3335 W St Germain St.
Suite 108
St. Cloud, MN 56301

(320) 656-8890

Habi-Home Maintenance and Improvements: Ice Dams

Feb 21, 2024

As a public service, the Habitat Construction team would like to share their extensive knowledge to help our donors and volunteers maintain their own homes. We hope these construction tidbits will help you better maintain your own home, and look for ways to improve your home’s functionality and efficiency. Please enjoy the debut of Habi-Home Maintenance and Improvements Corner!

Let’s Start with Dams!  

No, not those in a river (or those in anger). A quick and easy way to determine the insulation qualities of your home can be observed with ice dams and snow cover. Snow cover good, ice dams bad. Why? Let’s find out: 

As we know, heat rises. This is why most air supplies, or water supplies in the case of a boiler, are found in or near the floor. So it’s no surprise then, most heat is lost going up through the ceiling. This is why attic insulation is so critical. Let’s think about a well-insulated ceiling. As snow and ice accumulate in the winter months, the attic is designed to “breathe” or ventilate. Therefore, above the insulation in the ceiling, on cold days, the attic should be cold. When snow is present on the roof, a well-insulated ceiling will therefore hold snow longer on the roof. Now what if there is not good insulation? As heat rises, the heat sneaks into the attic space, heating the attic, and in effect, melting the snow on the roof. If you have ever been through an old neighborhood and found snow on a bunch of roofs, and one that is bare, bingo, little or no ceiling insulation! This is where ice dams come in. As the warm attic melts the snow, the water drains down to the overhangs of the home. Guess what, under the overhangs it’s cold and the water again freezes into ice. Voila, an ice dam! Ice dams cause a lot of shingle damage which wears out the roof system much quicker. Therefore, if you observe a bunch of ice on the overhangs, and none elsewhere, it’s time to insulate. 


Let’s fix it: Insulation can be purchased from your local building materials supplier, and installed via the attic access in your home. Due to our cold climate, a minimum of R49 is recommended. Talk to your building materials supplier for the depth of insulation needed to meet this rating. The most typical insulation material is blow-in cellulose (recycled materials blown in), however, in a retrofit situation, batt insulation may be easier. Also coming on strong, but typically done by professionals, is spray foam. Spray foam works the best as it seals all the cracks very well, but is much more expensive and less DIY friendly. Note, there is preparation required! Taking measurements, sealing of penetrations, confirming or installing wind wash, looking for loose connections, confirming attic ventilation at the soffits and the ridgeline, etc. Again, your building materials supplier can help you with those questions, also see examples below and video resources for additional guidance. 

Blown-In Insulation

Batt Insulation

Spray Foam Insulation

Videos:

Preparation work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrJpbT7E4us 

Blow-in Insulation install: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glt7IAZVteU 

Batt Insulation install: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1i_2Bk3j3q0 

 

So let’s save energy! Good luck and let’s burst those (ice) dams! 

Chad Bouley 

Executive Director 

 

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3335 W St Germain St.
Suite 108
St. Cloud, MN 56301

(320) 656-8890

©2023 by Central MN Habitat for Humanity.