Living in the Madison and Milwaukee areas, bitterly cold, snowy, and icy winters are not new thing to us Wisconsinites. Just because we’re used to the freezing cold, doesn’t mean that our homes are protected against the elements of winter – specifically the forming of ice dams and the lasting problems they can cause. 

So How are Ice Dams Formed?

Before we talk about how ice dams are formed, let’s talk about what an ice dam is. An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms on the edge of a roof. It prevents melting snow from draining, which then backs up behind the ice (or dam), and can eventually back up enough to cause leakage into your home. 

There are two ways that ice dams form. 

  1. They are the result of heat coming from your attic, which causes your roof to warm up. This melts any snow on the roof and results in a build up of ice on roof and gutters as the temperature drops. 
  2. The sun heats the snow on the roof. Then the setting sun causes the melted snow to freeze, forming ice along the edge of the roof. This prevents any melting snow from draining down the gutters. Water can then back up behind the ice damn, and eventually into your home. 

How Ice Dams Cause Mold Growth

Once the moisture has built up behind the ice dam, a leak starts in the attic of your home. Where there is a leak, there is mold. Mold thrives on moisture and grows quickly, feeding on the organic materials in your home – wood, drywall, wallpaper, carpet, etc. Our homes have the perfect temperature that mold needs to thrive, between 5-38 degrees.  Mold will continue to feed on your home, and can eventually affect the structure causing lasting damage if left untreated.

Like we discussed, ice dams form when heat escapes from the attic. This means that the attic temperature must be hot enough to heat the roof and melt the snow. The thing is, your home does not have to be heated to high temperatures for heat to hit the attic! 

Things we do on a normal basis like bathing, laundry, washing dishes, cooking – all of these things can cause the temperature to rise IF the attic is NOT insulated properly. Check your attic insulation before winter hits and replace any worn insulation to keep the attic at an appropriate temperature. 

Another cause of heat or condensation in the attic is lack of ventilation. Steam and heat rise, and if there is not a ventilation fan installed in the kitchen or the bathroom, the steam and humidity from your cooking or shower has nowhere to go but up! It will get to the attic through crawl spaces or air vents, and build up to cause high temperatures. 

How to Prevent Ice Dams

The good news is that ice dams are preventable! Aside from making sure that your attic is properly insulated and that your home is ventilated as needed, here are the best ways to prevent ice dams. 

  1. Have a professional roofing company check to ensure that your home is properly ventilated. 
  2. Keep all gutters clear and free of debris. 
  3. Any duct work in the attic needs to be well insulated and sealed from any leaks.
  4. Any warm air leaks should be sealed. 

Watch for Condensation in Your Attic

While you can spot ice dams on your roof, there are also ways to make sure that your attic does not have any condensation issues. Check it regularly and look for the following.

  1. Any visual signs of mold.
  2. No gaps between light fixtures and the ceilings. 
  3. All drywall is finished properly and there are no cracks where moisture could come through. 
  4. There are no visible stains on the ceiling, walls, floors, carpets, etc. 
  5. Moisture levels are at normal levels (relative humidity should be at 65% or lower) 
  6. Check for musty smells or odors. 

Contact A&J today for water damage clean up emergencies and services by A&J Specialty Services Inc DKI of Madison, Sun Prairie, Milwaukee, WI Dells, Fort Atkinson, Watertown, and Waukesha, WisconsinIf you notice any of these signs, call in the professionals at A&J Property Restoration DKI to help you find the source of the problem. Our water damage and mold remediation teams are standing by, with emergency teams are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call us now for more information.