Winter Gutter Protection – Gutter Hangers and Heaters

Do Gutter Guards Prevent Ice Dams?

Avoiding the Hidden Costs of Winter

For most people, a home is a family’s biggest investment, one that doesn’t come with a guidebook of what to do to prevent winter problems. Nor does it tell you where to look and how to fix issues when a Nice Winter Home particular season comes along. From December through February, the days may be short, but the problems can be large.  That’s because winter problems faced by roofs and gutters usually involve water, snow or ice.

Winter conditions cause lots of problems to a home’s exterior.  Those issues can lead to expensive problems inside a home as well. Water can be a nightmare for home exteriors, especially in the winter, causing problems to siding, trim, shingles, insulation and drywall (just to name a few parts of a home), it can cause other issues like mold and mildew, which are a personal health concern and are potential fire threats if combined with electricity. Water is necessary and safe when captured through a home’s plumbing, but if it can’t be contained there, or if it starts from melting snow, ice or rain it’s a destroyer.

To avoid exterior water-based problems from developing, the water barrier on the exterior of a home needs to be maintained.  The way water is channeled from these barriers (shingles, ice barrier, gutters and flashing, for example) can’t be ignored— particularly in the winter.

Given that, we’ll be addressing winter home issues that start at the top of a home– the roof and gutters.Just from this one location, problems can develop that lead to seriously costly repairs and will give you the knowledge you need to solve and avoid them.

Chapter One: Winter’s Hidden Price Tag

According to Munich Re’s NatCat Service, Winter Storms and Cold Waves are one of the top six natural disasters that cause catastrophic losses in the United States.  As of February 2016, the latest data available, the ten year average cost in losses per year was $1.8 billion.

Take a Look at Your Home Insurance

According the the Insurance Information Institute, about one in 50 insured homes has a property damage claim caused by water damage or freezing each year.

Not all of these costs are born by the insurance industry, even if a homeowner submits a claim.

A homeowner should check with their insurance agent to determine exactly what is covered under their personal policy.  Keep in mind homeowners can take steps to mitigate for winter problems that might not be covered.

Here are some examples of what has been covered and what hasn’t:

  • Frozen and Burst Pipes:  If you’re away or the temperature drops too low during the day or night, pipe bursting and flooding is possible.  For that reason alone, letting temperatures in a home drop under 60 degrees is not recommended. If a pipe burst occurs and you can catch the problem quickly (turn the water off at its source), chances of a more favorable situation are higher, but the temperature you set your thermostat to can impact your claim.
  • Ice Dams: Ice dams are formed by refrozen melting snow which build at the edge of a roof. The water from ice dams can cause leaks in walls, roofs, soffits and more, causing numerous unplanned repairs. Generally the damage resulting from an ice dam is covered under home insurance policies, but not the cost of removing the ice dam or any damage to personal property.  Additionally, insurance companies may fight these claims if they determine the roof was installed incorrectly or is just old and should have been replaced sooner. If this is the case, they may prorate what they’ll pay. Stop ice dams before they happen. Keep reading to find out how.

  • Roof Collapse:  Insurance can cover the cost of a roof collapse if it’s covered in the policy.  But the same issues apply as ice dams: was the roof well maintained? Did you use the recommended roofing materials for that geographic location?  Can the insurance adjuster discover any pre-existing issues not addressed? Repairing a roof can cause upwards of hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
  • Dead Furnace:  Here’s another item that falls into the “has it been properly maintained?” category.  Your furnace may not be covered but if a failed furnace causes pipes to freeze, but damage from the frozen pipes may be covered.

If a homeowner fails to properly prepare for these hidden winter costs, they may be subject to many out of pocket costs. The next section will help better prepare you to deal with and avoid these hidden and costly winter fees.

Your Home in the Winter

Chapter Two: How To Avoid Costly Winter Problems

Let’s face it, to get a house prepared for winter you’ve got to start way before the season is upon you. As they say, the early bird catches the worm– and saves a lot of money.

You’ll need to start with a good gutter cleaning, preferably one before the temperatures dip below freezing. A gutter frozen with debris is virtually impossible to clean.  It’s also less safe to be hiking a ladder around and climbing up it to clean a gutter when the ground has snow or ice on it.

