The up-and-down temperatures, rare January rain storms, and the record-breaking snow totals we’ve experienced so far this brutal winter have been the perfect recipe for ice dam formation on various types of roofs. Ice dams are particularly tricky for Associations because the line between Homeowner vs. Association responsibility can become rather blurred.
First, it is important to understand how ice dams form. In short, they form when the snow melts on your roof and then re-freezes over the eave—typically over the soffit area. The ice “dam” then prohibits further melting snow to drain properly off the roof, which can (but not always) cause leaking water into the home.
There are many factors as to why ice dams form. The inevitable freeze/thaw cycle; excess snow pack; clogged gutters, or frozen downspouts; – but the primary culprit is excessive heat loss from the unit and/or a lack of ventilation. This is why, many times and depending on your Governing Documents, ice dams and the leakage they can cause is not necessarily the Association’s responsibility. They are NOT caused by roofing deficiencies. They are caused by insulation and ventilation deficiencies INSIDE of the home.
It is important to understand how your Association’s Governing Documents define “unit boundaries.” Does the boundary of the unit include “unfinished surfaces” or “no upper or lower boundaries?” If so, this could imply that the attic space (or the space between the roof deck and the ceiling) and insulation inside of it would be a homeowner’s responsibility; therefore, the heat loss causing the ice dam is the homeowner’s deal.
Once there is an understanding of who is responsible for what, it is very helpful for the associations to review their ice dam situation and have a policy in place for how they are to be addressed. It is also important to have an awareness of the history of ice dams and potential leakage. Sometimes the worst-looking ice dam you’ve ever seen will not cause any leakage (suggesting roofs have extra layers of “ice and water shield” membrane under the shingles). And sometimes, where you might not be able to see an ice dam at all, a unit has a faucet coming into their unit at the exterior wall line. Knowing if your Association has a history of LEAKING ice dams is important to know as you make a decision on how (or IF) the Association addresses them.