Ice Dam Lessons

Icicles along eaves trough spell trouble.

Icicles along eaves trough spell trouble.

We lived in our house for 30 years, without major problems. But this summer we installed gutter-guards to solve a drainage problem. Due to the urgency of the issue, we did not do research before implementing the “solution”. And sure enough, the lack of proper planning came back to haunt us. The extreme cold weather this winter, coupled with our new gutter guards, led to another problem: icicles forming along the eave troughs, for the first time in three decades. Lesson 1: Haste makes waste. Prov 21:5 The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty. Don’t make snap decisions or decide under duress. It will only cause further problems.

Poor insulation + Poor ventilation = problem!

Poor insulation + Poor ventilation = problem!

We searched online for an explanation, and here’s what we found. Warm air rises through the ceiling and insufficient insulation into the attic. The escaped heat melts the snow on the roof, and water runs down the slope to reach the unheated eave trough. The holes on the gutter guards are blocked by ice so water cannot flow down the gutter. The water refreezes and the dam grows as it is fed by the melting snow above, forming icicles. Lesson 2: Rome was not built in a day. Symptoms can appear overnight, but root causes develop over time. If the attic insulation and ventilation had been good, the problem would not have developed. It’s the same in relationships. Keep your relationships warm and communication flowing, it would prevent lots of problems.

The immediate concern was that the dammed-up water would seep through cracks in the shingle into the roof and interior walls, causing damage. The quick fix was to hire a contractor to remove the ice-dam using steam guns, but this would be a one-time remedy and winter wasn’t over yet. We learned our lessons and opted for a long-term solution instead. So we hired a roofing specialist who came with an infra-red gun to do a thorough inspection, checking where heat was going out and moisture was coming in. It was like doing a complete physical, with the doctor telling you what’s wrong, and boy was it depressing! Lesson 3: Prescribe the right medicine for the illness 對症下藥。In life often we just deal with the urgent, taking the easy way out. Don’t just treat the symptom. Resolve the root cause before trouble mounts further.

The sad thing is, over the years we’ve already added insulation, redone the shingles twice, and installed ventilation fans, but none of the contractors cared enough to provide a full solution. For example, they used blown-in loose-fill mineral wool for adding insulation to areas with blanket batts and rolls of fiberglass because it was easy to install, but didn’t insulate the attic hatch itself, where heat escaped freely. The roofer only wanted to change the shingles outside, but never bothered checking the attic inside to make sure there was no moisture problem. The contractor installed ventilation fans in the bathrooms, but used under-powered fans to increase his profit margin, and we didn’t know enough to enforce quality control. Lesson 4: Attitude is important. Lk 16:10 Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. Many workers do only what’s necessary to get the job done, but not enough to do an excellent job that really solves all the problems. Choose your workers carefully.

We’re still waiting for the written report before we decide what to do. Like a person getting old, there are many problems due to wear and tear and lack of maintenance over the years. Your body, relationships, house, and care share something in common. Maintain them well and they’ll serve you well over the long haul. Neglect them and you have nobody to blame but yourself.

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  • Sandy Shim  On March 5, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Hi Ray, I am catching up on emails after the trip to Africa… This article made me smile… 🙂 Also, I like the conclusion !

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