Secondly, you don’t want to damage the roof shingles right above your gutters. When temperatures drop, shingles are prone to cracking or breaking, particularly the older they get.  The less they’re touched, the better they’ll hold up. Note that installing some types of gutter guards help protect your shingles from potential damage and is another good reason why you should invest in gutter guards.

How Often Should I Clean My Gutters?

Ever wonder why your yard fills with twigs, branches and rotten limbs during the winter?  It’s because after the trees drop their leaves, a process called cladoptosis can more easily occur.  Once leaves drop, it allows branches to whip into each other in the wind and that action helps a tree’s self-pruning process of shedding dead, dying, rotted or diseased parts of the tree.

As winter approaches, gutters typically need to be cleaned once in the fall when leaves drop. They also need  to be cleaned  in December to get the last of the leaves and to remove any remaining twigs.

What To Look For When Cleaning Your Gutters

  • Is there sufficient open area to receive water? Shingles that cover too much of the gutter’s open trough are more likely to allow water to overshoot the gutter. If there is more than one roof on the home, the second roof typically extends out longer than the first which make the problem worse. Long shingles droop down and into the gutters and do not meet roof shingle manufacturer installation standards. This issue should be addressed with a roofer.

clean gutter not in winter

  • Are the gutters pitched correctly towards the downspouts? When you clean, you’ll likely find pools of water sitting in the gutter, trapped by the debris that’s collected there.

Once the debris is removed, does water remain on the base of the gutter or does it flow towards a downspout? Check the short side of the gutter run near a downspout. Often gutters continue their downward pitch here, but there is no way for the water to drain here. Use a level to repitch the gutters as necessary.

When gutters eventually freeze with snow and ice in the winter, you’ll want any water that has thawed to be able to work its way to the downspouts. The slower they drain, the faster they can refreeze which makes proper pitch that much more important.

  • Are your gutters hung or, at a minimum, reinforced with hidden hangers? Gutters hung with spike and ferrule often work themselves loose over time with the freeze and thawing effect brought on by winter weather. These type of hangers should have been left in the last century and to a great extent they have been. But if a home still has gutters installed this way, then at a minimum the gutter should be reinforced with hidden hangers which are screwed into the fascia.

To note, the more snow and ice you see geographically, the more hangers you should install.

  • How beaten up are the gutters? Branches fall, hail hits, ladders bang into them; all take a toll on your gutters. The paint on your gutters seems to attract dirt more than your siding does, so they look older, faster.  Unlike your roof, a gutter is only a thin gauge aluminum and a banged up gutter detracts from the curb appeal of your home. At some point seals on end caps, corners and downspouts will fail, causing them to leak.  If they look bad, plan on getting new ones come the Spring.
  • Check for rotten fascia, missing drip edge, and ripped ice barrier key elements of your roof’s edge and repair it if needed. Gutters are typically hung on a roof’s fascia or rafters.  Often, a gutter will get ripped from a home from the weight of winter snow and ice because the wood fascia that the gutter is installed on has rotted away over time.

If your gutter hasn’t been maintained on a regular basis, you can face many issues. Gutter become  clogged, debris gets trapped, water overflows near clogged area and winds up spilling over. It can also flow backwards into the home, causing interior damage.

Check for rot by tapping the wood with a screwdriver; it will easily push into rotten wood.  If rot is found, be sure to have the entire piece of fascia board replaced and consider a composite material rather than wood as the replacement.  This is something to address before winter weather brings snow and ice.

  • Make sure downspouts are clear and extend away from the foundation.

Do a “drop test” from the top of your downspout with a pebble.  If it clangs all the way to the bottom, the downspout is clear. Make sure downspouts extend at least ten feet from the foundation.  Consider installing a downspout cover (typically used in the gutter) where the downspout empties onto the ground to keep vermin like mice, which like to make their way indoors when the weather gets cold, from climbing into them. Don’t drain downspouts near places people walk in the winter. This includes driveways.  Drained water will refreeze and it may not be able to soak into frozen soil. If you collect water in a rain barrel and you live where the weather drops below freezing regularly, unhook it from the downspout for the season.

What to Look For On Your Roof

Anyone at the roof line should now observe the roof.  Here are a few key things to look for:

  • How is the roofing material holding up? Roofs age and begin to show their age over time.  Check your records if you’ve replaced the roof in the past and keep track of this information in a convenient location. 

Time goes by faster than people realize.  Thicker shingles will last longer.

