How to Prevent Ice Damming & Other Common Winter Problems

ice dam in the winterMany homeowners welcome the winter full of thrills and anticipation. But without preparation and planning, the weather can be treacherous and cause a series of problems along the way. Cold-weather condensation, ice, snow, and chilly winds bring all sorts of damages and problems in their wake, to which your home is not impervious.

Most household problems that occur during winter almost always have something to do with water and its unique properties. Understanding how water and air interact in your home and preparing early are essential steps to take to keep your family and home safe and comfortable throughout the season.

1. Ice Dams and Icicles

Ice damming refers to the buildup of icicles on the eaves of sloped roofs of heated buildings. More common in areas where deep snow accumulates, it forms when a thick layer of dry snow resting on the roof melts due to the heat coming through the roof’s surface. The melting snow then flows down the roof and freezes when it reaches a point of heat loss, a frozen surface, or an area that has no building heat.


Ice dams only occur when the snow cover has high insulating properties and when the external temperature and amount of heat loss coming from the house are at the right portions (above and below 32 degrees Farenheit) over sustained periods of time. While a rare occurrence, it’s unwise to let the ice dam grow, as removing it can be dangerous. To prevent it from happening, and damaging your roof, control the heat loss from your home.

Snow is an essential ingredient to form ice dams, so it’s necessary to remove the snow, as well. A roof rake or push broom can do the trick. Just be extra careful when doing this on your own, as snow-covered roofs can be slippery. But a more long-term fix to this problem is to increase the insulation of your ceiling and attic after sealing air leaking paths between the house and attic space.

2. Frozen Pipes

When temperatures outside are below freezing, pipes that run against poorly-insulated exterior walls and unheated areas freeze up. When water freezes, it expands and causes pressure on what contains it, be it a metal or plastic pipe, then breaks. This frequently occurs in water supply pipes in the following areas:

  • Unheated and inadequately-insulated spaces like attics, basements, crawl spaces, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and garages
  • Pipes that can be exposed to severe cold, such as swimming pool and sprinkler supply lines or outdoor hose bibs
  • Pipes that pass through exterior walls without sufficient insulation


Insulation is an effective and inexpensive way to prevent interior pipes from freezing. They add a significant layer of protection by allowing warmer air to stay inside. Before the onset of cold weather, drain your pipes externally and consider relocating them in areas that will have higher temperatures. It helps to know which pipes and areas are prone to freezing, which The Balance explains in this guide.

If they are fixed, consider products designed to protect external pipes, such as UL-listed pipe sleeves or “heat” tapes. Newspaper also offers a quick fix to areas that are less exposed to the cold. When it’s very cold outside and you’re going away, it’s wiser to leave the heat in your home. These methods may add up to your heating bill, but the cost doesn’t compare to having your pipes repaired or replaced.

3. Mold

mold in the window cornerMold is more often associated with high humidity, which occurs during warmer months. But it can be a concern during winter, too. In Missouri, for example, where winters are long and can yield high amounts of precipitation and cold-weather condensation, mold spores are likely to thrive. While mold is not a direct threat to human health, it can be burdensome to people with asthma and existing allergies and respiratory conditions.


A surefire way to prevent mold from building up is by maintaining good air circulation and keeping everything dry inside your home. This entails heating areas in your home where water is present, such as bathroom and kitchen cabinets, kitchen, basement, and other areas where your water supply lines pass through.

Run the main exhaust fan or heat areas where water is present, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and water supply lines. When the weather outside is a not too harsh, don’t be afraid to open the windows to let fresh air in, but make sure that your exhaust fans are on. Before winter comes, have your pipes checked for leaks and early signs of water damage or mold growth, and address them right away.

4. Condensation

Condensation and dew point are common property damage culprits during the winter. When warmer and cooler elements come into contact, the amount of water vapor and relative humidity will increase, reducing the air’s capacity to hold water. Where there is excess water, there is substantial damage to property, including wood decay, mold growth, stained ceilings, and so on.


The best way to prevent these damages is by expelling the air before condensation occurs. It’s common to find these problems in attics or humid living spaces, or where warm air is present and the temperatures outside are cooler. Effective attic ventilation and sufficient insulation help in mitigating these problems. To prevent condensation in basements or crawlspaces, dry out the rooms completely once you notice excess moisture, and install a vapor barrier. Adding an extra layer of insulation in basement walls will also curb this problem.

5. Structural Damage

Frigid temperatures and high relative humidity levels can cause significant damage to your home. Floods and leaks are quite common, not to mention the snow and ice buildup, which can add weight and excess pressure on your roof. Long before winter arrives, have your whole house inspected for potential structural issues, especially the parts of your roof that will be exposed to snow and ice.

Areas to check:

  • Electrical lines and water supply pipes
  • Hot water tanks
  • Disconnecting hoses
  • Gutters, eaves, and downspouts
  • Wood doors and window frames (see if they need recoating and re-caulking)


Regular maintenance of your home’s important components and systems is the key to having a safe and comfortable winter. Take the time to check insulation, pipes, or equipment that start to look worn and consider replacing them. It’s more practical to be diligent with potential damages and spend a few bucks right now than to wake up one cold, winter night with a burst pipe or faulty exhaust fan.

Winter comes with an array of seasonal delights, both outdoors and indoors. But to have a safe, warm, and enjoyable winter, you must equip your house and take the necessary measures to ward off winter woes, from frozen pipes to mold growth.