Winter water damage from ice dams, attic condensation & more

Excessive snow on the roof, condensation in the attic and ice buildup can cause roof & water damage and personal injury.

Gutters of a house covered in icicles and ice dams.

While stopping a water leak or repairing a washing machine hose down in the basement might be fairly straightforward, snow on the roof, ice dams and attic condensation are forms of water damage typical to cold climate homes and are a little more complicated and a little trickier to fix.

Why is excessive snow on your roof a concern? What are ice dams? What causes attic condensation? And if you've had these, what can you do?

Why should you worry about snow on the roof?

Heavy loads of ice and snow on your roof can create serious problems. These include:

  • Injuries from snow and ice falling from sloped roofs.
  • Roof collapse, especially on flat roofs.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from blocked chimneys and vents.
  • Water damage from ice dams that form on the edges of roofs and in gutters.

What are ice dams?

When the temperature in your attic is above freezing, snow on the roof will likely melt. When the snowmelt runs down the roof and hits the colder eaves, it refreezes.

If this cycle repeats over several days, the freezing snowmelt builds up and forms an ice dam, behind which water pools into large puddles, or "ponds". The ponding water can then back up under the roof covering and leak into the attic or along exterior walls.

The right weather conditions for ice dams are usually when outside air temperatures are in the low 20s (°F) for several days with several inches of snow on the roof.

What causes condensation in your attic?

Condensation of water vapor on cold surfaces in attics can cause wood to rot, which can lead to costly repairs.

Attic condensation typically occurs when warm, moist air migrates or is directed into the attic from living spaces below. Research indicates unusually high humidity in the home's living spaces is strongly associated with attic condensation problems.

Winter water damage warning signs to watch for

Recognize the signs of stress when too much snow and ice has accumulated on your roof or when you have too much condensation in your attic. Here are a few things to watch for.

  • Sagging ridgeline
  • Drooping ceilings
  • Water leaks on interior walls and ceilings
  • Jammed doors
  • Cracked interior walls near the center of your home
  • Creaking sounds

Condensation, snow on roof and ice dam prevention tips

Building codes have some requirements that attempt to prevent the problems of ice dams and attic condensation. But codes don't address all the issues, and many houses could have out of date building codes.

  • Bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans, as well as dryer vents, should never be discharged into the attic space and always discharge outside. You may have an adequately ventilated attic, but this won't matter if the bathroom exhaust fan dumps warm moist air directly into the attic space. This could result in condensed water vapor freezing onto cold attic materials, which will eventually thaw creating wet attic materials resulting in damage in the attic and inside the home.
  • Minimize ceiling mounted fixtures below the attic that create the need for holes in the drywall or plaster ceiling. Properly seal ceiling penetrations to make them airtight taking care to follow manufacturer clearance requirements for flues, chimneys and recessed light fixtures.
  • Research shows keeping the attic air temperature below freezing when the outside air temperature is in the low 20s can reduce the occurrence of ice dams. Proper attic ventilation is key to keeping the attic cool, while adequate and properly installed insulation is key to keeping your house warm. It is critical to keep soffit vents free from obstructions to allow the natural flow of cool outside air into the attic space to replace the warmer attic air that rises and flows outside the ridge and/or roof vents. This flow of air will keep the attic cool and free of moisture build-up.

Removing ice and snow from your roof is a dangerous job. Avoid injury by hiring a professional to remove snow and ice from the roof and fix the problem before it leads to property damage and expensive repairs. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

What not to do

While it might be tempting to try a quick fix to break up that ice dam, don't get too eager; not only is it dangerous on your roof, but you can also cause a lot of damage, especially in the colder months. Here are some things to consider.

  • Do not routinely remove snow from the roof or attempt to "chip away"the ice of an ice dam. It will likely lead to shingle damage.
  • Do not install large mechanical equipment or water heaters in attics, especially in cold climates. Not only do they present an unwelcome fire hazard, but they'll also increase the temperature in your attic.
  • Do not routinely use salt or calcium chloride to melt snow on a roof. These chemicals are very corrosive and can shorten the life of metal gutters, downspouts and flashings. Runoff that contains high concentrations of these chemicals can damage nearby grass and plants.

What to do

  • Follow up with your new home or home-improvement contractor to be sure that insulation in the attic space is adequate for your location.
  • Verify soffit and roof or ridge venting exists for all roof planes and that soffit vents are neither blocked by attic insulation nor covered by newly installed maintenance free finishes outside the home.
  • Verify all penetrations, access panels and electrical fixtures are properly sealed and insulated to prevent heat and moisture from entering the attic space, while maintaining manufacturer's required clearances.
  • Verify all exhaust fans and dryer vents are discharged to the outside.
  • Keep gutters clean of leaves and other debris. This will not necessarily prevent ice dams, but clean gutters can help drain away ice melt as it makes its way to the gutters during a thaw.
  • Follow up a short-term ice dam remedy with determining and fixing the actual cause to your ice dam problem. Consult a trusted and competent professional.

If your home suffers damage this winter, contact your State Farm® agent to see if it's covered under your homeowner's policy. Check out more winter home maintenance tips here.

The information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with State Farm® (including State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and its subsidiaries and affiliates). While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. State Farm is not responsible for, and does not endorse or approve, either implicitly or explicitly, the content of any third party sites that might be hyperlinked from this page. The information is not intended to replace manuals, instructions or information provided by a manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional, or to affect coverage under any applicable insurance policy. These suggestions are not a complete list of every loss control measure. State Farm makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.

State Farm Fire and Casualty Company
Bloomington, IL

State Farm General Insurance Company
Bloomington, IL

State Farm Florida Insurance Company
Winter Haven, FL

State Farm Lloyds
Richardson, TX

Start a Quote
Select a product to start a quote.
Agents Near You
Contact Us
844-373-0003

Also Important

DIY Tips for Winterizing Your Home

Winterizing your home to protect against snow and below-freezing temps can help your home withstand the ups, downs and erratic moods of Mother Nature.

Furnace Tips for Extreme Cold

During unusually cold days your furnace can work harder than usual. Read more about furnace tips in extreme cold weather.

Related Articles

Winter Sidewalk Safety for Home/Business Owners

Winter sidewalk safety is a chore but keeping your sidewalk clear of ice and snow during the winter might help prevent accidents and trouble.

Ideas on How To Prevent Pipes From Freezing

Frozen pipes can cause significant water damage in your home. State Farm discusses ways of preventing frozen pipes, and how to deal with burst pipes.

Conquer Home Humidity Problems With These Tips

High humidity is uncomfortable and threatens your home's structure and surfaces.