Ask Eco Ed: Icicles hanging on the roof. Is this caused by losing heat?

Dear Eco-Ed:

I have huge icicles that form on my gutters every year.  When they freeze up, it causes water to back up into my attic and walls, which is damaging my plaster walls and causing mold in my attic.  I have been told that this has to do with losing heat.  It doesn’t make sense to me, but I thought I’d check with you.

– Icing in Ridgewood

Icicles hanging from your roof may look pretty, but can cause water damage.

Icicles hanging from your roof may look pretty, but can cause water damage.

Dear Icing:

When you see icicles forming from your gutters, often it is a symptom of a problem called “Ice-Damming.”

Although icicles can look very cool, this problem can be very serious.  Ice-damming can cause a whole host of problems: bulk moisture backs up behind the dams and can damage your walls, cause wood to rot resulting in structural damage, and allow for mold growth, which can adversely affect the air quality inside your home.

Ice-damming occurs when there is snow on your roof during sub-freezing temperatures.

Heat escapes from your home due to poor insulation and/or air leaks.  This typically happens in your attic when insulation levels are low, where walls meet the attic floor, through gaps in your attic floor where there are plumbing pipes, etc.  This escaping heat melts snow on the roof, where it runs down into the gutter and re-freezes, causing the ice dam.  As more snow melts, due to heat escaping, or sunlight hitting it, the water backs up.  This can drip into the walls, under the shingles or sheathing, and that is where the damage begins to occur.   Plaster can buckle, sheet rock gets stained, wood can warp or rot, and mold can grow.  These can all lead to expensive repairs

How is this problem solved?

Adding insulation is not necessarily the answer.

The attic should be properly air sealed in conjunction with improving insulation levels.

These simple steps will not only eliminate ice-damming, but also save money on heating costs, protect your walls and roof from water damage, and keep mold from forming.  As a matter of fact, anytime you see the snow melting on your roof from anything other than the sun hitting it, you should think about ways to save energy and keep the heat inside your home where it belongs.  A home energy audit can track down heat loss and pinpoint the areas to target to save energy.  The Home Performance with Energy Star Program through New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program can provide rebates to homeowners to help them solve these problems.  The Program is set up to offset the costs of improving insulation, along with heating and cooling upgrades.  It also offers interest-free loans to qualified homeowners, so that many of these improvements can be made with no money spent out of pocket.

Keep the heat in your home, where it belongs, to keep your family comfortable and warm!


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