For many people with townhouses or detached houses, the huge amount of snow on our roofs will soon create ice dams. As a result, we will see water leaking into our houses, most likely near the junction between wall and ceiling. There is nothing that can be done to prevent this happening, but you may be able to reduce the damage. First, what is an ice dam? This occurs when the snow melts from the roof (it will often melt at the shingle level, since that is warmest with the heat from the attic). The water flows under the ice pack, ending in the gutters and downspouts, where it freezes. Once the gutters freeze full of ice, the continuing water melt backs up under the ice pack and on top of (and often, in between) the shingles. Freezing water at the shingle level will lift the shingles, so that water will now flow beneath the shingles. With no other way out (remember, the gutters are frozen, so nothing is passing through them), the water seeps into the attic or through the wall at the edge of the attic and house exterior. How will you know that ice damming is occuring? You may see buckling on your ceiling, or water dripping down the walls. In our house, the water pools above the bay window (a great place for an ice dam to occur, since it juts out from the exterior wall, just under the roof line) and then drips onto the window sill. This will damage drywall, paint, woodwork, etc. Will insurance cover it? Since this is a problem that comes from above, it is normally covered by homeowners insurance. If you ever have a water problem that comes from seepage from the ground, that would not be and would require a separate flood insurance policy. Ice dams, however, are storm-related and roof-generated, so you can put in a claim. So, what on earth are these pictures on this blog???? This is our method of minimizing the damage. Since there would be water pooling in the ceiling area, we have drilled small holes in the ceiling (where we had similar damage in 1993). In each hole is a piece of a paperclip, cut to look like a U, with a string tied to it. The paperclip is inserted in the hole so that, when the problem is over, it can be pulled out by the string. The string is then hung to sit inside a bucket on the windowsill. This way, when water pools above the holes, the water will travel down the strings and collect in the bucket. We will not have actual water damage to the woodwork or drywall (most likely), and only have to patch the holes when it is all over. Can ice dams be prevented? Not at this point, but, if you are installing a new roof, ask your roofer to install a barrier near the roof edges that is designed to prevent the movement of water below the shingles in the event of a huge storm like this. Also, if your house is well-insulated in the attic area, it will prevent the heat from the house from melting the snow pack on the roof too fast so that your gutters may (just MAY) have time to handle the flow. Not a fix, but can't hurt. If you decide to add insulation to your attic, please be conscious of the environmental qualities of the insulation that you choose. We added blown-in cellulose to our attic a little over a year ago (made the house much more comfortable!), which is a recycled material and has great insulation qualities. Happy springtime musings, but get out there and enjoy this lovely winter while we have it.