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Your Home Environment Resource - University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County

Household Hints & HELP!

Icicles Can Mean Problems

submitted by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator
This article appeared in the February 8, 2004 Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper.

Snow, snow and more snow. This is something we have gotten away from in Nebraska for the last several years. With more snow and cold weather predicted for our area there are more problems and concerns arising among home owners. The question of why icicles are appearing on some home while not on others is very common these days.

Ice Jam on Roof of HOseWhile icicles hanging from the eaves of your home may be beautiful, they may also indicate ice dams. Ice dams form when snow piles high on the roof and the weather stays cold.

Under these conditions, snow touching the roof often melts. Water runs down the roof under the snow to the eaves. There, the roof temperature drops and the water refreezes. As this ice dam melts, water drips over the eaves and creates icicles.

As more snow melts, water flowing along the roof may back up behind the dam and leak into the attic or sidewalls of the home, causing damage.

First aid for ice dams

Clear snow from the roof a few feet back from the eaves with a roof rake. You need only remove snow far enough back so the meltwater does not reach the ice dam.

A roof rake has a rectangular piece of aluminum where the teeth would be on a garden rake, and a handle that extends to 15 feet. This rake is designed so you can remove the snow from the ground.

You do not need to remove snow completely. A thin layer of snow:

* Protects shingles from the roof rake.

* Keeps the roof cold enough so no more water flows down the roof to add to the ice dam ó and

* Simply melts away.

Do not try to break up ice dams. Using picks and axes to break up ice could damage shingles. Usually, removing the snow behind the dam as described above will stop both water damage and ice buildup behind the dam.

If icicles hanging from the dam become large, itís OK to remove them to reduce the weight on the gutters.

If you cannot reach the eaves from the ground with a long-handled roof rake, consider hiring a roofing contractor. They have the equipment to work on the roof safely.

How can you prevent ice dams?

To prevent ice dams, make sure your attic stays cold.

Check for air leaking into the attic. Look around chimneys and plumbing. Non-expanding foam in a can will plug most leaks. If air leaks around something hot like a stove pipe, form a gasket with sheet metal or us fiberglass insulation that will not burn or melt.

Add insulation. In Nebraska, the attic should have an insulating value of R-38 or moreóat least 1 foot of insulation on the attic floor.

Ventilate the attic. In older homes, attics should have 1 square foot vent opening for every 150 square feet of floor, divided equally between the ridge area and bottom edge of the roof (eaves). Cold air flows in through vents in the eaves, pushing warm air up and out vents near the ridge.

When removing snow from the roof it is very important to practice safety. Do not try to do the job yourself if you canít easily reach the roof from the ground. Enjoy the snow and cold weather for now as summer will be here before weíre ready.

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