Winter Wonderland

Okay, maybe on some of these cold days, or days of rain, snow, and sleet, it may not seem like a wonderland, but winter in Maine does bring with it a sure sense of beauty. It reminds us, Mother Nature is the boss. Common themes for home inspectors this time of year are proper heating, worry about freezing pipes, insulation values, and leaking roofs.

All part of what we look for. But when it is 20 below with a wind chill, pipes that would never otherwise freeze suddenly do. So, no matter the conditions, remember to rake heavy snow loads off the roofs, keep your heating system maintained, insulate well where possible, but especially around pipes near outside walls.

Do this, and you will find winters in Maine are more enjoyable to live with. Since ice dams are such a hot topic this time of year, we have included some information below on this issue. Please contact us for further information.

Ice Dams

What are they? In a perfect world, snow and sleet that lands on your roof would melt and drain off, similar to rain. However, in the winter, a combination of factors can create a situation where large ice chunks, called dams, form near the roof’s edge.

Now, this would not be a problem, except that the dams often hold water behind them, which can slowly work its way underneath the shingles and find a small crack to get through into the home’s interior. Often, the first time you know you have an ice dam problem when you hear a steady drip somewhere in your house, usually coming from the ceiling near an exterior wall. Once you have an ice dam, it is not easy to get rid of.

Why Do They Happen?

Depending on the amount of insulation in the roof and attic, and depending on the amount of air ventilation in the attic, a roof will release some heat from inside the home. Look at your neighbor’s roof after a snowstorm. Do you see lines or shadows on it from melting snow? That is this effect.

The snow on the roof will melt from this heat and drip down to the roof edge. Due to the eave overhang at the edge of the roof, the roof edge is usually cooler. When water drips onto it, it may be cold enough to freeze.

This usually will repeatedly happen, depending on weather conditions. Ice will begin to form, becoming a larger dam at the edge of the roof. As this ice builds up, it often lifts the shingles at the edge of the dam.

This allows water draining from above to get into the roof structure and eventually the interior. Also, realize that certain home designs and certain weather events will encourage ice dam buildup. You can’t do much about the weather, but avoid homes with lots of hips and valleys or a low-sloped roof if you want to avoid ice dam problems.

How Can They Be Prevented?

If this happens to you in the winter and you want to get rid of it, then you have to find a way to get rid of the ice. This is hard to do without ruining the shingles in the process. Be careful using a tool to chip the ice, as you can damage shingles with the tool.

Heat tape can warm and melt the ice. Be careful using heat tape in the winter because it is electrified, and if the end comes in contact with water, it can short out or cause a fault. Also, always be careful on any roof, especially when it could be slippery. It is not worth falling off.


To best prevent ice dams, you need to have adequate ceiling and roof insulation. R39 is now recommended. This is the equivalent of roughly 12” of fiberglass batten insulation.

The better the insulation, the less heat gets lost from the interior up to the roof. This will also save on your heating bills! Also, remember to insulate or seal all holes or openings in the insulation.

We have often done an inspection and found an uninsulated access hatch into the attic or a bathroom fan vent in the attic. These just freely allow warm air to enter the underside of the roof, creating more chances for snowmelt and ice dam buildup. Secondly, improve the ventilation in the attic. There are many ways to do this, so discuss this with a home inspector or contractor to get the best advice.


Good insulation and ventilation in the attic will do the most to prevent ice dam buildup.

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