Ice Dam Water Is Leaking Into My House: What Should I do?

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: March 20, 2024

It can bring down gutters and peel off shingles, but you worry about interior damage too. When ice dam water leaks into your house, you need an action plan.

How do you control melting snow and ice that creeps into the attic and seeps around windows? How can you minimize water damage to floors, ceilings and walls?

It happens every winter to homes across this part of the country, especially here in the Chicago area. We want you to be ready before it happens to you.

Read this guide to learn what to do if ice dam water is leaking into your house.

Let’s get started.

What Is an Ice Dam?

If we didn’t need to keep our homes warm in the winter, we probably wouldn’t have ice dams on the roof. They start out as thin areas of frozen water that form on a roof’s edge.

During a typical snowfall, the icy precipitation accumulates on the roof. Warmth from the house rises, elevates the surface temperature of the roof and melts the snow.

The roof deck over the eaves isn’t affected by interior warmth. When melting snow comes into contact with this part of the roof’s edge, it can freeze.

The process forms a frozen base that continues to build up and eventually becomes an ice dam.

How Do Ice Dams Cause Roof Leaks?

ice dam roof chicago il

We know ice dams cause water damage, but how do they make a roof leak?

Let’s take a quick look at roof construction. 

Most roofs are built with 1/2- or 3/4-inch plywood sheathing. Lower areas of the roof deck are covered with a waterproof underlayment.

This barrier extends 2 to 3 feet upward from the roof’s edge. The underlayment usually protects your home from rain and snow, but ice dams create a potentially dangerous situation.

It starts with thaw and freeze cycles that result in frozen buildup along roof edges.

These are a few examples of how ice dams form:

  • Icicles growing on roof edges interfere with melting snow runoff.
  • Warm air escapes upward through the attic and melts snow on the roof.
  • Clogged gutters cause melting snow to back up under roof eaves.

Any of these situations can prevent melting snow from running off the roof and dripping to the ground. Instead, it freezes along the eaves, forming ice dams. 

As snow continues to melt and freeze, the accumulated blockage forces water back under roof shingles.

It doesn’t take long for the process to push a snow melt upward on the roof, past the waterproof underlayment. Once this happens, the roof begins to leak water into your home.

The damage can be substantial and potentially dangerous.

How to Tell If You Have Water Damage From Ice Dams 

As water from backed-up ice dams seeps into the house, it spreads through porous materials and collects in wall voids. 

It might be several days before the damage becomes obvious.

Be on the lookout for these signs of water damage from melting ice dams.

  • Gutters or eaves sagging from the weight of ice dams
  • Water collecting on attic ceilings, beams and joists
  • Water seeping from attic walls onto the attic floor and insulation
  • Discolored circular spots growing on ceilings downstairs
  • Damp streaks on interior walls beneath ice dam locations
  • Moisture accumulation around window frames and on sills

The weather plays an obvious role in detecting damage from ice dams.

For example, several days of sub-freezing temperatures can delay the onset of visible signs of water damage.

As temperatures climb above freezing, the ice dams begin another melt cycle. This newest thaw pushes more water inside the house, adding to the damages that occurred earlier.

Until the ice dam problem is resolved, frequently check your home for signs of water damage.

What to do When Ice Dam Water Starts Leaking Into the House

ice dam caused water damage in chicago home

Sometimes, even the best ice dam prevention strategies fail. You can’t stop the leaks with a turn-off valve or patch them with plumber’s putty.

These eight steps can help you deal with water seeping into the house from ice dam backups.

1. Diagnose Leak Location and Damage

Head for the attic, and try to diagnose the location and extent of the water damage. 

Water runs downhill, so the leaks may be several feet higher on the roof than they appear on the attic ceiling.

Power Tip: Use a strong flashlight or headlamp to illuminate attic ceiling lines and dark corners.

2. Contact Your Homeowners Insurance Carrier

Call your insurance company right away. 

Based on your assessment of the water damage, give them as many details as possible. 

Schedule an adjuster’s inspection, and be sure to ask for a claims number.

