February 19, 2018
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Recent freeze-thaw cycle can leave homeowners with water headaches

Herzi Pinki, Creative Commons | Aroostook Republican | BDN
Herzi Pinki, Creative Commons | Aroostook Republican | BDN
Icicles are often the first sign of an ice dam. If left untreated, water can leak through the walls, damaging both the interior and exterior of a building.
By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

Even for Maine, the weather has been irregular over the past several weeks with areas of the state seeing temperature variations of up to 60 degrees with a January thaw following an extended cold snap.

While the break in the cold was a welcome winter respite for a lot of Mainers, it also created headaches for property owners who found evidence of water damage thanks to ice jams on roofs or have had thawing water seep into walls or around windows.

An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms at the edge of a roof, preventing melting snow and water from draining off. The water can back up behind the “dam” and find its way inside through cracks or holes and end up seeping into walls, ceilings and insulation inside walls.

Ice dams are a common result of a winter thaw, according to several online home repair sites.

This build up of ice can also damage flashing or shingles on roofs, which in turn can create new pathways for water to enter the home.

“Flashing” is thin material — often metal – installed around windows, doors, chimneys or any other structural joint to prevent the passage of water.

“Water is going to find its way in anywhere it can,” said Jeff Baillie, assistant manager with Central Building Supply in Madawaska. “Even the tiniest leak near the chimney or anywhere on the roof can allow water to find its way inside.”

When that happens, the issues can be cosmetic or structural. If left unresolved, the issues can lead to health issues for residents.

Melting ice can leave puddles of standing water on top of roofs which can promote the growth of moss that can degrade roofing materials. For water that seeps inside, if the water is left unchecked inside attics and walls, it can lead to mold. When that happens inside the home, it can create problems for people suffering from allergies or respiratory issues.

It can also cause damage to drywall and other interior finishes as it seeps inside, according to Baillie.

“The problem is, it can be hard to find where the water is getting in,” he said. “It can travel a distance from any holes or cracks before you notice it.”

Even if the point of entry can be found, Baillie said, this is not the best time of year to fix things.

“There are products that patch up holes are areas around flashing, but they don’t work if it is below 25-degrees,” he said. “The best thing to do right now is get rid of any ice jams you find building up on the roof or edge of the roof [and] then address the problem in the spring or summer when things warm up.”

At that point, he said, homeowners or contractors can “work their way backwards” from where water is coming in to find the source.

“The best advice is to really winterize and address any problem before winter hits,” Baillie said. “I have a co-worker with water issues around his chimney a now is really not a good time of year for that.”

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