Thursday, January 26th, 2017
How to Prevent Ice Dams in Oregon
We have been received dozens and dozens of phone calls from homeowners in Bend Oregon, Portland Oregon and other Oregon metropolitan areas relating to ice dam prevention in the past two weeks. Homeowners all are asking the same question; What can I do to prevent ice dams on my Oregon home? We’ve written extensively about the topic of ice dam prevention but thought a basic summary would be appropriate here for our friends out west.
There have been an unusually high number of homes and businesses damaged by ice dams in Bend and Portland Oregon but the problem also affects other areas. Ice dam prevention in Oregon can fall into to broad categories, each with it’s own distinct advantages and disadvantages. The first family of ice dam prevention for Oregon homes is what we call ‘Architectural Solutions’. These are solutions that address the construction-related flaws that cause ice dams. The Ice Dam Company through it’s service arm in Minneapolis does a ton of architectural ice dam prevention projects, most notably to address poor insulation, poor ventilation and heat bypasses (places hot air can escape into areas it is not supposed to be such as the attic or roof truss cavities.
How Ice Dams Form on Oregon Homes
We know that when upper areas of a roof are heated to above 32 degrees, the snow melts and that melt water runs down to an unheated area, most commonly the outer edge of the roof known as the eave. When that water hits the unheated eave it refreezes. This process repeats hour after hour over the course of days resulting in the accumulation of unwanted ice that we all know as an ice dam.
Oregon Ice Dam Solution Path One
Architectural solutions seek to address the root causes of ice dams mentioned above. The primary advantage to using these approaches is that, like many home improvements, these solutions add value to a home in that the likelihood of ice dams (and the possibility of damage) is greatly reduced plus the performance of the home is enhanced over the long run. In other words, improving insulation and ventilation while reducing air leaks makes for a healthier, more efficient house. That translates into lower heating and cooling bills over time. We also implement non-home performance related architectural solutions to address ice dams in Boise and in Minneapolis. Specifically, there are certain roofing systems that can be installed under special circumstances that do a great job of preventing the damage done by ice dams. Those systems are usually single ply membranes or hand-soldered metal roofing.
The primary downside to all architectural solutions is of course the cost. They often cost quite a bit to execute. Enhancing insulation and ventilation properly often involves tearing off some or all of the roofing or ripping out interior wall and ceiling finishes to approach it from inside the home. It is not uncommon for architectural solutions to ice dam prevention to start at $10,000 and go north of $40,000.
Oregon Ice Dam Solution Path Two
The second branch in the ice dam prevention family that we implement is heat tape, or heat cable. Not all heat cable is created equal, however, so the most important consideration in using this approach is to choose a commercial-grade self-regulating heat cable such as Heat Tape Pro by Radiant Solutions Company. You can purchase ice dam prevention products here, on Ebay or Amazon depending on your preference. Heat cables do not address the underlying thermal misbehavior that is the actual cause of ice dams. Instead, it prevents damage done by accumulating snow and ice by created melted pathways for water to escape from the roof. When installed professionally, a high-quality self-regulated heat cable system
will easily last a decade.
Here is a helpful PDF on Ice Dam Prevention Heat Cable in Idaho: Idaho Ice Dam Prevention 1
Heat cables have gotten a bad wrap among some of the less experienced, less scrupulous professionals out there as a method for preventing ice dams in Boise Idaho and other Idaho cities. This owes mainly to two things. First, many contractors and even some ice dam ‘experts’ don’t know the difference between self-regulating heat cable and constant wattage heat cable. Here is a great info graphic we developed to illustrate the difference for you. Constant wattage heat cable, such as EasyHeat, Frost King and WrapOn are commonly found at big box retailers and are simply awful.
The second reason heat cable and heat tape is sometimes disregarded as a legitimate answer to ice dams is that while some home owners in Oregon would love to drop $10,000 into and insulation and ventilation retrofit, it is simply not affordable. They do the best they can and heat cable is a perfect compromise.
We always tell our clients that the primary upside to heat cable is cost. Most systems we install run in the $1000 to $2000 range and provide years and years of reliable service.