Roof vents have been used to keep air flowing in the dead space above the ceiling in our homes for many years now, and previous to that it was typically a cupola vent combined with a gable louver that kept the attic in many houses breathing properly.
There are two principle components in any ventilation system, and a roof vent is no exception, you need an intake opening, and an exhaust opening. In a perfect installation these would be well balanced so that the air flow is not restricted at either end of this system. In other words the flow of air into the attic via the intake ports is equal to the flow out of the attic via the exhaust venting.
What happens in many installations is that only one of these two demands will be properly addressed. If you have any heated house air entering the attic space then this can create a warm space which may cause snow to melt and this will in turn cause a dam at the roof edge where the heat cannot get to. This in turn causes water to flow back up the roof going under the shingles and down the walls inside your home. This can occur even if you have installed a perfect ice dam system under your new shingles.
Roof vents come in a variety of styles, but the more common ones here in Northeast Ohio are the turbine style attic vent, the roof and gable end louvered vents, power vents, and the simplest a screened ridge vent. All of these types are intended to allow air flow in the space above the ceilings in your home. This air flow helps prevent ice from damming up on your roof edges by keeping snow from melting and accumulating at the edge in winter and also helps cool your home in the summer.
Ridge vents are the most common and since there are no moving parts are very reliable. Turbine vents move a lot of air and can be strategically located to enhance the air movement of your attic. Louvered vents are simple and inexpensive. Optional motorized power vents can also help cool your home even more. It is not generally advisable to mix any of these types in one attic system as this can be counterproductive to your overall air movement plan.
An example is if you mixed a gable vent with a turbine vent, the gable vent that is facing into the wind can allow air to rush through it straight out the top of the turbine vent short circuiting the desired attic ventilation area. This kind of negative air flow can allow rain to enter the attic space which can lead to water damage and possibly even create mold issues.
If your home experiences any kind of snow or ice dams at the edge of the roof in the winter, then the first place to look is at your venting system. This is much more critical on newer homes which were built much tighter than home were twenty or thirty years ago. If you are in a home with little or no insulation in your attic, then the venting becomes a secondary issue to the extreme heat loss your home will encounter during the winter months.
In this case the first instinct for many homeowners is to seal up the vents so the heat is not lost, and this only exaggerates the ice melt situation since the heat that rises into the attic has nowhere to go and so it melts the snow on your roof. Believe me when you have a bad ice dam issue there is no end to the things you will try in order to just get the problem fixed until a real remedy can be applied.
The smartest thing to do in this situation if you are not experienced in this particular art would be to get a professional to come inspect the problem and estimate the repairs. Armed with this information you can then decide whether it is more difficult to tackle the project on your own, or just hire the job done. Remember if you pay yourself to do the work, then there is only one person you can go back to in the event it does not work!
If you are curious and want to learn how to fix this kid of thing on your own, you can study the problem on your home, and do some research on the Internet looking at sites that go over similar problems as what you are seeing. Also look around your neighborhood and see what similar homes are using for ventilation, not many neighbors would mind if you were to ask them how their roof vent system works.
So if you are facing a problem like this do not be shy about asking people you know for helpful information. There is a lot of good information on this topic, and there is a lot of nonsense that is being passed off as knowledge. It is important that you can discern which data is good enough so that you can rely on it.
Good luck if you tackle this yourself, and if you use a professional be involved so you can learn from them how the process works.
This article is based on personal experience over many years with many houses.
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