Ice Dams Explained

What Are Ice Dams?

Ice dams are formed when heat from the inside of a home escapes into the attic and warms the roof decking during the winter. This heat, combined with heat from the sun, can melt snow on the roof. Melting snow on the upper roof and in the valleys then runs down toward the eaves as water. When it reaches the cold eaves and gutters it refreezes. The continual thaw and re-freeze process creates ice dams. The result is water backing up under the roof shingles or behind fascia boards where it can soak through the roof decking or wall sheathing, causing damage to attics, ceilings and walls.

Ice Dam Defense

There are three ways that Volpe Enterprises, Inc. can help defend against the damage ice dams cause: insulation, ventilation and water-proofing shingle underlayment. All three work together. Insulation keeps heat from escaping from your home’s living space into your attic. Ventilation removes the heat and helps keep the roof deck evenly cool to help prevent snow from melting on the roof. Finally, waterproofing shingle underlayment, such as WinterGuard,™ is laid across the roof before roof shingles are applied. WinterGuard is warranted against leaks from dams that do form on the roof.

With existing roofs, waterproofing shingle underlayment is only an option if you remove the existing shingles or are building a new addition. Regardless, Volpe recommends increasing the insulation R-value in the attic with blown-in fiberglass insulation and a ventilation system can usually be added to your attic easily.


An attic insulated to today’s energy standards with fiberglass insulation minimizes heat escape through the ceiling, virtually eliminating the possibility of snow melting and refreezing at the base of the roof. If your home was built before 1980, chances are it needs more attic insulation. Volpe Enterprises, Inc. recommends that you have at least 18 inches or R-49 in your attic. R-value is the resistance to heat flow of a material. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power.


The second thing to look for in your attic is the amount of ventilation that you have. It is important to have ventilation in the attic so any heat lost from the interior of the home is drawn up and out of the attic. Adequate attic ventilation will help the roof deck stay cool. Another benefit of having your attic ventilated is that it allows for moisture that rises into the attic from things such as bathing, cooking and the laundry to escape. Unchecked moisture can promote mold, mildew, and wood rot. There are two common ways to ensure that excess moisture or heat can escape to the outside. One way is to use a power or mechanical ventilation system. The other way is through a natural, or static, ventilation system. A power ventilator is an electric powered fan installed at the roof or gable that runs by a thermostat or humidistat when the attic needs ventilation. Natural or static ventilation systems consist of simple vent or covered openings in your attic. These are typically ridge vents, gable, eave, or roof vents. Volpe Enterprises, Inc. agrees that externally baffled ridge vents combined with vented soffits are a very effective method for ventilating an attic. (Call us today to have it installed)

Where older construction doesn’t permit ridge and soffit ventilation, powered fans can be a good alternative. A properly designed ventilation system must have both intake vents in the soffit or in the eaves at the lower part of the attic, as well as exhaust ventilation, such as ridge vents, high in the attic at or near the ridge. Cooler, dryer outside air typically enters through eave vents near the attic floor, forcing existing moisture-laden or heated air out through vents placed high on the roof or gable. By ensuring proper insulation and ventilation, you will run less risk of the formation of ice dams, and you will substantially reduce the likelihood of damaging your attic components.

Waterproofing Underlayment

If you are building a new home, or re-roofing an older home, you should also insist that waterproofing shingle underlayment be installed before your roof shingles are applied. As mentioned earlier, it is completely resistant to water and, as such, is a critical last line of defense against leaks, preventing backed up water from getting into your home wherever it is applied. CertainTeed WinterGuardTM is warranted to prevent water penetration for the warranted life of the new asphalt shingles applied over it (up to a maximum of 50 years). While shingle underlayment does not prevent the formation of ice dams, it will prevent backed up water from getting into the house.

Special Cases

Many new homes feature cathedral or vaulted ceiling roofs and skylights. Both present special cases for insulation that CertainTeed recommends you discuss carefully with Volpe Enterprises, Inc. Insulation manufacturers like CertainTeed have created high-performance fiber glass batts that are designed specifically for cathedral ceilings to provide higher R-values per inch than standard fiber glass batts. In the case of skylights, quality workmanship and attention to detail are important in preventing ice dams and condensation which often lead to leaks. To avoid problems, Volpe can properly insulate around the skylight and will use a moisture retarder to prevent condensation. In addition, applying waterproofing shingle underlayment around the skylight opening is recommended.


All shingle manufacturers exclude from warranty coverage leaks caused by water backup behind ice dams, which can form on the eaves of the roof. These leaks can be easily prevented. Proper ventilation will minimize the chances of ice dam formation, and WinterGuardTM waterproofing shingle underlayment, properly installed, will prevent leaks in spite of ice dam formation and will also prevent leaks from wind-driven rain.

CertainTeed offers you the broadest range of color and style choices. But you’ll see it’s not style over substance. You’ll get a roof that’s made from the highest quality materials and backed by a strong warranty program. It’s our promise to you: quality made certain, satisfaction guaranteed.

The above article is courtesy of: CertainTeed Corporation

For more information about getting your home ready for winter, check out our home winterization guide. 


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