Look at the amount of granules on the shingle. Older shingles will have fewer and, at some point, granules will shed faster, indicating an older roof.

Are any parts of the roof covered with moss, black algae or lichen?  These organisms eat the

limestone in the shingles and age a roof faster.

Are any shingles missing?  Do they droop, curl or are they cracked anywhere?

Bring in a roofer to repair any missing or broken shingles and consider treating your roof against moss, algae or other spore-based organisms.

  • Has the roof been maintained? Look for trapped debris on your roof.  This can often happen in roof valleys or areas where wind pushes debris into but can’t blow debris from.

You’ll notice on low sloped roofs, roofs that meet up with a wall or corner, or roofs that extend over other sections of a roof are places this is more likely to occur.  Don’t allow debris to remain in these locations or it will decay and eventually break down into compost.

Make sure your roof is clean of debris before the winter because you don’t want to trap organic material under snow or ice.

  • How is the flashing holding up? This is really a job for an expert to assess, but water is likely to leak into a home after a snowstorm from a point in which the flashing was poorly installed.  This occurs when snow builds up and then melts above where rain typically flows during other seasons. This can be at chimneys, where roofs meet second story walls and more.  Proper flashing maintains your siding, your home’s wood sheathing, the insulation in your walls and your drywall.
  • Take a Look at Your Soffits The soffit is the part where your roof extends beyond your house. Take note of the following:

Are they ventilated? As we will discuss below, a key factor in icicles and ice dams formation is improper or insufficient ventilation and insulation in an attic.  If there are unvented soffits, the roof cannot breathe effectively.

Are the soffits shallow or deep?  Shallow soffits are much closer to the heated part of a home.  Deep soffits are not. Icicles and ice dams tend to form near an under insulated attic when you heat your home.  In addition to lowering heating bills, adding insulation to an attic while the weather is cool can lessen winter icicling from heat loss.

Gutters in the Winter

If snow and ice can exist, don’t expect a gutter to work in the winter. Consider it shut down and hibernating until spring. There’s nothing to stop heavy snow and ice from building up in them, except perhaps a gutter guard, but that depends on what type of snow you have. The key is to make sure that the gutters can survive the winterand be ready to continue to perform during thaws as well as the other three seasons.

  • Tip 1: Make sure you gutters are hung with sufficient hidden hangers to carry the weight of ice. Keep in mind that ice weighs more than snow.
  • Tip 2: Avoid buying gutters made from a thin gauge aluminum coil.

These are two items that a homeowner doesn’t typically check for or know what quality level of gutter they’ve got on their home. If someone buys gutters based solely on price, it’s where a gutter installer use a thinner gauge gutter coil to cut corners and the homeowner has no idea that it’s happening.

If you live in a new home, you probably have cheap gutters and hangers. It’s an easy place for a builder to keep costs down.  At a minimum, reinforce your gutters with extra, stronger hangers and try to get the hangers hung into the rafter tails. If you can, insist on 0.32 gauge aluminum for a good quality gutter.

Take a look at how the gutter hanger was installed.  The best gutter hangers hook over the back of the gutters and then screw through the gutter.  Rehang anywhere you find both sides of the hanger installed in the gutter. Gutters can sag between hangers so in places with snow and ice, space the hangers 18 inches apart.

Keep reading our guide to find out exactly how to deal with ice and gutters.

Gutters in Snow Country

There are many places where people just don’t install gutters because of winter weather, and that tends to be in snow country, places far enough north that get a lot of snow. Instead, they line their roof edges with a small section of metal roofing. This is designed to pull snow down and off the roof.

The only issue in choosing not to install gutters is that homes in snow country typically have basements. All of the snow that falls, and all of the water that will melt from it, drains from the roof during a thaw and soaks into the ground right near the foundation. This can cause very expensive foundation issues like cracked foundations, the separation of the poured concrete floor from the walls (leading to a leak point) or water seeping through the walls.

Better to install gutters properly with good quality hangers reinforced with snow guards than risk a wet basement, it’s a costly repair and can impact homes of any age.

Ice and Snow

Chapter Three: How to Deal with Snow and Ice on a Roof, Gutter System and Gutter Guards

Let’s presume a home has had all the right maintenance to its roof and gutters, but then you are hit with pesky winter weather conditions. What do we do next?

