insulation, and have issues with fascia boards (the trim boards connecting your walls to your roof).


Q: Why should homeowners take this issue seriously?


Jerry: Aside from the fact that ice dams can cause leaks, gutter issues and other problems, they can be prevented quite simply.

Frances: We want to help you be proactive rather than reactive. Doing a few things in the spring or the summer can prevent a lot of hassle when winter comes.


Q: What are some preventative steps people can take to avoid an ice dam?


Jerry: First, make sure your roof is properly ventilated and insulated. Visit the energy.gov website to see what the R-value of your insulation should be—it varies depending on where you live. This value is a measure of resistance to temperature change. A higher value means greater insulating effectiveness—which is why a home in Chicago needs insulation with a higher R-value than one in Miami.1

Have a roofing contractor inspect your insulation, and make sure that you are staying up to date on annual heating and cooling checks. Just like your car needs maintenance, so does your home.

Frances: Be sure to clean your gutters before the colder months begin!

It’s all about awareness. Clients that we work with take pride in their homes. They want to do all the right things—but as life goes on, it’s easy to put off cleaning gutters or overlook a cold spot! People often don’t realize that these issues can lead to damage.


Q: How can Berkley One help with all of this?


Jerry: At Berkley One, we worry about more than just the value of the home. We engage our clients and we want them to understand what we’re doing every step of the way.

We offer risk consulting for our clients’ homes and understand each one is unique. I use infrared technology to look at the home’s insulation. This tool measures temperature differences between areas so I can see swatches of cold, which indicate where there might be a lack of insulation. It turns your home’s energy into a visible image.

Frances: It’s about finding ways to help customers make better-informed decisions when it comes to their home. We have a list of vendors and service providers in our network that we can connect them to any time. You don’t have to have a claim to call our network or to ask for advice!


Q: Let’s say someone can see they have an ice dam. What can they do?


Jerry: You have a few options. You can use a snow rake to pull off the lowest levels of accumulated snow from your roof, which may or may not be helpful and it’s not a long-term solution. Snow rakes can damage your gutters or shingles, and for larger homes, it may not even be feasible to reach this area. The best option is to call a professional. There are services which can help melt the snow off of the roof and remove the ice dam without causing any additional harm to your home. With that said, while there are ways to treat the symptoms of an ice dam, fixing the underlying problems that can cause a warm roof are the best way to avoid them all together.


Q: What should you do if you don’t know what to do?


Jerry: Call me! I want Berkley One clients to call us. I’m here to help, and if I can’t help on a specific issue, we can help with access to our network of contractors who are fully vetted and insured. It’s all about making sure our clients are safe.


Berkley One is a Berkley Company.