Frozen gutters aren’t just a nuisance, they can cause serious damage to your house. Instead of admiring those icicles on your eaves this holiday season, take some time to prevent your gutters from freezing up. Trust me, it’ll be worth it in the long run.
Why are frozen gutters a problem?
Frozen gutters won’t effectively guide water away from your foundation.
Ice dams can cause water to flood over gutter sides and back onto the roof and sides of your house which could cause leaks and water damage.
Excessive ice can also weigh down gutters and cause them to detach or bend, requiring repair or replacement.
So BEFORE your gutters are frozen solid, make sure you take action on a least a few of these options for preventing ice blockages from forming in the first place.
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What can you do to prevent frozen gutters?
1. Install a heating element
Keep the water around your gutters warm with heat tape or a self-regulating heating cable installed above your gutters. These are not meant to melt ice that has already formed, so you should install these before it’s frozen.
You’ll need an exterior power source to connect the heating cable to.
Keep in mind that with this option you are paying both for the heating cable/heating tape itself as well as the electricity cost so it’s not the cheapest option.
If you have shingles, these are good roof clips that will clip onto your shingles and hold the heating element in place (though if you get the Frost King above, that set comes with the clips you need):
Some key points to remember when installing a heating cable:
- Heating cables should not overlap or touch
- The cable will run down the middle of your gutter and will double back and create an “M” pattern above the gutter at the bottom part of the roofs slope.
- Don’t run them when it is hot out (in the case of the Frost King cables, those should not be operated above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Keep the cable away from any other warm heat sources like a chimney
- Don’t splice, alter or use a damaged cable
- Keep the cable at least ½ inch away from gutter guards
- If you are installing these on shingles, you should not install them when it’s colder than freezing out (32 degrees Fahrenhei) because there is a risk you might damage the shingles when lifting them to install the clips.
- Avoid use on wooden roofs
2. Before winter hits, keep gutters clean by removing leaves and other debris
One of the easiest ways to prevent frozen gutters is to keep them clean. If you have trees in your yard, it’s likely that some leaves will end up in your gutters. Make sure to clean them out yourself or hire a pro to do it every fall. Clogged gutters can cause water to pool and freeze.
It’s an annoying job that someone has to do – whether it’s you or a pro – but it’ll generally involve a ladder, a scoop (or your gloved hand), a hose or pressure washer and/or a special attachment for leaf blowers.
3. Install gutter guards to prevent debris from clogging up your gutter to begin with
Gutter guards come in a variety of styles, but they all work by creating a barrier between your gutters and the debris that can accumulate in them. Some gutter guards have a fine mesh that allows water to pass through while blocking out larger objects while others have a solid surface that water flows over and into the gutter.
Some of them also allow for the installation of heating elements right in the gutter guard itself. For example, if you get Gutter Helmet installed, they have “Helmet Heat” option which is a heating element built into your gutter guard.
4. Ensure gutters are sloped for proper drainage
Make sure your gutters are sloped so that water flows towards your downspouts. Flat gutters can interfere with drainage and you could end up with water pooling in them.
Gutters should be sloped down towards downspouts at a rate of at least ¼ of an inch for every 10 feet of gutter, but if your roof is steeply pitched, you will need a slightly steeper slope.
If you do find that they aren’t sloped correctly, you can try adjusting them yourself, but I would recommend bringing in a professional. The cost of the work is good insurance against potentially more costly issues with flooding or water damage in your house.
5. Check roof insulation to prevent melting snow and ice from overflowing gutters
This is the primary cause of ice dams “If you have leaks from your home going up into the attic, inadequate insulation between that heat and your roof and too much of a differential between the outside temp and your roof — you’re going to get melting and icicles.” Read all about it in Icicles + Ice Dams on Gutters: Causes, Prevention, Removal
6. Remove snow from roof with a special rake or shovel before it can melt and overload gutters
If you get a big snowstorm, shovel your roof to take some of the load off. It’ll also protect your gutters from being overwhelmed and will decrease the snowmelt that can freeze when it hits your cold metal gutters. It’s important to do this BEFORE the snow gets a chance to start thawing and then freeze up again. Grab a roof rake for that purpose (Amazon).
Roof rakes generally have telescoping pole with a perpendicular flat part at the end that you extend up to your roof as far as you can reach and then pull back in order to slide the snow off your roof.
7. Install heated gutter guards
There are many gutter guard options that come with a heating option.
8. Get professional help
Consider hiring professionals for roof maintenance including checking ventilation, sealing attic hatches, adding insulation, repairing flashing around the chimney, and sealing electrical cables and pipe vents.
Related: How to actually keep your underground downspouts from freezing