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How To Keep Gutters From Freezing In Winter (And Melt Ice When It Forms)

Cold weather produces conditions that can affect your home negatively, including damage from freezing, which includes your gutter system. You might be surprised by the damage that winter can wreck on metal gutters by freezing.

So how can you prevent this problem? Are there steps that you can take to remove ice once it forms? What follows are some suggestions to help address these issues to prevent costly repairs in the future.

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How Does Cold Weather Affect Your Gutters?

rain gutter with ice and snow

As the temperatures drop, snow and ice can build up in your gutter runs, ice will expand, and this movement places pressure on the gutter channel. This pressure has the ability to warp the gutter or cause cracks once the gutter stretches to the breaking point.

Another consideration is the growth of ice with additional layers of snow or with melting that freezes on previous layers of ice during the winter. This accumulation can grow beyond the gutters and begin to work its way under the roof tiles near your gutters. The ice can also move between the gutter run and the wall it is attached to, causing the run to become detached from the point it is fastened to.

These points of damage will cause issues once the weather begins to warm up and the ice begins to melt. Your gutters might be damaged to the point that they no longer evacuate water from the roof. That water can work its way into the walls or under the tiles on your roof, creating mold as well as other structural damage that will require costly repairs.

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Steps You Can Take To Prevent Gutters From Freezing

Remove snow that collects on your roof

A simple step you can take to prevent ice dams from forming is to remove the source before they can grow. Snow sitting on your roof will melt as the temperature increases. This will produce run-off that will freeze in gutters as the temperatures fall below freezing.

Using a shovel designed to remove snow from a roof will allow you to remove a large portion of the accumulation before it has a chance to melt. It may take a bit of time but it will eliminate the water source that can create ice dams.

Remove debris that has accumulated in your gutters

Tree leaves and material that has broken loose from roofing tiles can gather on the bottom of a gutter channel. This material can block water and prevent it from draining down your spouts. It will also hold water in the clumps of debris, even with proper drainage.

Cleaning your gutters should be part of your fall maintenance after leaves fall and before the first snowfall. It will be easier to clean out the gutters before cold weather begins, as you can use water (especially in the downspouts) to remove debris. However, you should also take the time to remove this build-up after early snows in the fall that occur before your trees have shed all of their leaves.

Make sure your gutter system is sloped properly

It is important that your gutters are working properly in the first place. If the system does not provide a proper pitch, water cannot reach the downspouts. Gutter runs that are flat will allow water to collect in the channels.

Take the time to measure your gutters at various points along the run. Start at the farthest point from your downspouts. Take measurements at intervals closer to the spouts. If you calculate that the lengths increase, your gutter runs are providing a slope for water to run down.

If the run does not provide a slope, you will need to correct this by altering the angle. This will require you to disconnect the gutters and re-attach them at points that create a pitch down towards the downspouts. You may want to contact a professional if this job is beyond your abilities to make sure that you do not damage the gutters or surrounding areas.

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Steps You Can Take To Melt Ice In Your Gutters

Clear the roof

The first step you need to take when removing ice dams that grow in your gutters is to remove extra snow on your roof. By taking the time to remove this source of ice, you will eliminate extra ice as you work as well as prevent ice dams from returning after you clean them out. This is also a step that you can take to prevent ice from building up in the first place.

You can purchase a rake designed to aid with snow removal on the roof. Remember to keep safety at the forefront by using your ladder properly and avoiding overhead power lines.

Use a Chemcial De-icer

There are many products that are available that are designed to melt ice. It is important to follow the directions from the manufacturer in order to prevent possible damage to your gutters or the ground below downspouts. For example, rock salt may aid with breaking down ice dams, but it can increase corrosion on metal and damage vegetation in your yard.

These products can be sprinkled directly onto the ice in the gutter. You can also fill a sock or porous bag that allows the material to interact with the ice. These containers can be placed on the ice until it is melted and then moved to a new location along the gutter run.

Use a Heat Source

Another type of product that you can use are cables designed to melt ice in gutters. This equipment is placed in your gutter system and can be activated to generate heat to melt ice. It is important to select a heating cable designed for this specific task in order to provide heat without creating dangerous shorts in the electronics.

Using warm water

Warm water can also aid with removing ice in your gutter system. The water can be sprayed from a container such as a water bottle or a garden sprayer. This option works with small amounts of ice and in closed downspouts but is time-consuming.

Use your hands

Finally, you can remove ice by hand. Various hand tools, such as ice picks or an awl, can be used to chip away ice dams. You need to exercise caution when chipping away ice so that you do not damage the gutters or roof tiles as you work. The only problem with this method is that you cannot remove ice build-up in your downspouts.            

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