Icicles may be pretty to look at, but they can do considerable damage to your home’s exterior by tearing off gutters, loosening shingles and causing water to back up and leak on the interior. When that happens, the results aren’t pretty: peeling paint, warped floors, water stained ceilings and soggy insulation.

What causes ice dams to form?

Heat loss from a house, snow cover and outside temperatures interact to form ice dams.  The snow on a roof surface that is above freezing will melt.  As water flows down the roof it reaches the portion of the roof that is below 32F and freezes.  This causes ice dams.

How do you prevent ice dams?

Stopping ice dams is simple.  Keep the entire roof the same temperature as the eaves.  This can be done by increasing ventilation, adding insulation and sealing off every possible air leak that might warm the underside of the roof.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of these ideas:

Ventilate Eaves and Ridge

A ridge vent paired with continuous soffit vents circulates cold air under the entire roof.  Both ridge and soffit vents should have the same size openings and provide at least 1sf of opening for every 3000 square feet of attic floor.  Place baffles at the eaves to maintain a clear path for airflow from the soffit vents.

Cap the Hatch

An unsealed attic hatch or whole house fan is a massive opening for heat to escape.  Cover them with weather stripping made from foil-faced foam board held together with aluminum tape.

Exhaust to the Outside

Make sure that the ducts connected to the kitchen, bathrooms, and dryer vents all lead outdoors through either the roof or walls, but never through the soffit.

Add Attic Insulation

Adding insulation on the floor keeps the heat where it belongs.  To find how much insulation your attic needs, check with your local building department.

And when looking for a new home in the winter months or at any time of the year, be sure to work with a realtor that has solid construction know-how.


Be sure to choose an Exclusive Buyer Agent to help you through all of the intricacies of buying a home. Find an agent here.


Rich Harty is the President of NAEBA’s Board of Directors; and a licensed Realtor, Managing Broker and Exclusive Buyer Agent with Harty Realty Group in Highland Park, Illinois.

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