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What Can I Do About Ice Dams if I Want to Finish My Attic?

Like basements, attics need not be dingy ghost towns.  A finished attic can become a beautiful bedroom, office, or hang-out room.

The ice dam gods love a finished attic, too.  Unless you plan to turn it into the room where you store the deer carcasses, you probably plan to heat it.  That heat will come in addition to the heat you receive from the rest of the house, because you won’t be able to add the same thick layer of insulation that thermally separates most attics from the living space below.

Warm attic = warm roof = melting snow = big potential for ice dams.

The good news is there’s a solution.

You need a home energy pro to can condition your attic for you. This means he’ll use closed-cell spray-foam insulation to create a barrier.  He’ll then add drywall over the barrier, and you’ll have a nice insulated space.

This is not a DIY weekend honey-do project.  You need a professional to go up there with a mask and a spray-gun.

Of course, there are complications.

It’s similar to the cathedral ceiling conundrum we’ve written about.  You will never get that finished attic as insulated as you can an unfinished attic.  You can’t get up there and add that nice layer of blown-in cellulose insulation, which energy professionals recommend.

If you add a skylight to your finished attic (as many homeowners do) you’ll compromise the insulation even more.

Now, I won’t urge you not to finish an attic if you live in Minnesota.  You probably have great reasons for it, and those probably outweigh the potential ice dam hazards.

But what I will say is you’ll make your home a little more prone to ice dams.  That means you should be even more vigilant about raking your roof.   It also means you should keep an emergency fund for snow and ice dam removal, just in case.

Otherwise, that beautiful new attic finished attic could be the very first thing destroyed by roof leaks caused by ice dams.  We don’t want that, so you need to insulate as well as possible and rake your roof religiously.

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