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How to Choose an Insulation Contractor Who Can Help Prevent Ice Dams

The best way to prevent ice dams is to improve your attic insulation, improve your attic ventilation, and seal any air leaks into your attic.

Ice dams form when attics get warm and heat your roof from the underside.  Attics heat up when they’re not insulated properly from the toasty living space below, or when there’s not enough (or correct) ventilation in your attic.

Another culprit (and it’s a doozey) are unsealed attic bypasses in your home: holes in your walls or ceilings that allow hot air to rise into your attic). The areas around your light switches and outlets – and any other penetrations through your walls or ceilings – need to be insulated and sealed.

You’d think finding an “insulation pro” would be easy, but it’s not. Some pros are better than others at helping ice-dam-prone homes.  Here are a few questions to ask a potential insulation contractor:

Question #1: “How well do you understand ice dams?”

 Gauge how much your contractor understands ice dams.  Do they seem knowledgeable about ice dam prevention?  After all, you’re calling this contractor so that you don’t have to call me to swoop in and remove your ice dams and save the day.

Was it obvious to them what you wanted done in your attic as soon as you said “ice dams”?

Do they mention (or at least seem to know) that better insulation and ventilation alone won’t guarantee that you don’t get ice dams?

If the contractor doesn’t seem as knowledgeable or concerned about ice dams as you are, you should move on.

Question #2: “Do you also work with ventilation?”

Try to find an insulation contractor who can also deal with your roof’s ventilation.  Insulation and ventilation work in tandem to help keep your attic space as cool as possible.

But there’s no such thing as a “ventilation contractor” specialist (as far as I know).  Roofers or insulation contractors usually deal with ventilation.  Make sure you find a contractor who deals with insulation and ventilation.

Question #3: “How long have you been insulating homes?” 

You don’t want to call the new guy.  Let someone else’s home be his science-fair project.   Try to find the cigar-chomping old-timer who’s seen it all.

Question #4: “How long have you worked in the Midwest?” 

If they don’t pronounce it “Minnesoooota,” press them for detail on their experience in these frosty parts.  You don’t want a contractor who has been in business for 35 years but who only recently relocated to Minnesota from Key Largo, still wearing his Jimmy Buffett hat.  They may not know all the little tricks that a Minnesotan contractor would know, or know the kind of drubbing your home must be able to take from Old Man Winter.

Other factors to consider: 

You’ll want to research insulation contractors just as you’d research an ice dam removal service.  That means you don’t want to ask questions I just described, get mushy answers, shrug your shoulders, and settle on whomever gave you the least-bad answers.  Put a little more time into making sure you’ve found a solid contractor.

Look at reviews.  Look at Better Business Bureau ratings.  Look at the contractor’s website and read some of the content that you find there (if there is any).  Meet with the contractor to get a quote.  Make sure he doesn’t seem too eager, but also see whether he answers your questions fully and with patience.  This is your home we’re talking about.  Take your time to find and choose the people who will stick their hands into it.

The #1 mistake people make on insulation contractors: they never call one!

We go back to the same houses year after year.  They tell us they thought about getting their insulation beefed up, but time slipped away. By the summer they just weren’t thinking about ice dams anymore, so here they are again, writing checks to us.

Sure, insulation and ventilation work may be expensive in the short-term, but longer-term it will save you some serious dead presidents – in the form of lower electricity bills and fewer (or no) ice dams.

It may seem strange for us – an ice dam company – to tell you how you can pay us less (or nothing at all), but we’d rather have your gratitude.  There will always be other homeowners with ice dams. 

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