Spring leaks: Winter season brings roof leak issues to Grand County. Here’s what to do. | SkyHiNews.com

Spring leaks: Winter season brings roof leak issues to Grand County. Here’s what to do.

Poor insulation, heavy snowfall combine to produce roof leaks

This before and after photo shows the impacts of proper insulation. The left image shows a local home before additional roof insulation was installed while the right image shows the same roof after installation. Note the difference in icicle formation between the two.

This past winter brought plenty of snow to Colorado’s high country and while skiers, snowmobilers and outdoor enthusiast have enjoyed the deep conditions local homeowners have been forced to contend with the all too common consequence of a leaky roof.

All across Grand County local citizens are experiencing a higher than normal rate of issues with leaking roofs, according to Jeff Johnston, owner of the Granby based firm The Roofing Company.

“This winter was one of the bigger years we have had for quite some time,” Johnston said. “We average close to 20 calls a day from emergency leaks because of ice problems.”

Johnston said he believes our most recent winter was the worst in terms of ice related roof leaks since 2006. He noted that his firm had done roughly three times the amount of snow removal and leak related work it does during an average winter.

You might be inclined to think that the issue of ice and leaking roofs is related to snowfall figures and the freeze thaw cycles we have been experiencing in Grand County over the past several weeks. While Johnston said all those elements are factors he pointed to building insulation as the most significant aspect of the problem.

This drawing, provided by The Roofing Company, shows how ice dam formations and heavy snow combine with poor insulation to create roof leaks.

“We have been dealing with ice dam problems,” Johnston said. “People say we need to stop the leaks, we need a new roof. But that doesn’t take care of the ice dams.”

According to Johnston, who has been in the roofing industry for over four decades, poor insulation and heat loss through a roof accounts for the vast majority of all ice buildup on roofs; 90 percent by his estimation.

“The heat rises through the roof, gets through the poor insulation and goes up and melts the snow,” Johnston explained. “That (melted snow) runs down and freezes in cold areas, in the eves and valleys. It keeps building up until the water has no place to go and it back up behind the ice.”

Johnston said that ice dams and water backup on a roof is still not typically enough to cause roof leaks, which typically requires additional snowfall.

“The ice dam and the water behind it is not the problem,” he said. “But when you get snow sitting on top of that water it causes hydrostatic pressure. It pushed it (water) up hill, around fasteners and through the ice and water membrane. That is what causes the leaks.”

Johnston noted the heavier wetter snow we see during the high country spring can exacerbate the problem because the heavier snow pushes down harder on the pooled water. He said March is the most common month of roof leak problems.

Johnston offered numerous potential solutions to deal with ice dam issues, and the roof leaks they create. He highlighted heat tape and heat cable, both of which use electricity to generate heat on a roof to melt specific areas.

He recalled older, less technically advanced, strategies such as filling hosiery with ice melt and placing the filled sacks at select locations on roofs to melt channels that allow water to drain. Johnston said that adding insulation to a roof, to bring it up to an R-value of 49, was the “true solution.”


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