The first snowfall of the season can be exciting, but the harsh winter weather can also bring ice with it, which can be a nuisance for many homeowners. Unfortunately, ice causes damage to your property if you don’t take the right precautions. One of the issues that can be caused by icy weather is ice dams, which are a buildup of ice on the roof of a house. This ice can build up to be several inches thick, and when it melts and runs downhill, it can cause water damage to your home.

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While that may sound like an unusual occurrence, ice dams are actually one of the most common causes of roof leaks during the winter months. If this happens, it can lead to costly damage to your home, so it’s smart to try and avoid the issues caused by ice dams. To help, Bankrate compiled some tips for dealing with ice dam problems so that homeowners can maintain peace of mind during the long winter months. But even with the best precautions in place, these precautions may not prevent water damage to your home, leaving homeowners to wonder if their homeowners insurance covers ice dam damage.

What is an ice dam?

An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms on the roof of a home in winter. These ice dams typically form near the eaves of the roof. When the water freezes in these areas, it can cause damage to the roof as it builds up and pushes under the shingles of the home. It can also cause damage to the exterior and interior of the home as the ice melts since the water cannot drain properly.

An ice dam can still form even if your home is not built with a pitched roof. Older homes that do not have newer metal roofs or insulation on the roof are more susceptible to ice dams because the water is less likely to be able to drain properly.

If you don’t take care of this problem soon after it’s discovered, it will only worsen over time. This is because the ice dam will continue to grow in size, further causing serious damage to your property in a short time.

What causes ice dams?

Ice dams are most common in regions that experience particularly cold winters. These dams typically form when snow builds up and starts to melt. The snow usually melts due to a warming roof and then refreezes near the edge, creating a blockage. When the water refreezes, it creates a dam of solid ice and then backdrops more snow onto the roof. After this cycle repeats, you can end up with a real problem on your hands.

When does homeowners insurance cover ice dam damage?

Melting ice and snow can create pockets of water that accumulate and collect at the edge of your roof. Eventually, this may lead to a leak in your ceiling. Preventative measures are important to help reduce the risk of ice dams forming on your roof. Removing ice dams as soon as it’s safe to do so is also important to help prevent extensive damage to your roof from ice dams, or water damage to your walls from water leaking inside your home.

If your roof were to be damaged from an ice dam, it is likely that your standard homeowners insurance policy will help cover the repair costs. Homeowners insurance can also help cover the repairs of structural damage caused to your home, like damage to your walls, should they become warped from leaking water.

When does homeowners insurance exclude ice dam damage?

Damage to your dwelling is typically covered by your standard homeowners insurance policy, but exclusions apply in some cases. For example, your HO-3 policy is unlikely to cover preventative measures, like paying for someone to proactively clear your gutters of debris, before the winter weather arrives. Your coverage will also not cover removing ice dams as part of routine maintenance.

Your policy may also exclude damage from ice dams caused to your personal belongings due to melting ice, depending on what type of coverage you have. A standard HO-3 policy will likely exclude coverage, whereas an HO-5 policy form may cover ice dam damage caused to your belongings. Detached structures, such as an inground swimming pool, are typically excluded from coverage should your pool freeze and crack due to the cold weather conditions.

How do you prevent ice dams from happening?

To prevent ice dams from forming on your home, be proactive and consider taking these steps before the winter weather arrives:

  • Be sure your gutters are cleared from debris before rainy or snowy weather arrives.
  • Seal any gaps around windows and doors where warm air can escape or install energy-efficient insulation in places where heat is lost through the house. Preventing heat from escaping your home will help deter ice dams from forming by water constantly freezing and melting on your roof.
  • Place heat cables at vulnerable spots on your roof, which are usually at corners or edges near eaves or gables.

The bottom line

Winter weather often brings snow days and beautiful scenery, but it can bring the risk of roof and water damage to your home. Ice dams can cause damage to your roof and interior walls, among other things. Many standard homeowners insurance policies will cover this type of damage caused to your home — subject to your deductible — but other exclusions likely apply. Before the wintery or rainy season sets in, speak to your homeowners insurance company or insurance agent so that you know what’s covered should the worst happen.