Thursday, December 23, 2010

Project: Get Rid of the Ice Dams

So, I promised an update on our ice dam situation, but before I get to all the nitty gritty details, let’s take a look at what the house looked like before the project.

As many pictures as I take, you would think I would have at least 1 photo of the ice dams but sadly I don’t. I have 999 other useless photos on my camera, but none of the dams.

So, to give you an idea of what our house looked like before, I scoured Google Images to find the best comparison….

I kid you not. Our ice dams were seriously this bad. And we live on a main road. I was embarrassed for us.

But, personal embarrassment aside, Nathan and I were also both genuinely concerned. You see, when we purchased our house back in April of ’09, the lady before us was kind enough to put on a new roof (meaning we didn’t have to shell out major bucks for a huge roof project) – thank you kind lady before us! And since the roof is still a baby, we want to preserve it’s life as long as possible. But, the problem was ice dams, if not properly taken care of, can cause major havoc on your roof. We’re talking leaks and mildew and all that gross nasty stuff. Nothankyou.

Nathan and I were both aware that ice dams usually occur when there is a heat loss in the house, so our first step was to investigate our insulation in the attic.

And once we Nathan crawled up in the attic, this is what he discovered….

As you can tell, we were right--the attic was our major source of heat loss!  You may remember the squirrel debacle of 2010. Well, that’s partly why there was little to no insulation in our attic (arghh!). The other main reason is because our little house was built in 1958, and no one’s put any real TLC in it since then. 

You may be wondering, like we were, how insulation in the attic causes ice dams in the gutters. The short of it is, when you turn your heat on in your house, if your attic isn’t properly insulated, then heat will escape to the roof, causing the snow on your rooftop to melt.  The water then pours into your gutter and, if it's cold enough, freezes...creating an ice dam.  And since it's always cold in Upstate New York during the winter, we had ice dams 99.9% of the time it snowed.  

So, to give you a breakdown of the project...

At first, we were feeling super ambitious and decided to take on the project ourselves.  Nathan air sealed the attic (for more on how to do that, we sought out an expert and checked out sites like this).  Then we got to pricing out the insulation.  We also did lots of research.  For instance, there's a green alternative to fiberglass called cellulose--it's made out of recycled newspaper.  We considered going this route, but after doing some research we discovered that it was more of a fire hazard to go with cellulose, so we opted for blown-in fiberglass.  

Also, because we live in a colder climate, we needed our attic to have enough insulation to make it have an R-value of 45.  Don't ask me what R-value means...I just know that's A LOT of insulation.  Before we did this project, our attic had an R-value of 10.  Since we would be ordering so much insulation, the hopper that blows it all in the attic would be free to rent from a local hardware store, but Nathan and I would both have to take off from work to do the job since it's a two-person undertaking.  

After crunching some numbers, we decided to price out how much it would be to have it done by a professional.  Home Depot contracts out, and the gentleman there explained that for them to do the work, we would only pay a bit more than doing it ourselves, and would get some benefits to boot.  Not bad at all!  We weighed the pros and cons of DIYing the project and hiring Home Depot, and eventually went with the experts. 

This is our first major project on the house, so we researched, crunched numbers and did tons of asking around beforehand to make sure we were getting the best bang for our buck.  We discovered through the process that sometimes it's cheaper to do the work yourself, but sometimes it ends up being relatively the same amount and it's also just plain easier to have the experts take over.

Because we went with Home Depot, we got the bonus of having a lifetime warranty on the project (something we wouldn't have if we did this ourselves).  Since we realize this is just our starter home, we figure this is a bonus for the people who buy our home from us after we're done with it.  And, we're also looking forward to submitting this for the energy tax credits that are floating around these days.

So, by now I know you're just chomping at the bit to see the remarkable after photos, right??  Well, hold on to your hats....

Oooo....ahhhh....isn't that fluffy stuff just amazing?!?  (That's roughly 3-feet of insulation!)

OK, so I realize our first big project isn't a big renovation or drastic before and after, but we've definitely noticed the difference in how warm and cozy our house is now, and there are no more ice dams!!  We're also looking forward to examining our gas bills over the next 12 months to see just how much we're saving.  You know, because we're nerds like that.

So, what do you think?  Are you and yours tackling any major projects this winter?  Do you feel more educated on ice dams?  Do you wish you lived in Upstate NY so you could share in our ice dam tales?  Do tell! :)

Oh, and PS--not that you care, but because I want to be a responsible and the hubs don't work for Home Depot, nor did they pay us to do this project (I wish!).  


  1. Wow, that is some stuff. Craziness - be careful of falling icicles.

  2. nice work! those were some serious ice dams. And, yeah for some extra fluff in the attic that yields warmth and reduced heating cost!!

  3. Glad you got that taken care of, especially considering the climate you live in. I think it'll pay off a lot for you in the long run. =]

  4. This is how bad your ice dam situation? Good move on insulating the attic; that's the correct measure to protect your roof from ice dams. You can also try using a de-icing tape that melts the snow on your roof. Also, I know your roof is still a baby, but in case you plan to re-roof in the future, add a moth-proof roofing underneath that's at least 3 ft long; it won't completely eliminate ice dams, but it will reduce the damage cause by accumulated ice.
    Allyson Ripple @

  5. This project is far more important than any home renovation. So it was wise of you to cross this out of your list, before the ice dam problem caused a catastrophic repercussion such as collapsed roof or busted pipes. Now you’re assured that wouldn’t be the case, thanks to the added insulation. I hope it did bring you some comfort and saved you some money from the reduced gas bill.

    Natalie Baldwin @ EnviroTech Insulation Inc.


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