Power Tip: Document the water damage with photos of interiors, including affected areas in the attic.

3. Call a Water Damage Restoration Company Like ServiceMaster by Zaba in Chicago

It’s very difficult to address damage caused by ice dam water backup inside the house. 

Soaked drywall, wet floors, soggy ceilings and stains from leaks are just a few of the problems you face.

Don’t try to tackle it by yourself. Call in ice dam water damage specialists like ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba in Chicago — We handle both water cleanup and restoration: 773-647-1985

Power Tip: A professional water damage restoration company should also be able to help you file homeowners insurance claims.

4. Try to Remove the Ice Dams

If the weather’s on your side and you’re comfortable climbing a ladder, ice dam removal can be a DIY project

However, many local companies provide this type of service.

Power Tip: Before heading up on the roof, make sure ladder feet, rungs and spreaders are secure.

5. Turn Fans On and the Heat Down

Jump-start the drying process inside by setting up fans in affected areas. 

Direct strong currents of fresh air across damp floors, walls and ceilings. 

Lower the thermostat to reduce heat buildup in the attic and slow down melting on the roof.

Power Tip: Increase air circulation by opening closets and cabinets adjacent to wet walls and floors downstairs.

6. Check Storm Window Weep-Holes

If ice dam leaks are seeping in around windows, make sure weep-holes in the storm window frames are clear. 

You can also drill small holes between window frames and sill lips to channel leaking water to the outside.

Power Tip: Make weep-hole inspections a routine part of spring and fall home maintenance.

7. Keep an Eye on the Ceiling

Water backup from ice dams can leak into the attic, through insulation and down into ceilings. 

If you notice water dripping from overhead light fixtures, address it right away.

Be very careful with ceiling bulges too. Both problems should be taken care of by professionals.

Power Tip: Extensive ceiling water damage can be a warning sign of potential roof collapse.

8. Keep Checking the Roof

Until ice dams are removed or they melt away, keep checking the roof for potential problems. 

Look for patches where snow has melted. If you see shingles, inspect the attic just below the area for leaks.

Power Tip: Have your home’s roof inspected twice a year by a licensed professional.

Do Ice Dams Cause Roof Damage?

Do Ice Dams Cause Roof Damage

When weather conditions improve, ice on the roof eventually melts and allows water to run off. 

However, extended freezes and melts result in a hazardous buildup of ice dams along the eaves.

Their size and weight can lead to serious problems on the roof, including:

  • Collapsed gutters
  • Loose shingles
  • Degraded underlayment
  • Compromised roof decking
  • Damaged flashing
  • Structural damage 

Repairing a roof after ice dam removal can turn into a very big project. 

In extreme cases, the damage caused by ice dams requires partially rebuilding or completely replacing the roof.

Are Icicles a Sign of Poor Insulation?

Icicles don’t back up water into the house like ice dams, but they’re often indicators of problems in the attic

Old, matted insulation results in heat loss through the roof, and that causes icicles along the eaves.

Poor attic ventilation can also create melting and freezing cycles on top of the house. 

When icicles start decorating the eaves, you know conditions are right for ice dams to build up too.

How Do You Quickly Get Rid of Ice Dams?

Break up ice dams with a rubber mallet, but be careful not to damage the roof. Calcium chloride crystals can speed up the process. However, the runoff can hurt surrounding plants and trees.

If you need an emergency fix for ice dams, try a garden hose. Use it to melt channels through the ice dams and release backed-up water. 

This temporary solution works best when temperatures are above freezing.

Click here for more ice dam removal strategies to consider. Keep in mind, breaking up ice dams on a steep roof can be dangerous work.

If you have second thoughts about the job, stay safe by staying off the ladder. Contact a local business that handles ice dam removal.

Does Homeowners’ Insurance Cover Ice Dam Damage?

Homeowners insurance doesn’t cover the cost of removing ice dams. However, the water damage that results from leaking ice dams should be covered by your insurance.