Snow and Your Roof

FEMA has a great guide on this that actually gives you the engineering facts about snow load, something that’s quite technical so we’ll stay away from here.  A couple of important highlights from their publication note that snow load doesn’t necessarily come from a single storm, it’s about accumulation and several other factors including the humidity of the snow when it falls, rain in between snowstorms or snow melt. Each situation has its own issues, some helpful, some harmful.

The weight of 1 foot of fresh snow ranges from 3 pounds per square foot for light, dry snow to 21 pounds per square foot for wet, heavy snow (Gooch, 1999).  For anyone that’s skied on either coast and then goes to the Rockies, you’ll know that difference. And you can’t underestimate the regional effects on winter weather like the lake effect near the Great Lakes.

Snow drifts with the wind, so parts of a roof may collect more snow than other parts (if you’re out looking they might be the same places a roof traps debris). You’ll also see that snow slides the steeper the roof is, so snow guards, as mentioned above, can be a help here.

  • Removing Snow off Your Roof Snow may have to be removed on occasion. Just don’t bring your snowblower to your roof to do this, something the writer of this article has personally seen.

Hire a professional and don’t climb a ladder in the snow yourself. Professionals have the tools and equipment to remove snow safely.

If you’d like to remove some snow from your roof from the ground, be prepared with a non metal snow rake and shovels. Your goal is to pull snow down and off the roof and not to harm your roofing materials during the process, which metal products can do (metal rakes may have plastic wheels on them to keep the metal from touching the roof).  Look up and see if there are any icicles that can be dislodged by pulling the snow off and address them first.

  • Careful Where You Dump Snow From Your Roof Make sure not to pull snow down onto anything important like yourself, landscaping or cars.

Keep away from where snow will pile once it drops to the ground, it will come down in sheets like an avalanche, particularly with a non metal snow rake.

Lastly, be sure to leave a thin layer of snow on the roof to ensure you’re not damaging the roofing materials.

  • Metal Roofs If you have a metal roof you will need to put snow guards in place. They are designed to protect both people and property.  Snow will begin to melt and can pull off your roof in very large sheets, like an avalanche, sometimes large enough to crush a car.  Snow guards are installed in a staggered pattern to hold the snow in place as it melts.

  • Slate Roofs If you have a slate roof you should also have snow guards since snow reacts similarly to metal roofs.  Steeper roofs benefit from snow fences in climates where a lot of snow falls regularly.
  • Roofs With Solar Panels If your roof has solar panels on it, treat it like a metal roof since both will act similarly as snow melts. We suggest you install snow guards with solar panels.

Dealing with Pesky Icicles

First, your roof probably has icicles dripping from the shingles edge. You just can’t see them because the icicles are forming in the gutter. Lots of people think that their home is icicle free, but it’s more likely they’re there but it just doesn’t get cold and snowy long enough for the gutter to fill and the icicles to form on the gutter itself.  When it weather conditions are right, icicles will form on the gutters. In some climates, icicles pour over the downspout and create a waterfall of ice down the entire downspout to the ground. Gutter and downspouts are frozen solid.

Icicles are a sign that water, in the form of melted snow or rain, is running down your roof and coming in contact with your roof edge. The temperature in the roof edge is actually colder the rest of the roof and the water freezes. As mentioned above, this tends to occur where you can’t see it. If you see icicles form on the gutter lip, that means snow and ice has filled up the gutter trough and the water from your roof needs to spill somewhere, usually over the front of the gutter.

While dripping can be annoying when you exit or enter a home, small icicles, in and of themselves, tend not to be something that causes damage to a house. A heated entrance mat can keep access safe, without tracking some simpler entrance remedies like sand, salt or kitty litter into a home on the bottom of shoes.

  • Tip 1: If you have a snow rake, you can use it to remove some of the icicles around entrance ways, taking care of where the snow you rake off falls.
  • Tip 2: Clear the roof edges if there are shallow soffits as a warm roof will always be close to the cool gutter.  Clearing the edge of your roof when you have small icicles means you can help stop water cooling and refreezing on your roof, the source of ice dams. It’s much harder to pull snow off a roof if an ice dam has already formed, so it’s something to stay on top of if the home is prone to ice damming.

When icicles grow large, they can be a hazard.  They can snap off without notice and hurt a person, particularly with their pointed end. Address these with your snow rake from a safe distance, do not stand near where they will fall when you hit them. Be sure to shovel them away or they’ll refreeze to the ground where they land.

