Now that the Chicago area’s record of nine continuous days of snow is done for most of this week, a new challenge looms in the form of ice dams. Most roofs have 6” to 18” of snow on them and gutters are likely full of snow and/or ice. Because the gutters are hanging in mid-air, surrounded by cold air, they are frozen solid. Attics are generally warm enough to cause the snow on the roof to melt slightly. This, now melted snow turned to water, runs down the shingles to the gutters where it freezes again. As this continues during the day, an ice dam grows. What happens next is an interesting phenomenon (unless it is happening to you). As the ice dam grows, the pressure of the new water running into the newly formed ice begins to run backwards up the roof, usually under the shingles. Thus it is entering the house. It is one of the few times in nature water will in essence, run up hill. Interesting as this is, if it is happening to you it is infuriating and frustrating. Ice dams cause untold property damage every year.
So what to do? Most credible measures actually need to be done during warm weather months. But here is the best thing you can do if the problem is happening now. The ice dam is occurring because there is heat loss in the attic. This heat loss is making the underside of the roof too warm. Go into your attic where the leak is occurring. See if you can add insulation to this area. Buy a bundle of unfaced fiberglass batt insulation from the home center. Wear old clothes, gloves and a face mask. If the existing insulation is wet, pull it out, put it in a plastic bag and discard. Lay the new insulation in the exposed area and cover all gaps and areas where heat from the room below could escape up into the attic. Adding more is better than not adding enough. If water is still dripping into the attic, lay some plastic over the insulation. As the attic gets cold, because it is now insulated properly, the water leaking in should stop.
Another tactic is done outside on the roof. This is a big IF. If your roof is easily and SAFELY accessible remove the snow two to three feet above the gutters. It should also be removed where one story roofs meet adjacent walls of second story. HOW? Call a licensed and insured roofer and see if they will come out and remove snow from the described area of the roof. Or, purchase a snow rake at your local hardware store or home center. Read the box to see how many extension poles it comes with and if it is going to be tall enough to reach above your gutters. LOOK FOR OVERHEAD POWER LINES! Usually this can only be done from the ground for one-story roofs.
YOU MUST understand that removing snow from a roof is dangerous work! Also realize that some roofs will not be accessible in these conditions. Many roofers will not do this work because of the danger. Some will do so on a case by case basis. Meaning they will visit your home and assess if they can safely access your roof. Accessing the roof is not the only danger. Wading through deep snow carrying a tall ladder can be impossible and is hard to do and remain steady.