Ice Dam Leak
February 9, 2015 8:37 PM   Subscribe

Dear husband asked for advice about our ice dams last week. Our entreaties were ignored by the Ice Lord and we have a full on leaky ice dam that has really messed up our first floor bathroom ceiling and probably more. What now? Three specific questions inside.

1] So, the ceiling of our downstairs bath is bubbling, cracking, and dripping in a couple of places, and the damage seems to be growing though it's not yet fully bowed and falling down. Do we just leave it, or should we pierce it so that water might just drip down rather than spread further in the ceiling? Conveniently, the epicenter is right over the tub, so drips might be OK? (Or should we build something like this and have the water drip into a bucket?) We're assuming much of the ceiling is going to have to be replaced at this point.

2] Right above the big leak is a weird walled off closet--the last owner took out the door and plastered it up with the idea of reclaiming that space to expand the very old upstairs bathroom. Wherever the leak is entering the house it's almost certainly go to be going through that space to get to the downstairs bath. Is that space likely now going to be a hellhole of mold? Should we break out that wall to get in?

3] Finally, what does it mean that we had this leak? Will it haunt us long into the future? We're assuming that it came down from the roof, and not though the siding (though we have ice on the side of the house there, too). Are we going to have to pull those shingles off and do some repair, or will they be fine again once the ice is removed and we emerge from this hellish winter?

We have a roofer coming tomorrow to try to break up the dams as best he can.
posted by Calamity Jen to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1. You'll need to replace that drywall, if you put a hole in it to drain into the tub, it's less likely to spread... you've nothing to loose on this one.

2. Water takes strange routes as it enters your house... mold will be an issue. It's likely that you'll need to explore that route, remove damaged/wet drywall... You'll deal with it now or later...

3. Have a roofer look at what damage might have been done.

The key to ice dams is prevention, heat strips along the edge of the roof or religious raking of the roof to prevent snow build up. The design of the house is what it is, it's unlikely you'll be able to do much about it. (I owned a house that was designed to create ice dams, raking with every snowfall over about 2 inches was the only prevention short of a new $50k insulated roof)... good luck....
posted by HuronBob at 8:49 PM on February 9, 2015

You want to stop at source first. Getting a roofer is an excellent first step.

Then you need to mitigate the leak. Find and dry everywhere that's wet. It sounds like you will need to start opening drywall asap, especially that ceiling and closet. You can do this yourself if you're handy, but if not, this is something worth calling a contractor for, as mold means big bills later. This many not mean big holes if you can get ventilation into closed spaces, but it may mean big holes are necessary. Hairdryers and hot air can save the day here. Quick action now, in the next day or two, will control future mold. Opening walls isn't the end of the world. Drywall is a pain in the ass, but it's not super expensive.

In the long term you need to look at the roof and attic insulation. Ice dams happen because heat escapes from the roof, then freezes on the eaves where the roof is colder. Ice lifts the shingles and more water for melting snow gets through your roof. Unfortunately all of these repairs can be expensive.

Check your insulation and how well it's vented. You want a decent r-value in your attic, a functioning roof vent and likely good venting in the eaves. As a second layer of protection, around here (Ottawa), it's common practice to strip the bottom 6' or so of roof and put down a water proof membrane under the shingles. Good insulation means ice dams won't happen. The membrane means that even if they do, roof damage will be minimal.

That may be more than you want to spend, but that's the gold standard in Eastern Canada, where ice dams are a constant winter problem.
posted by bonehead at 8:47 AM on February 10, 2015

1. Just to second this. I'd also put a little drain strainer or something over the tub if the leak is routed there so that if there are particulates of ceiling or whatnot in there they won't get stuck in your tub drain and potentially do more damage. Yeah the ceiling is a lost cause but you can mitigate the rest of the damage somewhat.
2. Probably that space is oogy but it's hard to tell. I'd give yourself some space from dealing with that for the (short) time being unless you are getting allergy symptoms and etc. Once you know the leak is stopped then yes DRY DRY DRY all that stuff out.
3. My experience with this has been that a place that leaks because of an ice dam is unlikely to leak again unless there is another ice dam, like it won't just leak in a rainstorm from now on, UNLESS there has been real structural damage to the roof as a result of the ice dam and/or the ice dam removal process. This is an extreme amount of snow so it's possible it's a one-off but it means you'll have to be looking at all possible leak opportunities more closely in the future.
posted by jessamyn at 8:50 AM on February 10, 2015

Drywall is a pain in the ass, but it's not super expensive.

Some advice for cutting holes too, assuming dry-wall construction:
1. Cut on the centre-line of a vertical/ceiling stud if at all possible. Screw the drywall remaining back to the stud. This makes putting replacement panels back much easier, as you have a lip to work from.

2. Cuts can be made with a box knife and straightedge.

3. Don't worry about making holes as small as possible. Drywall is cheap and a big patch isn't that much more work to fix than a small one.
posted by bonehead at 8:52 AM on February 10, 2015

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