Preventing Gutter-Damage from Ice and Snow (Ice Damming)
If you live in Michigan, it seems like each winter brings heavier, more damaging snow falls that knockout power and bring communities to a standstill. One of the most important and troubling problems created by heavy snowfall is the damage that snow and ice cause to your home’s gutters.
One way that harsh winter weather can damage gutters is ice buildup. Ice buildup in your gutters prevents the flow of melted snow to your down spouts for proper drainage. The stacked up ice and snow causes the run off to flow over the lip of your gutters and create long icicles.
Another equally troubling problem are ice dams. Ice dams start when snow builds up on your roof. Over time, the snow will begin to melt, even if the temperature stays below freezing. The heat from within your home warms your roof and melts the snow from beneath. The run off then enters your gutters, which remain colder than your roof, and re-freezes, creating an ice dam that prevents proper drainage of the snow melt. With ice dams formed, overexposure to moisture is prolonged. As the ice slowly melts over time, water seeps beneath shingles, under the tar paper, and eventually into the plywood beneath, causing damage to your roof, fascia and soffit.
One way to prevent ice dams and buildup is to clean out your gutters prior to winter, after all the leaves have fallen from surrounding trees. Clogged gutters will only accelerate the process of ice damming and over flow when the gutters fill up with ice and snow. To keep the snow on your roof from melting, make sure your roof is well insulated, and that warm air is not escaping. Another way gutters are damaged from snow and ice is from bearing the excessive weight of a big snow fall. Even gutters that are adequately installed, using the proper material and size for your region, can succumb to the weight of snow and ice, and break away from their hangers and fall to the ground.
Deciding whether or not to attack an ice dam on your roof with a chemical deicer is a balancing act: you balance performance which is total removal of the ice dam, against adverse consequences such as staining of the roof system, loss of paint or coating on gutters and siding from runoff, damage to shrubs and turf under the roof when the concentrated brine hits them. Covering sensitive shrubs and the area under the ice dam with a tarp might be a good idea, but we want to be clear that we are not advocating the use of our products for removing ice dams as they are designed to work on pavement and traveled surfaces – not roof systems. If you were to use any of our products to remove ice dams, you would be doing so at your own sole risk and responsibility.
Ice Dam Attack Checklist:
- Don’t get on your roof to try solve this problem, it could be dangerous and you might create more problems than you have with the ice dam.
- Avoid standing on the ground and “chipping away” at the ice. Not only could this cause damage to your roof, but you and others on the ground can be seriously injured by falling ice, debris, or tools.
- Contacting a roofing contractor to fix your roof leak will not prevent future ice dams.
- Seal air leaks and sealing duct air leaks in your attic to stop warm air leakage (the source of the problem).
- After sealing leaks, add additional insulation in your attic.
- Provide adequate attic ventilation so that the underside of the roof and outside air are at the same temperature. Check to make sure attic insulation is not blocking roof ventilation.
- Clean leaves and other debris from gutters before the first snow. This will help prevent ice build-up in gutters.
- Hire a contractor who is an energy specialist or specializes in air sealing to do an in-home evaluation.
- Burn the photo of the chips of shingles on the ground into your memory to remind you that swinging a claw hammer and chipping away removes a lot more than just the ice
- Think it all through before you start. If you hire contractor to remove the ice and snow, make sure they are not a hack that will leave a bigger problem than they came to fix. The contractor is only there for the day and you are going to live with what he does for a good long time, so make sure he is experienced and check references for fixing this type of problem.
- A roof rake is a well known old tool in the Yankee toolbox; it’s a diagonal slide shovel on a telescopic handle that rides over the snow when pushing up and dives into it when pulling down and is used to remove snow from roofs from the ground. I’ve used them and they work as long as your roof is not too high or too shallow to effectively reach with a roof-rake.