Keep reading to find out about gutter guards and ice dams.

What are Ice Dams and How to Handle Them

Ice dams start the same way icicles do.  Daytime starts the process of heating up a roof and melting the snow on it. A home is kept heated and, because heat rises, some of it leeches through attic insulation which, in turn, raises the temperature of the roof (the more insulation or higher R-value, the less can leak through hence why you’ll always hear about adding insulation to an attic).

Going back to how ice dams form, the snow closest to the roof melts and this water runs under the snow until it hits the part of the roof where temperature drops, typically near where the soffit begins.  The roof here is much cooler, the water re-freezes and starts building up on the roof. Eventually, a ridge of ice forms and water from the snow melt has nowhere to go but dam up behind it, but more on that later.

  • Ice Dams Are An Issue When you start to see icicles forming behind your gutters, under the soffit overhang, and above/on your siding

It’s important to prevent ice buildup on a gutter and roof. Here are some reason why its so important to stop this buildup before it happens.

  • Ice Gets Heavy One reason to prevent ice buildup is that, compared to snow, it weighs a lot and will put strain on your gutters.

One inch of ice weighs a little less than 5 pounds per square foot, and 1 foot of ice weighs approximately 57 pounds per square foot. Combine this with a heavy, extruded aluminum gutter guard and imagine the amount of extra weight the gutter and its hanging system may have to bear. Imagine a gutter with this amount of weight falling from a home! It happens all the time and rotted fascia and poor hangers are probably the culprits.

  • Melted Ice Can Cause Water Damage Another reason is that most roofs, if built exactly to code, have ice barriers strategically placed where they are typically needed: the roof edge, in valleys, around vents, skylights and chimneys.

After the ice barrier ends and if water can get through the shingles, because it’s sitting on the roof behind the ice dam, water can get through to the non water protected parts of a home: the sub roof, the insulation, sheet rock, the interior wall framing.

Water can interfere with light fixtures and mixing water with electricity can cause fires. Ice dams cause very costly damage because, following the path of least resistance, there is no place for the water to go from your roof other than down through all the floors of a home.

  • The Importance of Proper Ventilation and Insulation Ventilation in the soffit draws air up into the attic, lowering its overall temperature to something closer to the outside air.  This reduces the likelihood that the snow on it will melt. Sufficient insulation means that heat from your home isn’t working its way through the insulation to heat the attic in the first place.

If you have a stand alone unheated garage, you’ll be able to see this first hand.  The ambient temperature between the roof and gutters is virtually the same, so ice dams just don’t form.

Remember that pool of water that we said was sitting on your roof above the ice dam?  It’s high enough up your roof that it’s gotten in above your ice barrier. Water is now seeping through your shingles, your wooden sub roof, into your insulation and is now looking for the path of least resistance down through your home.

Gutter Guards and Ice dams must be monitored in very cold climates so that they don’t block a home’s ventilation system. Gases like carbon monoxide need to be vented so they don’t build up in the home.

Ice dam illustration for winter gutter guard

Dealing With Frozen Gutters

If gutters are frozen with a hood of ice that’s thick and quickly expands up the roof, consider hiring a professional to address the issue. They’ll steam away the ice, creating a clear path to the gutter.

  • Remedies You Think Work But DON’T Remedies like hammer and chisels will do more harm than good. And the fun one, rock salt in a tube of pantyhose, will only melt where the tube is, and won’t create a clear path for the water to follow.

Before gutters freeze in the first place, consider heating them, but best do this after other better remedies, like ventilation and insulation don’t solve the problem on their own.

Frozen Downspouts

Snow and ice building up inside the gutter will cause the downspout to freeze over. As the freeze thaw cycle begins, water will start flowing down the downspout, but think of your downspout as having all the same problems your gutters have: places in them for ice to gain leverage and build– that will happen every place a downspout has an elbow. It has a place for a really big icicle to form from all that dripping.

In the end, your downspouts may wind up as frozen as your gutters. In fact, most downspouts are just seamed metal tubes and the ice expansion inside can exhibit enough force over time that the downspout can split open.

What To Do? Simplest thing to do is NOTHING. Shocking right?

Keep the area where the downspout drains free from snow and ice buildup because too many remedies (like heat) can complicate the problem. Surprisingly enough, heat can cause chunks of ice to drop and get lodged in the downspout, unless it’s part of a whole gutter system solution.