This includes water damage to your home’s walls, ceilings, floors, furnishings, personal belongings and items stored in the attic.

Most policies also cover roof damage caused by ice and snow.

The following exterior structures may not be covered for damages caused by ice dams.

  • Fencing and gates
  • Retaining walls
  • Patios and pools
  • Supporting foundations
  • Unattached sheds or garages

If you aren’t sure about policy details, talk to your agent. Ask about specific water damage coverage including interior and exterior leaks from ice dams.

You might want to update insurance protection for your house and belongings.

How to Prevent Ice Dams from Forming: 7 Effective Ways

Ice dams will always be a wintertime headache for many homeowners. A little preparation before our next snowfall can make a big difference.

Minimize the chances of damage to your home with these seven ice dam prevention tips.

1. Keep Warm Air Inside

Make the attic as airtight as possible. Seal edges around pipe vents, fixtures and wiring outlets. 

Don’t forget areas around ceiling rafters and joists.

2. Upgrade Attic Insulation

Old insulation lets the attic fill with warm air from downstairs. 

That warmth radiates upward, melting snow on the roof. Replacing old insulation upgrades ice dam preventative strategies and holds down heating costs.

3. Clear Soffits and Vents

These roof fixtures can’t do their jobs when they’re clogged with debris.

Dirty soffits and vents also slow down melted snow running off the roof, and that contributes to ice dams.

4. Clean Gutters and Downspouts

When the roof drainage system doesn’t work properly, the risk of ice dams goes up significantly. 

Keep gutters and downspouts clean so that they can handle runoff from snow melting on the roof.

5. Rake the Roof

Removing snow from the roof eliminates the source of ice dams, but be careful.

Make sure your ladder is in good shape, and use a good roof rake that won’t damage singles or flashing.

6. Don’t Let Roof Valleys Clog

When leaves and twigs fill up a roof valley, the debris slows down the runoff and adds to water freezing on the roof’s edge. Routinely check these areas, and keep them clean.

7. Consider Heat Cables

These devices can be very effective in preventing ice dams. They can also be used inside downspouts. 

Make sure you install heat cables designed specifically for use on the roof.

Dealing with an Ice Dam Roof Leak in the Chicago area? We’re Here to Help!

servicemaster ice dam removal chicago team

If water has entered your home due to an ice dam, and you’re in the Chicago, Illinois area, give us a call here at ServiceMaster by Zaba.

We service all of Chicagoland including the North Shore suburbs Northbrook, Evanston, Glenview and more. We’re Chicago’s ice dam water damage repair experts, and we’re here for you 24/7.

Call now for emergency ice dam water damage help: (773) 647-1985

How much does it cost to repair ice dam water damage?

Cleanup and restoration costs depend on the extent of water damage to interiors and contents. The cost of repairing ice dam water damage can range from $1,500 to $5,000, with an average cost of $3,000. This doesn’t include the cost of ice dam removal by a roofing professional.

Who do I call for ice dam water damage?

Call a water damage company that specializes in ice dam water cleanup and restoration. Our teams here at ServiceMaster by Zaba are industry-certified and highly experienced in this type of work. We can also help you file your insurance water damage claim.

Do ice dams always damage the house?

If you don’t take care of them, ice dams cause melting snow to back up under the roof and into walls. The water damage ruins roof decks and rafters, rots interior wall frames and soaks the attic.

How can I safely get rid of ice dams on the roof?

Let a professional handle the job. You can pull down accumulated snow with a roof rake and push broom, but it’s safer to let a trained technician remove ice dams.

How do I melt ice dams in my gutters? 

Cut the leg off a pair of pantyhose, fill it with an ice melter, and secure the open end. Position it so that it lays across the ice dam and hangs over the gutter. This technique melts a channel that drains backed-up water.

When should I call someone to remove ice dams from my roof?

Play it safe, and call a roofing professional if: ice dam buildup is extensive; your efforts to remove the ice dams aren’t successful; water damage inside is spreading rapidly; or, and most importantly, you don’t feel safe trying to do it yourself.