Ice Dams, Ho!

Because my eyes had been fixed on the ice block falling towards my head, I didn’t see my wife pull into the driveway to witness me knocking the block loose with a shovel and then jumping aside.  I did look up to see her sitting in her car with an astonished look on her face.  One that communicated something between “What an idiot!” and “What a jackass!” 

We have a one and a half story house that turns out to have some insulation problems in the roof. Specifically, in the area that spans between the kneewalls in the little upstairs bedrooms and above the soffits, where the roof comes down to meet the gutter.  This poor insulation created a warm roof that slowly melted the +2 feet of snow that fell on the roof in December. However, when it melted, it did not drain down the gutter; rather it pooled up and created a block of ice over a foot thick that sat on the gutter for the length of the house.  An ice dam completely tore off a gutter of one neighbor’s house. And another neighbor faced the worst case scenario where the gradually melting water gradually backed up under the shingles and gradually seeped down the insides of the walls of his house which abruptly cost him and his wife $7000.

Yesterday, I had a home energy efficiency expert, Mike, perform an audit on our house and it was a fascinating experience.  Mike started by asking me about the house, how long we planned to live here and what our goals for the house are.  Then he hooked up the blower door fan which blew air out of the house and pulled air into the house via cracks and holes.  It turns out the house is actually pretty well- sealed but there is definitely room for improvement in some odd places I never would have found like along the beam that bisects the kitchen ceiling.  See, half the kitchen was an addition and the beam covers the juncture where addition meets the old part of the house.  I guess they ran out of caulk.

While the blower door test finds the cracks, the infrared sensor allowed us to see the cold spots in the walls where the insulation was insufficient.  I was excited to learn that we don’t need to spend a couple grand on getting insulation blown in between all the studs in the house.  I was also disappointed to learn that the walls weren’t stuffed with long-forgotten cash from a former owner.

Mike did some other cool stuff and I should be getting a report in a few weeks that will prioritize some improvements based on performance and return-on-investment and provide some references of qualified contractors.  I think anybody with an older house could really benefit from getting one of these performed and it sounds like there’s going to be some federal incentives for folks to get these done. Go for it.  And then you won’t have to knock ice dams off your roof.


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