The best thing to do when you have frozen downspouts is to leave them alone and wait until the downspouts thaws on its own.

Best Way to Prevent Icicles and Ice Dams

As mentioned at the start of this report, your best bet is to address ventilation and insulation.

  • If Winter is Already Upon You Take photographic notes of the exterior of the home with the problem to be used when the weather is better. Look for tell-tale signs that snow on your roof is not melting consistently. Where are ice dams or icicles forming and where are they not?
  • If You’re In The Season Start buy insulating your attic access with a cover and some weather stripping. Your likely pulling more heat into your attic from this one location than anywhere else.
  • Have forced Hot Air Heat? Make sure all of the HVAC ducts in your attic are insulated and sealed.

Tip 1: Replace your canned light fixtures in ceilings with an attic above them with air tight (IC), high energy efficiency LED lights which you can then add insulation over.

Tip 2: Use a fire safe rock wool insulation on chimneys to get a better seal between them and the building structure.

Winter Weather and Gutter Guards

Chapter Four: Gutter Guards and Winter Weather

From everything we’ve previously shared about gutters not working in the winter, you will not be surprised to hear that regular gutter guards don’t work either.

But don’t worry, we will give you all the knowledge you need to tackle these winter problems.

What Are Gutter Guards

Gutter guards are designed to keep debris out of a gutter. Gutter guards work best when they are exposed to rain and overall temperatures don’t regularly drop below freezing.

Because gutter guards are on the exterior parts of your house, you will face the same problem that all exterior parts deal with, they will freeze. Whether your gutter guards are plastic or metal, neither can avoid the winter problem of freezing over or ice, but not to worry because we will help you deal with it.

Note you can heat your gutter guards, but we have a few tips to take before you turn on your gutter guard blow drier.

Initial Takeaways About Gutter Guards

  • Expect icicles, because the ones that were forming off of your shingles are now forming on the front lip of your gutter.
  • Water flowing off the roof in the form of icicles is better than ice backing up your roof, which will trap melting water behind the ice. This melted water is what causes leaking roofs.

  • Metals gain and lose their heat faster than ice or water (sit a metal spoon in water you’re trying to heat and watch the spoon get hot before the water around it).

That means during the day, the metal of the gutter guard can heat up and melt whatever’s sitting on it faster than the snow or ice can melt itself.

It’s why you’ll see a gutter guard, particularly a pitched gutter guard, free of snow and ice before a gutter filled with snow and ice will melt.

  • Some gutters protected by guards tend not to have as much ice build up in the gutter itself, meaning less weight carried by the gutter system.
  • Gutter guards that sit flat over the gutter will trap debris in the warmer seasons but also will trap ice and can lead to the build up of ice dams. Gutter guards that are sloped like your roof (not a slight angle under 25 degrees but something very visibly angled), allow snow to slide forward, which is better for your roof.  If an ice dam should form, it’s likely to be much smaller because the ice has less leverage to creep up the roof.
  • Solid, or perforated metal covers will cover the gutter, are slower to defrost and can trap ice more easily.  This is particularly true of extruded metal systems.
  • The more air that go through the gutter guard, the more it will react as if there was no gutter guard installed.
  • Gutter guards that slip under the shingles and don’t lift the shingles offer better roof protection than ones that drop in flat over the gutter.
  • Heating a system come with added costs. Image holding a blow dryer to your gutters/gutter guards all day. Blow dryers are great for styling your hair, but leave it on the entire day and you will soon see your electric bill spike.

Gutter Guards and Wet Snow

Your geographic location plays a big role in deciding they type of snow you get. And yes, there are different types of snow.

The farther south you go you the more likely you are so see wet snow. This type of snow can also be seen as you creep north during the late “winter” months like March and April, as temperatures begin to rise, but winter refuses to leave.

Dry snow has a chance of blowing off the edge of your roof where the gutter guard sits, but wet snow collects where it lands, building as more snow falls.

Wet snow, as you can probably tell by the name, holds more water and causes more water to drip off your gutter guard. To build on that, snow from the rest of your roof will eventually melt and work its way down to your gutter and gutter guards. This causes the snow in your gutters guards to become more saturated with water, making the snow quite slushy.

