Most people living in Canada and the northern United States are familiar with ice dams because of the beautiful, shimmering icicles they cause to hang from gutters during the coldest months of winter. But while ice dams can have a pretty effect, they also pose a serious danger to your house’s eavestroughs, fascia, soffits, and roof.

Ice dams form because the temperature at the peak of a roof is different from the temperature on the eaves. As heat leaves through the roof ridge, it melts the snow on top of the house. Meltwater runs down to the eaves, where the temperature is colder, and freezes in the gutter.

As this process continues, more and more ice forms, and the layers build up and eventually overflow. This causes icicles to form on the lip of the eavestrough, and on the roof ward side, slowly pushes sheets of ice up underneath the shingles. Once the ice is under the shingles, it will seep into the roof deck during periods of thaw, encouraging rot and potentially causing serious long-term damage.

For this reason, one of the best tips for identifying issues with your roof is to remember where icicles have formed in winters past, and to pre-empt the formation of ice dams during the fall, before freezing and snow build up make maintenance difficult.

1. Have Your Eaves troughs Professionally Cleaned

Ice Dams
One of the easiest things you can do to combat ice damming is to have your eaves troughs and downspouts thoroughly cleaned before winter by a professional roofing company. Clogged eaves troughs exacerbate the problem of ice damming by giving the melt water nowhere to go, causing ice dams to form more rapidly.

2. Make Sure Your Attic Is Well Ventilated

It may sound counter intuitive, but ideally the temperature in your attic will be about the same as the temperature outside. The space you want to keep warm is the main house, and a warm roof deck will simply cause ice dams to form more quickly and increase the risk of leaks and water damage. Keeping your attic well ventilated will ensure that there are no sharp temperature differentials between the inside of your roof and the outside.

3. Increase Insulation Of Attic Floor

Ice Dams
Because ice dams are caused by heat rising from your house, you should also improve ceiling insulation. About 25% of all heat escapes through the roof, and providing a better insulation barrier between the attic floor and the roof ridge will not only reduce the risk of melt water, it will also keep your living space warmer and save money on the heating bill.

Anyone who lives in a cold climate knows that preparation is key to keeping a house in good condition over the winter — a homeowner who uses the milder months of fall to set his or her house in order is a homeowner who won’t need to worry about a leaking roof come February.

Ice dams are one of those problems that is easy to prevent, but extremely costly to repair once the damage is done, so don’t let yourself be caught off guard this winter. Make sure to have your eaves troughs cleaned, your attic is well ventilated, and your attic floor is insulated before the cold weather sets in.