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Get in Gear for Ice Dam Season

Soon Winter’s cold hand will begin to tighten its grip around New England. Area home owners know that this means another season of ice dams is on the way.

Ice dams can be spotted by the massive icicles, ice and snow formations, as well as frozen gutters and eaves that are often visible on older and newer houses alike.

Ice dams

What Causes Ice Dams?

Ice dams start when heated air escapes from the living space and heats up the attic. This causes the snow to melt and flow down the roof where it refreezes around the eaves and overhangs. This created a damming effect and as more snow melts on the roof, it builds up behind the ice dam.

What Kind of Damage Will This Cause?

Eventually this water backs up under the shingles and into the house causing major damage in the eaves area such as:

  • wet and inefficient insulation which will cost you heating dollars
  • stained, mildewed and failing plaster
  • peeling and bubbling paint both inside and out
  • structural damage like rotted sheathing and rafters, etc.

These are all very costly to repair.

What Can I do to Prevent This From Happening to My House?

Insulation and ventilation are the words here. Insulation with ventilation cannot be overstressed or overdone. Local building codes require R- 30 insulation in attic floors and/or ceilings (R-30 equals about 12 inches of fiberglass insulation), but no matter how much you install, some heat will always transfer to the attic.

The best way to remove this unwanted attic heat is with proper attic ventilation.

Combine the two and you will be prepared to battle old man winter and have a better chance of winning the war on ice dams.

OK, I Insulated, Now What Kind of Ventilation Should I Use?

There are a lot of different types of ventilation available incudling: gable end vents, attic windows, electric fans and heating cables, roof louver vents, round soffit louver vents, etc. But research conducted by universities and private industry has repeatedly shown continuous ridge and soffit vents to be far superior to all other types of ventilation.

How Does it Work?

A ridge vent runs along the entire peak of the roof. From the ground it’s recognizable by a shadow line along the peak of the roof. To install it, a slot is cut about 2 inches wide along the peak of the roof, then a plastic ridge vent is nailed over the slot and shingles that match existing shingles are installed over the plastic vent.

A soffit vent is simply a 2-inch wide slot cut along the entire soffit to which a 2-inch continuous aluminum strip vent is nailed. A continuous ridge and soffit vent system allows the hot air to escape through the ridge vent located at the peak of the roof while cooler air is drawn in at the soffits regardless of outside wind direction. This system is your best protection against ice dams because it allows hot air to escape before it has a chance to melt the snow on the roof causing an ice dam.

So, It’s Great for the Winter, but What About the Summer?

Ridge and soffit ventilation removes damaging moisture, exhaust trapped heat and will cool off your entire house on hot summer days and nights better than any other ventilation system.

Are There Any Other Benefits I Should Know About?

Yes. The FHA and roof shingle manufacturer warranties require a minimum of 1 square foot of attic ventilation for every 150 square feet of attic floor space. In fact, all new homes build today must meet these requirements, but most existing homes don’t even come close to the bare minimum. A properly installed ridge and soffit ventilation system will easily exceed these minimums. It’s a must for successful and long lasting paint and roofing applications. And, once it’s installed, it’s permanent, leakproof, requires no maintenance, costs nothing to run, and blends in with your house because it’s barely visible.

Reprinted from Fall Home Improvement Guide, Middlesex Community Newspapers, 1995.

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