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What causes ice dams: Answer #93

What causes ice dams? Google that question and you will get a lot of answers, the most common of which will be something about heat escaping into the attic, which in turn causes snow to melt on the roof and refreeze on a lower area. Standard stuff. In a broader sense, ice dams are caused by a differential in roof temperatures where a higher area is above 32 degrees (snow melts there) and a lower area where temps are below 32 degrees (melt water reverts to ice there). It’s true that in the vast majority of the cases we study the cause of the ice dams is indeed escaping heat as the result of air leaks and inadequate/improper insulation. But we have also been involved in cases where the roof system is insulated perfectly and yet ice dams still occur. The diagram below describes one situation that can cause ice dams that has nothing to do with insulation, air leaks or ventilation issues. Put simply, the sun can melt snow that then runs down to a cold area on the roof where it refreezes into ice, forming an ice dam. It’s not nearly as common as the aforementioned causes but it does happen. For example, check out the diagram below:

The cause of ice dams

Sun causing ice dams, does sun cause ice dams?

Wind is another factor often overlooked in the creation of ice dams. See the diagram below. Wind can have dramatic affects on the snow load on a roof and under certain conditions, a difference in snow thickness can contribute to the formation of ice dams.



Kuhl ice dam prevention

Roof snow and ice dams the relationship between


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