Preparing for This Winter’s Ice Dams

By Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA

After last year’s winter, homeowners learned the importance of being prepared for the worst. Insured damages caused by last year’s weather, which brought a record 110.6 inches of snow to Boston, added up to about $2.3 billion nationally, and a majority of claims were related to ice dams and roof damage, according to Insurance Journal.

As a result, the Massachusetts Division of Insurance approved a nine percent increase in premiums, which means an increase of about $100 on a typical homeowner’s insurance bill, which in Massachusetts averaged $1,150 before the increase.

Ice dams are caused when ice melts on a roof, then refreezes, building up along gutters and the edge of the roof. As it builds up, additional melting ice has nowhere to flow, so it backs up, forming a dam that captures additional melting ice, causing further build up.

Eventually, the ice dam causes damage to the roof, enabling water to flow into the roof and walls of the home. Repairing the damage – and taking steps to prevent it from happening again – can cost thousands of dollars. The average claim resulting from last year’s snow was between $10,000 to $15,000.

Preventing Ice Dams

If your home is properly insured, the good news is that you are covered for damage caused by ice dams. The bad news is that you may lose your coverage if you fail to provide evidence of “significant” mitigation to prevent future ice dams.

As few as two claims within a five-year period may result in nonrenewal of your insurance coverage, unless you take proper measures to prevent future damage.  Mitigation may include:

  • Insulating the attic floor to minimize the amount of heat flowing from the downstairs into the attic.  Weatherstripping may also be used to ensure that all openings are keeping heat from reaching the attic.
  • Ventilating or reventilating your attic by installing eave, soffit, ridge and gable vents.
  • When reinsulating and ventilating the attic are not feasible, as when there is a cathedral ceiling, it will be necessary to install a water and ice shield that covers the entire roof.
  • Installing heating coils on the roof may also help, but this is not considered a “significant” mitigation on its own and must be combined with other measures.

As heat loss from inadequate insulation causes ice to melt, resulting in ice dams, it is important to maintain adequate insulation throughout your attic and in crawl spaces to help prevent heat loss. Any pipes should also be insulated and your ceiling should be airtight and properly maintained.Also be sure to keep your gutters clean, so that as snow melts and water flows into your gutters, it will flow through your downspouts and away from your home. If your gutters are clogged with debris, water will have nowhere to flow and will then refreeze.

It’s also worth investing in a snow rake and using it to keep snow from building up on your roof. A snow rake, which can be ordered online or purchased from a home goods store for under $100, will enable you to pull snow off of your roof before it has a chance to melt and refreeze.

If, in spite of your best efforts, an ice dam forms, you may need professional help to remove them. Attempting to remove them yourself can be dangerous and may even cause further damage to your roof.

Start With an Energy Assessment

To ensure that your home is in the condition necessary to prevent ice dams, a good place to begin is with a home energy assessment. Mass Save (www.masssave.com) provides a free online assessment. If the online assessment shows that your home is a good candidate for an in-person energy assessment, you can have one completed by Mass Save at no cost.

While the Mass Save assessment will provide no-cost energy savings measures, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs, programmable thermostats and water-saving devices, the energy assessors will also test your home to ensure that it is adequately insulated and that any holes are sealed to prevent heat from escaping. An assessment can not only help you prevent ice dams, it can save you money on your energy bills.

It is essential to make certain you have adequate insurance coverage for your home. The cost of homeowner’s insurance may vary significantly, based on the carrier, your claims history, the replacement value of your home and whether you have additional policies with the same carrier. Make certain you are working with your independent agent to find the best price on the coverage you need.


Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA is President and CEO of McGrath Insurance Group, Inc. of Sturbridge, Mass. He can be reached at rmcgrath@mcgrathinsurance.com.

This article is written for informational purposes only and should not be construed as providing legal advice.

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