Perhaps you saw them around the holidays: white or blue outdoor lights that simulate sparkling icicles. Or maybe they were on holiday card, hanging from the eaves of a picturesque house. While icicles often look pretty, they may actually cause a lot of trouble for your home.
Icicles are commonly thought to be a sign of an ice dam on your roof, but are they? Possibly, says Focus on Energy.
The three things necessary to form icicles — snow, heat to melt the snow and cold weather — are also needed to form ice dams, Focus on Energy explains. Ice dams form when warm air from inside your home melts snow on the roof. When the meltwater reaches the colder eaves (the part of the roof that extends beyond the walls), the water refreezes and creates a buildup of ice along the edge of your roofline, states the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS).
So, icicles hanging from a roof’s edge may be a sign of an ice dam. However, ice dams can form without the presence of any large icicles.
The more snow and ice accumulate, and temperatures rise and fall, the larger the potential for ice dams. And ice dams can cause a lot of damage both inside and outside of your home. You may see damage on your roof and gutters and this may lead to meltwater getting into your ceiling or attic, says the Insurance Information Institute. Once that happens, insulation may get wet, paint may peel and the structure of your home may become damp, says Focus on Energy.
It’s best to remove snow from a heavy snowfall immediately to help prevent the buildup of ice dams later. Though you might hear about people doing anything from using a snow blower to remove snow or an axe to help chip away at an already-formed ice dam, both methods may damage your roof. These methods may also be dangerous to your own personal safety, EnergyStar.gov warns.
A push broom with stiff bristles can be used to help remove snow off flat and low-slope roofs, while a roof rake can be the right option for sloped roofs, the National Weather Service says, because you can remain on the ground and still remove snow. Of course, you can also contact a professional to do the job.
In the event that an ice dam does form, the weather service suggests keeping the attic well ventilated — the colder the attic, the less melting and refreezing on your roof, the weather service says.
According to This Old House, a simple way to help prevent ice dams is to keep your roof and eaves the same temperature. Here’s how:
Preventive steps like these can help preserve the health of your home by stopping ice dams — and maybe even those icicles!
Originally published on February 6, 2014.