Are You Prepared for the First Major Winter Storm?

When we experience extreme snow conditions in Chicago your house may experience what’s called an ice dam.

An ice damn forms when warm “house air” that is escaping into the attic or roof system meets a winter snow event like the one we are supposed to experience this week.

This escaped warm air melts the snow on the roof only to have it freeze once again at a colder, more frozen part of your roof system.  This freezing water may build up and form an actual ice “dam.” The melting water flowing behind it may have nowhere else to go, except into your home. It is one of the most inconvenient and costly home repairs a homeowner can experience and generally lasts for multiple days.

If you have not experienced an ice dam yourself, living here in the upper midwest, you have probably heard the horror stories firsthand. Sometimes these ice dams only form beautiful icicles that give our homes a picture-postcard beauty.  Other times, ice damming conditions may cause water to enter from the roof, find its way through the 2nd floor, make its way tpast the 1st floor on final destination—the basement. Drywall, plaster, finishes, ceilings, floors, trimwork, floor coverings, etc. may be ruined along the way.

As building performance technologies continue to change it is hard for many well-meaning homeowners, contractors and repairmen who access the attic (i.e. to install cable or fix a can light) to fully understand the dynamics of what they are doing and how it effects the performance of the building.  Most ice damming can be avoided by being aware of the proper techniques to prevent them

Tips to Prevent Ice Damming:
Make sure all attic access panels and stairs are completely insulated. Also insulate all can lights, exhaust fans, chimneys, soil stacks and junction boxes and seal any other obvious areas that pierce the attic envelope. Don’t forget to make sure all bathroom fans exhaust to the exterior of the attic space and finally ensure that there is sufficient ventilation to avoid any further ice damming or mold issues.

Having adequate insulation levels is not the answer. Having adequate insulation levels plus an effectively sealed attic envelope is the best thing you can do to avoid ice damming. This not only avoids the costs and incredible hassle of an ice dam but is one of the biggest win-wins you have in your house. It saves you the actual money you would have spent on energy loss (for most houses this is significant), sealing the attic envelope also makes other cold or “breezy” areas of your home more comfortable and of course this ultimately helps diminish your use of the earths non -renewable energy resources.

Get Dwell is a Wilmette-based home handyman, maintenance and repair service servicing Chicago and the North Shore. From fine carpentry to drywall work, leak fixes to preventative maintenance, we help keep your home looking and feeling its best. Call us at 847-922-3418 or visit

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