Preventing Ice Dams

If your home had lots of icicles last winter — or worse, ice dams, which can cause meltwater to back up and flow into your house — take steps to prevent potential damage this year.

A home-energy auditor or weatherization contractor can identify and fix air leaks and inadequate insulation in your home’s attic that can lead to ice dams. If you have the work done before December 31, 2013, you can claim the federal energy-efficiency tax credit for 10% of the cost (excluding installation), up to $500. Your state or utility may offer a rebate, too.

Dam Busters

Stopping ice dams is simple, in principle: Just keep the entire roof the same temperature as the eaves. You do that by increasing ventilation, adding insulation, and sealing off every possible air leak that might warm the underside of the roof. By taking care of these trouble spots, listed here in order of priority, you should enjoy a winter free of dams and use less energy to boot.

  1. Ventilate Eaves And Ridge

A ridge vent paired with continuous soffit vents circulates cold air under the entire roof. Both ridge and soffit vents should have the same size openings and provide at least 1 square foot of opening for every 300 square feet of attic floor. Place baffles at the eaves to maintain a clear path for the airflow from the soffit vents.

  1. Cap the Hatch

An unsealed attic hatch or whole-house fan is a massive opening for heat to escape. Cover them with weatherstripped caps made from foil-faced foam board held together with aluminum tape.

  1. Exhaust to the Outside

Make sure that the ducts connected to the kitchen, bathroom, and dryer vents all lead outdoors through either the roof or walls, but never through the soffit.

  1. Add Insulation

More insulation on the attic floor keeps the heat where it belongs. To find how much insulation your attic needs, check with your local building department.

  1. Install Sealed Can Lights

Old-style recessed lights give off great plumes of heat and can’t be insulated without creating a fire hazard. Replace them with sealed “IC” fixtures, which can be covered with insulation.

  1. Flash Around Chimneys

Bridge the gap between chimney and house framing with L-shaped steel flashing held in place with unbroken beads of a fire-stop sealant. Using canned spray foam or insulation isn’t fire safe.

  1. Seal and Insulate Ducts

Spread fiber-reinforced mastic on the joints of HVAC ducts and exhaust ducts. Cover them entirely with R-5 or R-6 foil-faced fiberglass.

  1. Caulk Penetrations

Seal around electrical cables and vent pipes with a fire-stop sealant. Also, look for any spots where light shines up from below or the insulation is stained black by the dirt from passing air.

Test your Sump Pump

Slowly pour several gallons of water into the sump pit to see whether the pump turns on. You should do this every few months, but especially after a long dry season or before a rainy one.

For more complete instructions for testing and maintenance, check your owner’s manual. Most sump pumps last about ten years.

Call a Chimney Sweep

Before you burn the Yule log, make sure your fireplace (or any heating appliance burning gas, oil, wood or coal), chimney and vents are clean and in good repair. That will prevent chimney fires and prevent carbon monoxide from creeping into your home.

Search for a sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. You can expect to pay $50 to $90 for an inspection to see if you need a cleaning, and $100 to $300 for the cleaning. Call 24 Restore if you have questions or would like more information.