If You Give a Mouse a Cookie: Ice Dam Edition

Posted by Devan Kaufman on May 13, 2019 2:03:04 PM
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Anyone living in Iowa understands the worries that a harsh winter can bring.  It’s a bit like a nightmare version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

If it snows, the snow will melt.  If the snow begins to melt, the gutters will fill up and freeze.  If the gutters freeze, an ice dam will build.  If an ice dam builds, water will back up under the roof.  If water backs up under the roof, it will cost you thousands of dollars and require months of extensive repairs.  After months of extensive repairs, there will be a few months of sunshine and temperate weather.  Then winter will arrive, and it will snow again.  And if it snows…

Unfortunately, we can’t avoid this slippery slope by simply not giving the mouse the cookie in the first place.  Snow fall and ice melt are out of our control.  But we can help you be as prepared as possible, and we can share with you what we’ve done right – as well as the lessons we’ve learned – so you can learn from them, too, and avoid making your own.


Standard construction practice, to prevent water damage, includes rain screens behind every wall, flashing at roof joints, and appropriate underlayment and shingle installation on roofs.

All of these elements combine to prevent a water problem – or contribute to one, if they’re installed poorly.


Rain screens like this provide a moisture barrier on walls, so any water that gets behind exterior cladding material is blocked from the interior of the home.  No exterior cladding is impervious to water by the way.  Water penetrates siding, stone, stucco, etc. 

Proper roofing installation includes multiple layers of material - from plywood, underlayment, and shingles - as well as choosing the appropriate materials in the first place. 

In addition to choosing and installing the right materials, a quality roofing project also addresses elements unique to each roof - working around peaks, valleys, chimneys, and other joints. 

The single, most significant factor in preventing water damage from ice dams, though, is the design of the roof itself.  The best products in the world, installed correctly, can’t make up for a poor design.

A recent Kaufman Construction project brought this lesson home for us.

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In the summer of 2018, we were contacted by a homeowner who was in need of repair work on the exterior of their home.  The original stucco-style finish was cracking and falling off as a result of water damage behind the siding.

Upon inspection, we discovered that a number of issues were contributing to the problem.  Flashing at roofs, walls, and windows were not installed properly, allowing water to work its way in between the rain screen and siding material.  Because the stucco material was a thin, spray-on product and was not installed with care, it deteriorated quicker when moisture built up.

Kaufman Construction replaced and correctly installed a rain screen, paying particular attention to  flashing on windows and roof and wall intersections, and then replaced the cladding with a more durable material that is spread on much like traditional stucco and forms a much more seamless, durable, and weather resistant barrier.

What we failed to do was thoroughly examine the roof above the damaged area.  And thus the slippery slope began.

Iowa saw unusually heavy snow this past winter, which melted and refroze, creating ice dams on homes that had never experienced this problem before.  And as the weather warmed and cooled, and the ice melted and froze, water trickled into places it shouldn’t.

For the homeowners in this situation, that water began trickling out behind the new siding.  Kaufman’s repair work did its job – the rain screen kept the water from the interior of the home, and the flashing and windows prevented water damage there.  But the poorly designed roof, which we hadn’t addressed in our original assessment of the problem, now became very obvious.

Above the damaged siding, several sections of roof met  at undesirable angles and required that a "cricket" be built just above the home’s front entry.

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This cricket not only had to deflect water running from multiple peaks, but it was designed at such a slope that, as snow and ice built up during this past record-breaking winter, a major ice dam formed.  This problematic design was made worse because the cricket wasn't built to extend past the adjacent wall corner. 


Unlike the mouse and the cookie, this story has an ending – and a happy one, too.  The homeowners hired Kaufman Construction in the first place because they liked our work and knew of our reputation for quality craftsmanship.  What they discovered, throughout the callback process, was that our guarantee isn’t just a sales technique.  We stand behind our work.

front elevation final

True, the root cause of the water damage in this home was the result of poor roof design that didn't minimize or prevent the problem.  But when our initial repair work failed to prevent further damage, we were determined to make it right, by re-building the cricket to extend past the house corner and add additional flashing. 

cricket 1

We can’t keep the snow from falling, we can’t guarantee you’ll never have an ice dam build up on your home.  But we can walk you through what to look for in a roof design and we can help you identify areas to monitor so you can address the situation before it becomes a problem.

And it’s a lot easier to do that now, long before winter rolls in and that whole cycle begins again.

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