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Ice Dams Can Damage Your Foundation

ice forming over the gutter

If you know what an ice dam is, you may think we’re talking nonsense.  (An ice dam is a large mass of ice that forms on your roof.)  How can something on your roof damage your foundation?  Stick with me, and I’ll explain!  

Acculevel is a family-owned and operated company that specializes in foundation repair and waterproofing. Since we opened our doors in 1996, we’ve helped more than 35,000 homeowners repair their homes and optimize their home’s health and value.  We understand that many times, the best way to maintain your home is to actively prevent damage from occurring. 

In this article, we’re going to explain how it’s possible for an ice dam on your roof to damage your foundation.  We’ll also review the best way to prevent ice dams and avoid the negative impact they can have on your home.

 

How Do Ice Dams Form? 

Ice dams form when your attic is poorly insulated.  Hot air rises, and if it can escape through gaps in the attic insulation, it can warm your shingles enough to melt the snow on them.

But the warm air from inside your home only can reach the shingles- it doesn’t have any contact with the outside edge of your roof- and it certainly won’t warm your guttering.  

The result of this inconsistent roof temperature is a mix of frozen and semi-frozen water.  Snow melts on the roof, slides down towards the gutter as slushy ice water, then refreezes at the end.  Sometimes the freezing water will drape over the side and create long icicles..  If this cycle repeats often enough, the ice will accumulate into a dense ridge.  This ice stacking up is referred to as an ice dam.

ice forming over the gutter
This is the beginning of an ice dam.

 

How Do You Treat an Ice Dam?  

Once an ice dam forms, it’s difficult to safely remove. Sometimes people will go up to the roof with a hammer (or an axe!), and try to break it up.  This is dangerous and we do not recommend it.  Trying to stand on an ice-covered roof while swinging a large piece of metal seems like a good way to become a Darwin Award nominee.  

There are some DIY methods that suggest steam or boiling hot water, but these don’t sound much safer.  In fact, if they don’t work well, you could actually add to the forming ice pile.  And that’s before we address the potential issues that could result from scaling a ladder while holding a steamer or boiling kettle

ladder with line through it
Image by author

Alternative ideas from the internet include using a rake to remove the snow, which could damage or pull off shingles.   Some people suggest dispensing rock salt on the roof to melt all of the snow.  Doing this would create a snow melt that would seriously damage your landscape and lawn; salted earth will not grow anything.  However, if you tried this method with an alternative “ice melt” type of product, that might actually prove effective.  After all, those products are supposed to be pet safe and lawn-friendly. 

Overall, the best way to treat an ice dam is to prevent one from forming in the first place.  You do this by thoroughly insulating your attic, so that your shingles can’t warm enough to melt the snow.  This would make your HVAC system more efficient, possibly saving you enough money to offset the insulation expense.  

Acculevel isn’t an expert on roofing or attic insulation, so we recommend you contact a reputable roofing contractor. If you’re the DIY type, you can get some excellent advice on ice dams and insulation from the pillar of home renovations, This Old House

 

How Does an Ice Dam Cause Foundation Damage?

Ice dams create foundation problems and water intrusion because they melt.  Snowmelt from your roof is an issue, because most of it won’t be inside your guttering.  The icicles that formed across the guttering are going to melt and drip right next to your foundation.

You don’t want snowmelt seeping into the ground close to your foundation. Water intrusion into your basement or crawl space is more than just an irritation or inconvenience. It’s also a major contributor to substantial foundation damage.  

Excess water can create cracks, which expand and weaken the stability of the wall(s).  It can also lead to erosion under the foundation, causing it to settle unevenly and strain the home’s overall structure. 

You can learn more about these foundation issues, causes, repair methods, and costs from our homeowner’s guide to foundation repair.  This is a free resource we offer to any homeowner, and it covers all of the questions we are often asked by customers. 

Foundation Repair Guide

 

How Do You Protect Your Foundation from Ice Dams?

The best way to protect your home from water-related foundation damage is to practice preventative maintenance.  You can do this by making a number of home improvements- and many of these are DIY options:

  1. This may sound trivial, but it is highly effective: keep your gutters clean and in good working condition.  Managing the large volume of water that slides over your roof is critical.
  2. Following along with your guttering: make sure your downspouts are also in good working order and release the water a significant distance away from your home.  We recommend a minimum of ten feet. 
  3. If your basement or crawl space has a sump pump, make sure the pump is working and the discharge line is clear.   We address how to prevent your discharge line from freezing in another article, if you have questions.
  4. Follow our DIY guide to home inspection twice a year.  This walks you through a detailed review of your home, foundation, and property; explaining what signs to watch out for as you go. 
  5. If you’re not a DIY fan, you can sign up for Acculevel’s Home Inspection Program.

 

Have You Noticed Signs of Foundation Damage? 

If you’ve seen cracks in your foundation, water in your basement, or picked up the musty smell of mold in your crawl space, you should contact a professional contractor for an in-home assessment.  Do you live in Indiana or in one of the surrounding states?  Check our interactive service area map for your location. 

You can call 866-669-3349 to schedule an appointment with one of our knowledgeable and experienced project advisors.  If you prefer to communicate by text or email, you can fill out our online form instead. 

We will meet with you to discuss your concerns, what you’ve experienced, and gather any needed information about your home’s history.  After that, we’ll thoroughly evaluate your home, diagnose any damage or problems, then explain our findings to you.  Our goal is to provide you with a whole-home solution so that your home is healthy, strong, and will retain its value for years to come.

If you don’t live in our service area, please still take advantage of the free resources we have provided; the DIY inspection should fit most any American home, and the foundation repair guide is meant to be a resource for all homeowners.  We also have a list of questions you should ask a contractor, (complete with a free downloadable copy) that you are welcome to use in your search for a quality contractor in your area. 

 

Kelly Kater

Over her twenty year career, Kelly has worked in a wide variety of fields: secondary education, nursing, biology, elder care, the postal service, multicultural development, and academia. She has developed a skill for translating industry-specific jargon into everyday language. Her goal is to share the knowledge and experience of the Acculevel team with homeowners, in a way that is both engaging and informative.

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