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Air sealing and insulation of the exterior top plates is critical to preventing that warm and moist air from warming the roof deck.
Attic ventilation is critical to keep that attic dry and as close to ambient air temperature.
Keep in mind that some ice dams are not preventable regardless of insulation and ventilation. That being said, I would venture a guess that 90% of ice dams are the result of poor insulation and ventilation.
We've encountered lots of ice damming in the the Chicago area. I agree with you, don't go on the roof now, it's too dangerous. Attic/roof ventilation and insulation are key factors in the creation of ice dams. If you're experiencing active leaking into your home now I'd consider using a snow rake w extension pole( while standing on the ground) to pull the snow off the leaking ice dam area. This might slow down the leaking by exposing the snow/ice melt area and decreasign the amount of snow melt contributing to the ice build up.
When spring comes, and it will! Consider installing a quality gutter/downspout snow/ice melt system in the problem areas. We've used the engineered systems made by WarmlyYour's http://www.warmlyyours.com/en-US/snow-melting/roof-deicing to solve ice dam problems for many of our clients. See the attached photo of a client's home in Wilmette, Illinois 60091 with a snow melt system actively working.
Once again- stay off the roof !
One easy fix for homeowners to prevent ice dams from the attic is to ensure proper airflow "intake" from the eaves. In many cases, the insulation is blown tight to the soffit which cuts off the ventilation at the intake. Installing Styrofoam baffles at the eaves between the joists to create the required 2" separation is fairly easy to do from the attic area. I normally would not recommend homeowners to take on this challenge unless they have experience working in the attic. Since the flooring in the attic area is not finished in most cases, the homeowner must be careful to only step on the joists when working or they will potentially fall through the ceiling / drywall. For this reason, it is recommended that a professional handle this type of install to avoid injury.
Eric Consuegra, Arocon Roofing & Construction
The best way to fix and resolve ice dams is actualy proper isulation in the attic space. Next is proper ventilation. Both intake and exhaust. These are critcal but rarely done correct and very costly and hard to do rero.
If the above are not done then a good qulity ice melting system is best. Either a commecial grade heat cable/heat tape or an ice melting system such as a heat panel.
Never use a continous watage cable as they are not safe or effecient.
Only use a self regulating cable as they are safe and effecient.
You will want the cable in the gutters and downspouts first, the next step is cable in the valleys and lastly weaved on the roof.
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