Ice Dams and Homeowners Insurance

Posted on Fri, Jan 28, 2011

Ice dams are an exasperating problem which affects those of us living in colder climates. During the winter months, we often receive calls regarding damage to homes from ice dams.

How ice dams form

Ice dams are formed by the snow melting and then refreezing at the edge of the roof creating a "dam."  The water that backs up behind the dam can leak into a home and cause damage to walls, ceilings, insulation, and other areas.  Moisture entering the home from ice dams can also lead to the growth of mold and mildew.

ice damsPrevention of ice dams

In the short term, there are a couple things you can try. 

  1. Try to remove snow from the roof but only if it can be done safely.  A roof rake or push broom can be used but may cause damage to the shingles.  If it’s not possible to remove the snow safely, call a professional.  Some contractors will help break up ice dams.
  2. Chisel grooves into the dam to allow the water behind it to drain off.  This is a good emergency measure, especially if rain or a sudden thaw is coming.  Be careful not to damage those shingles!
  3. Fill an old pair of your pantyhose with calcium chloride snow melt and lay it across the dam.  It will help to melt the dam and also keep that area of the roof clear.  DO NOT USE ROCK SALT!  It will stain the roof and siding.  Use caution with this method.  If the dam is too big you may increase the pool of water behind it!  It is best for small dams or prevention.  It’s also a good idea to scrape the snow off the roof first.

To prevent ice dams in the longer term, keeping warm air from escaping into the attic is the first course of action. In addition to helping resolve ice dam issues, it will result in a more comfortable and less expensive to heat home.

Dealing with ice dams

If you currently have water seeping into your house, you should try to minimize the damage to walls and ceilings.  If you are able, you might go up into the attic to see if you can diagnose where the water is coming from - maybe there is a leak or drip in a specific area? If so, put a bucket or towel there to catch some of the water. It is often leaking right at the connection between roof rafter and ceiling joist/ attic floor joist (or right at the edge of the truss) and that makes it very difficult to reach from the interior. Controlling the flow of the water and preventing water from infiltrating other areas of the home is a good idea.

How ice dam claims are handled

Homeowner insurance companies take different stances when it comes to water damage from ice dams.  Some may be proactive in paying to have a company melt the snow and ice off the roof with power washing.  Others may push back if you file a claim for mold damage 3-4 months after the storm.  Don’t hastily put a claim into your insurance company as more snow could come.   Consult with your insurance agent regarding your specific situation.   

Tags: homeowners insurance, ice dams