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Reluctant Renovator: De-icer on De Roof

Proper ceiling insulation can help prevent ice dams and potential roofing damage. (Photo by Kim Moldofsky)

Proper ceiling insulation can help prevent ice dams and potential roofing damage. (Photo by Kim Moldofsky)

Staying safe, warm and cozy inside while a storm rages outside is truly a blessing, and we want to make sure we are similarly blessed for many years to come. As I wrote last month, caring for our roof is one way to do that.

We traded our steeply pitched Cape Cod roof for a flatter one in order to gain more interior space. Our new rooms are spacious and inviting, but the roof above them is at increased risk for ice dams.

Ice dams occur after snow accumulates on a roof and then melts because of heat escaping from the house. The runoff trickles down to the cold gutters where it freezes and eventually accumulates, preventing further runoff from draining properly. Water will back up at the site of the ice dam and damage the roof and possibly ceilings and walls.

It’s not just a blizzard-filled Chicago winter that can cause problems. A pattern of snow on the roof followed by warm daytime weather followed by an overnight freeze can also cause damming.

So what to do?

In Phase 1 of “Operation Prevent Ice Dams,” we made sure the ceilings in our new bedrooms were properly insulated, trapping as much heat as possible inside.

Phase 2, according to my husband, was to install heat tape (aka de-icing or gutter cables), but I never quite got around to making the calls. When I did, it was already the middle of winter, so we put the project on hold.

Heat tape consists of cables that would be professionally installed where the shingles meet the gutter. They typically run about 6 inches past this area onto the roof and are laid in a “W” pattern before running through a downspout to a power source.

The cables can be expensive to purchase, have installed and run. In fact, many homeowners leave them running all day at a cost of $40 or more a month. Still, if you compare that to the cost and inconvenience of a major home repair, prevention may be the way to go.

The good news about the money we saved by not installing the heat tape last winter is that the roof survived just fine. We came to realize that our biggest risk was not the newer half in the front of the house, as we assumed, but the older portion in the rear.

The southern sun hits the rear part of our house, and the southeast corner in particular experienced the biggest daily variances in temperature due to the daily dose on winter sun and nighttime freeze. Plus, the rooms in that section of the house were largely untouched by our remodeling and had old, inefficient insulation.

Of course, we had the outdoor electrical outlet installed on the northwest corner during our renovation. Grrr. Maybe wishful thinking will get me through another winter, and I’ll take care of this next summer.


Kim Moldofsky knows how to rock a tool belt, but her favorite technique for fixing things in her home is calling up tradesmen she finds on Angie’s List. That said, she’s learning a few things as she works to turn her “new-to-us” 1950s Cape Cod into a modern home in Chicago’s suburbs. She documents her home improvement projects at Reluctant Renovator.com.

The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie’s List.


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