The Ice Dams Cometh: A Fact of Life in Minnesota or Construction Concern?

22 Feb

With the anticipation of warmer weather in the late winter and early spring, there is the frequent occurrence of warm sun followed by sub-freezing nighttime temperatures.  These weather conditions, which are not unusual in Minnesota, create a habitat for the frequently misunderstood (and too often dismissed) ice dam.  To find out more about what an ice dam is and what causes it to form, read this article by several current and former professors and/or educators.  Although addressing some complex issues regarding building science, the article contains a handy diagram of an ice dam, its causes, and the damage it can mean to your home or building.

As an attorney who has successfully handled numerous construction defect cases regarding numerous issues (including ice dams), I cannot recall a developer, particularly in the common interest community context (townhomes and condominiums) that did not contend that ice dams are:  1) the result of “abnormal” or “extreme” weather conditions; 2) the result of the homeowner’s and/or the association’s failure to maintain its roofs properly; or 3) are completely normal and unpreventable in Minnesota.

As you can see from the article, each of these justifications is invalid:

            Ice dams can be prevented by controlling the heat loss from the home.

*     *     *

The proper new construction practices to prevent ice dams begin with following or exceeding the state code requirements for ceiling/roof insulation levels.

(my emphasis above).  In addition, as the authors note, there are homes in virtually every community that do not suffer from ice dams.  These conditions are predictable and preventable at the time of construction or renovation of a home and its roofing system, as well as after the fact.  In addition, heavy snowfall that plugs the vents on the roof should not result in ice dams in most situations.  While it is considered a temporary solution to remove snow from the roof, it should not be necessary on an ongoing basis.

If you have experienced ice damming in your home or in your common interest community, you should immediately advise your builder or the roofing contractor who installed your roof.  Do so in writing.  If they give you one of the above “explanations”, contact an attorney right away.  Also, you should never perform any repairs or try to address ice dams on your own, and especially without first giving notice to your builder or contractor.  Although it is beyond the scope of this article to list them all, there are several statutes of limitations, warranty periods and other timing considerations that can cause you to lose your rights if you do not act right away.  You can also hurt your chances at recovering for your damaged roof if you repair or alter the conditions or damage without letting your builder or contractor see it first.  Your attorney can help you understand and navigate them.

Entry by Matt Drewes.


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