Emergency Fixes for Winter Roof Leaks

“We had an ice dam this winter,” your friend from Alaska explains. Sounds like a cute little Beaver concoction on the local stream. But then she goes on to tell you that, as a result, she had to put in a whole new ceiling, replace the roof and all the gutters, and bring in an expensive mold mitigation team. Suddenly, the fuzzy little Beavers in your head are gone, and all you can see are the horrific scenes of a despairing Tom Hanks in The Money Pit.

Yes, that’s what an ice dam does to your home: It destroys it. And the damages go from bad to worse if you don’t take care of them right away.

In previous blogs on this site, we have laid out precisely what ice dams are, how they form, how to get rid of them as fast as possible, and how to avoid them in the first place. But what happens when you can’t act fast enough? Examples of ice dam destruction include roof holes and leaks, and even full-on collapses from the weight of the snow and ice; ripped out roof gutters; flooded attic and wall cavities; decimated drywall; rotting wooden studs and beams; and nasty mold.

Ice Dam 911

If you discover your roof is leaking because of an existing ice dam, there are a few things you can do immediately to stop or at least slow the damage. For starters, you’ll want to grab a box fan and head up to the attic. Plug it in and point it toward the leak. Keeping the cool air aimed at the point where the water is coming in should help keep the snow from melting and temporarily stop the leak.

Leak or no leak, it’s a good idea at this point to give your attic a thorough inspection. Keep an eye out for any condensation or high-moisture areas, wet insulation, and visible water damage on the underside of the roof.

Another critical thing to look for in the attic is mold. As much as you don’t want to find this awful stuff, remember, “The enemy you know is better than the enemy you don’t.” If you have mold damage, it’s better to find it now before it extends farther into the interior of your home, causing a host of other issues, including health problems.

Next, place a bucket under any spots where the water is leaking through the interior ceiling to avoid further damage to furniture and flooring. If the drywall looks like it’s bubbling, puncture it to release the pooled water that’s inside. It’s also time for more fans. Trapped moisture can create mold in less than 24 hours, so you’ll want to get these surfaces as dry as possible and keep them that way until you can get a professional out to assess the damage.

Melting snow and ice can also flow from the roof and down the siding. This can create a mini-flood inside the window between the frame and lip of the sill and spill over into an interior room. If this happens, it’s likely you either don’t have weep holes in your window, or a previous homeowner has caulked them shut. Either way, you can fix this pretty quickly by drilling a couple of small holes into the storm window frame to let the water drain away from the house. After the water empties, wipe the area down and remove any debris that could plug the weep holes in the future.

Get Rid of the Damn Dam

Regardless of whether or not you notice any apparent leaks stemming from the ice dam, you’ll want to remove the snow and ice from your roof as quickly and safely as possible. This is where a good roof rake comes in handy. This nifty tool is designed to allow you to stay safe on the ground while scraping the white stuff off your housetop.

Getting on your roof in the middle of a blizzard or when it’s super cold and slippery is not a good plan. If you don’t own a roof rake, or the project becomes too much of a headache, you may want to select a professional ice dam remediation team to help you clear your roof.

Damage Control

Once the ice dam is cleared, it’s time to survey for exterior damage. Unfortunately, to do this you’ll need to break out the ladder and get on your roof. (Unless you have a super-cool, video-enabled drone that can do it for you – wait, sorry, just daydreaming.)

Be sure to wait for clear, dry weather, wear shoes or boots with a good grip, and pay close attention to ladder safety. First, inspect your gutters. Are there areas where they are ripped away or cracked? Is there any evidence of water running down the siding of the house? Do you see any obvious clogs where melting snow and ice are backed up? Do the eaves and soffit look eroded or water-stained?

Remove old leaves and debris to clear the gutters as best you can. You can also try pouring hot water in the gutters and downspouts to loosen any stubborn chunks of ice that may have formed around a clog. It’s essential to do everything you can to keep your drains open and flowing, as excessive and prolonged moisture running over your siding can lead to water running into your interior walls, structural damage, and foundation erosion.

While winter is not necessarily the ideal time to install a gutter snow melting system or heat cable for your roof, you may want to look into it if you have a few clear days. Our pros at HeatCable.com have some great suggestions about ice dam prevention products and services.

Finally, when you’re on the roof, look for missing, loose, or otherwise damaged shingles in the areas that correspond with existing leaks. Spots where ice and snow appear to have pooled should also be checked out thoroughly, as well as the flashing around the vents, joints, and chimneys. Tarping over these areas will keep melting snow and ice from doing more damage.

Before doing anything else, get off the roof, head inside, and contact your insurance company. They will send someone out to look at the extent of the damage and can then give you an accurate picture of what repairs will be covered under your policy. Even though you may be a consummate DIYer, if the company will pay for a professional to come out and take care of everything for you, then it’s a wise idea to let them do it. After all, this is why you have insurance.

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