Ice dams and freezing, in general, can cause extensive interior and exterior structural damage if left unaddressed for too long.
The key to solving this is understanding where the problem is coming from and then setting up regular gutter cleaning or other tools like gutter heaters. If you’re looking for specifics on solving this issue, you’ve come to the right place.
This article is your ultimate guide to preventing ice dams in gutters!
Frozen gutters mainly depend on what the weather conditions are where you live. Gutters that are more frequently exposed to snow or sleet are more likely to get covered with ice and freeze.
Another factor that greatly increases the risk of freezing gutters is the buildup of blockages.
Gutters are usually where debris like leaves and tree branches ends up. When you don’t regularly clean them out, they build up over the years and create blockages that prevent the free flow of any water in your downspouts.
Then, any stagnant water, especially when it rains, can freeze and form big blocks of ice, which are sometimes referred to as ‘ice dams.’
Even without any rain, gutters can freeze if they’re blocked up because there’s no place for the melted snow to pass through.
During cold weather, your gutters work double time to drain out any rainwater or snowmelt. Here are three ways to help these roof structures do their job well:
It’s important to keep your home’s gutters and downspouts free of debris year-round. You can do it yourself or call in the experts.
Professional gutter cleaning is a worthwhile investment, especially if you can no longer clean them yourself. This is a much better use of your money than paying a huge sum to get your roof repaired after a particularly harsh storm.
A good rule of thumb is to have your gutters cleaned every six months. Still, make sure you check in now and then to see if there’s any buildup of leaves, twigs, or branches that needs to be removed.
Professional cleaning can get expensive if done too frequently. Gutter guards are a useful addition to your gutters if the blockages happen too often!
These guards are made from a durable mesh material. It’s designed to stop big solid debris from getting stuck in your gutters and downspouts while allowing the rain and snowmelt to pass through.
Without proper insulation, heat easily escapes from areas like the attic. When this happens, any snowfall on your roof gets melted quickly, causing it to go straight to the gutters.
This problem is amplified further when your gutters are blocked. Without anywhere else to pass through, the water stays in your gutters and refreezes, forming big blocks of ice.
Proper air sealing doesn’t just keep the inside of your home warm, it also helps the outside stay cool to avoid ice damming.
While it’s undeniably easier to prevent freezing than dealing with frozen gutters, fear not, there are still ways to get ice out if you already have them.
Use roof rakes to help remove any blockages stuck in the downspouts. They can also chip at and break big chunks of ice. Most variations of this tool come with extendable poles to make the process easier.
When the snowmelt has refrozen into solid blocks of ice, it’s easier to melt them first before going in with a roof rake or clearing out blockages.
You can use any melting method you’re comfortable with. You just have to ensure that your downspouts are clear so any melted water gets drained out.
One way you can melt ice is by using hot water. Alternatively, you can use a compound called calcium chloride.
We’ll go into the specifics of these two ways to melt gutter ice further down in the article.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to leave it to the pros. Extensive freezing in gutters can cause structural damage both outside and inside your home.
At this point, it can also be extremely challenging, and even dangerous, to remove the ice on your own. You’d have to get up there, and this can be risky, especially since snowy weather makes everything slippery!
Although calling for professional help is the pricier solution, it’s worth it in the long run.
We mentioned earlier that gutter guards could help prevent freezing gutters. Yet, can they also prevent ice dams?
Since these guards are designed to keep leaves, branches, or twigs out of the downspouts, they can also help stop big ice blocks from forming. Fortunately, ice guards themselves don’t directly cause ice dams, either. One of the primary causes of ice dams is heat, not gutter guards.
However, certain types of gutter guards can cause ice damming if not maintained properly. For example, gutter guards with smaller openings for water drainage can lead to ice dams if those holes get blocked by debris.
This is why it’s also important to continue checking for blockages, even if you install gutter guards. Additionally, you should still have your gutters cleaned regularly.
When dealing with ice dams, you need to first find a way to melt the ice. Then, you have to deal with the debris that can potentially block the gutters and downspouts.
Take a look.
Calcium chloride is a quick and easy way to melt ice that’s commonly used on roads and highways to effectively melt big chunks of ice.
Fortunately, it’s also an effective way to melt ice dams and snow buildup within the gutters.
However, avoid using calcium chloride directly because it’s harsh and can cause metal corrosion. Long-term exposure can also cause cracks in some types of material like concrete.
Instead, you can wrap the calcium chloride pellets in any type of cloth, like an old pair of socks, and leave them on the ice dams.
Using hot water comes with several cons, which is why some people are a bit more skeptical about using it. Some argue that using hot water just adds more retained liquid that can refreeze and compound the problem.
While this is true in theory, we found a way around it. The trick is to pour the hot water slowly to allow the melted ice to flow down the gutters first before adding any more hot water.
However, this might not be the best idea if the weather is extremely cold, as the hot water may freeze faster than it can melt the ice.
There are mixed reviews about gutter heaters, but they do work as intended if you follow the proper setup.
Gutter heaters can be an effective way to prevent ice dams. Though it’s important to note that gutter heaters can’t do the job by themselves.
For example, in times of extreme weather conditions, such as heavy snowfall or snowstorms, gutter heaters won’t be able to melt the snow fast enough.
While they’ve been proven effective and helpful in preventing ice dams, you’ll get better results if the heating works in tandem with other preventative measures like proper insulation and gutter guards.
The specifics depend on the type of gutter heater you get. Although, the mechanism is relatively the same across all kinds: the heaters melt the snow and keep water flowing freely through the gutter.
Since there’s a constant source of heat, there isn’t any chance of rain or snowmelt turning into ice. Plus, if your downspouts are free of blockages, there’s also no chance of refreezing.
Most types of gutter heaters come in the form of heat cables. They’re installed either on the edge of the roof or inside the gutters, although the latter is preferable.
Once they’re turned on, they can heat the gutters and slowly melt away snow—emphasis on the word slowly! Remember, they keep your gutters just warm enough, but never hot enough to instantly zap away falling snow.
Luckily, the warmth should be enough to help prevent ice dams, given the right conditions.
Peak temperatures depend heavily on the type and brand of gutter heaters you own, but most top out at 160°F. However, there are some that record peak temperatures reaching almost 200°F.
There shouldn’t be any issue with these temperatures as long as all the wires are installed correctly, and you follow all precautions. These wires are self-regulating, and the temperatures adjust according to the weather.
Also, keep in mind that some gutter heaters aren’t supposed to continue operating throughout the day. Similarly, some types need to be removed during hot seasons to avoid any risk of electrical damage or accidents.
To sum up, one of the best techniques on how to prevent ice dams in gutters involves regular cleaning in tandem with extra tools like gutter guards, gutter heaters, and proper insulation.
Together, they work to reduce the chances of rain or snowmelt refreezing and creating a dam. If retained water isn’t addressed quickly, it can cause serious structural damage.
Lastly, when the ice dams get too difficult to deal with, don’t hesitate to call in the professionals. Spending a little extra on their service is better than spending thousands trying to fix whatever damage harsh weathers bring to your home.
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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