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Finger Lakes residents face ice dam damage

Drive through almost any residential neighborhood this winter and you cannot help but notice the number of houses with massive icicles hanging from roof edges. While this may create a beautiful wintry scene, ice buildup on roof edges can create some very ugly problems for homeowners. Ice dams often lead to snow melt water leaking into a house and causing extensive damage. This winter’s weather has set up perfect conditions for the formation of ice dams. When moderate to heavy snow is combined with several days where daytime temperatures stay between 15 and 29 degrees, you have ideal conditions for creating ice build-up on house roof edges.Ice dams occur when heat and warm air escape from the living areas of a home into unheated attics. The escaping heat and warm air build up in the attic and increase the temperature enough so that the snow on the roof above the attic space begins to melt. The melt water flows down the roof until it comes to the overhang at the roof edge. Since there is no escaping heat under the overhang, the melt water freezes and creates a thick layer of ice. This layer of ice creates a dam behind which a puddle of water from newly melted snow forms. Eventually this water works its way under roof shingles and into the house.Few homeowners are aware that ice build-up on roof edges is a symptom of poor construction practices. Warm air leaking out of the house and into the unheated attic, inadequate levels of attic insulation and insufficient attic ventilation are the root causes of roof ice dams. While these issues are most often seen in older drafty homes with poor insulation levels, they are not uncommon in newly built homes.What should you do if your house is showing signs of excessive ice buildup on roof edges? There are two issues that need to be addressed. 1) In the short term, the roof may need to be cleared of snow and the buildup of ice may need to be removed from the roof edge to prevent snow-melt water from backing up into the interior of the house. Many roofing contractors provide this service. Working on a snow and ice covered roof is very risky, so homeowners should be certain the firm they hire is experienced in doing this type of work and fully insured.2) At some point the underlying causes of the problem need to addressed. While this does not need to be done immediately, the homeowner may want to have those problems identified and fixed before the next winter season arrives in order to avoid future ice damming problems. This will usually require the services of a home improvement contractor that understands basic building science and how to apply that basic knowledge to address building performance problems such as excessive ice buildup. Contractors accredited by the Building Performance Institute have the knowledge and needed diagnostic equipment to find and fix the problems that cause ice dams.The best way to avoid ice dam problems in newly constructed homes is to purchase an ENERGY STAR labeled home. ENERGY STAR home builders pay attention to good construction practices that ensure a home will not have ice damming problems. ENERGY STAR labeled homes will also be more comfortable and less expensive to heat and cool. If you would like more information on ice dams you can obtain a free copy of the Cornell University Housing Fact Sheet, Causes and Cures of Attic Condensation and Roof Ice Damming Problems by going to this web address.: http://www.human.cornell.edu/dea/outreach/loader.cfm?csModule=security/getfile&PageID=47813If you would like to obtain a list of contractors in your area that are accredited by the Building Performance Institute go to: http://www.getenergysmart.org/Resources/FindPartner.aspx?t=4 and in the resource to find window select, “Home Performance Contractors” then click on your county on the resource locator map.Contact:Vallie Castner, Community EducatorYates County Cornell Cooperative Extensionvgc8@cornell.edu315 536 5123

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