  • What if your gutters are dripping with as little as an inch of snow? You may find your gutters dripping with as little as an inch of snow. If we could hazard a guess, the home is probably in a climate that does not require as high R-values in your attic insulation as other parts of the country, and heat escaping through your attic is causing the snow to melt faster. The weather is still cold, the last part of your roof is still probably quite cold and frozen.
  • Dealing With Slush If slush sits on a solid or frozen surface of a gutter guard, the system will not function the same way it would in the rain. That’s because the gutter guard itself is probably frozen as well. Water will drip off the system. This is particularly problematic for products that sit inside the gutter trough and aren’t installed over the gutter.
  • Take a Look at Where the Water is Dripping From If you see water dripping forward and off the gutter guard’s lip, you’re less likely to develop roof-based problems where water gets into your home from your roof or soffits.

If you see water dripping from behind the gutter or icicles forming between the gutter and fascia, the gutter guard isn’t providing sufficient protection and you’re potentially putting your home at risk for water damage.

The Right Kind of Gutter Guard

Gutter guards that meet the following criteria can offer added protection from water and ice moving behind the gutter:

(1) they have a predominantly solid edge in the back

(2) they slide under the roof shingles but do not attach to the roof.  They can also attach to the fascia right under the shingles and merely look like they have been installed under the shingles.

(3) they are flexible and the weight of the roof shingle is greater than the gutter guard material so that the shingle does not lift in any way. These gutter add extra metal to the roof and create additional flashing from water working behind the gutter.

Don’t Blame the Gutter Guard, Blame the Contractor

This is a bit of a bold statement to make, but the gutter guard has to work with the roof that’s there. And if the shingled roof wasn’t installed to manufacturer’s specifications, installing a gutter guard may bring to light issues that were easily hidden without the guard.

The winter weather is more likely to bring the problems to light as well. If your gutter guard contractor has a camera that takes pictures of heat loss, he may be quickly able to show you that poor ventilation and insulation have lead to the winter issues you’re dealing with.

Dealing with Daytime Melting

Even if it doesn’t fall wet and you don’t live in a very dry climate where snow can evaporate, it will eventually begin to melt and its consistency will change, particularly from where melting begins.

If heat is escaping from your attic, you’ll see open pockets of roof begin to show in the snow.  This is a clear sign you need more insulation.

It’s more common and preferable for roofs to melt from the outside edges inwards. When this happens, your gutter guards may be free of all snow and water run off from the snow melting higher on the roof will run down to the gutter guard. The system may be warm enough to accept water (probably because the temperature allows it) and you may hear the pleasant sound of water flowing down the downspouts.

That’s daylight hours only, everything will re-freeze at night.

There is just as likely a case that the gutter guard will still be frozen and water can’t get in it.  This doesn’t mean the system is failing, it means it’s dripping because it’s frozen.

Look for the same signs as slushy snow– is the water flowing forward and off the system or back behind it?

  • Where Is It More Likely To Occur? Daytime melt dripping is likely happening on ground that is frozen solid, at least for most of the winter. That means the extra water on the ground  will begin dripping.

Keep in mind water dripping off your roof or gutters is better than water refreezing on the system and creating an ice dam that backs up your roof. Drips are annoying, we know, because they can turn into icicles.

Gutter Guards and Preventing Icicles

We get it, you don’t want dripping.

Unfortunately, each side of a house faces a different direction and the amount of sun the roof gets may impact the amount of icicles that form on a gutter.  As we’ve also noted, a poorly insulated attic is going to radiate heat and cause snow to melt faster.

Southern exposures may get more icicles as snow can melt faster, particularly on dark roofs.  The more open and porous the materials used in your gutter guard, the less likely you’ll see icicles in the first place. Makes sense, right? Solid metal covers, or ones with openings punched into the solid metal will get more icicles because the surface over the gutter is frozen metal.

If you follow our logic that all dripping is not bad because water flowing forward and dripping can’t back up into your house, then our suggestion is to deal with the icicles that result from dripping only near the entrances you commonly use throughout the winter.

Keep in mind that for most of the winter when you’re dealing with icicles the ground around a home will be frozen solid.  Dripping water is going to react as if it’s hitting concrete. The farther south you go, and as the weather warms up as we move out of the season, dripping water from snow can better drain into the ground. The likelihood of lots of snow also falling in more southern climates should be limited, too.

Tip 1: If you can, knock icicles by entrances down regularly.  You’ll keep them from getting larger and you’ll be able to better determine what’s happening behind them.

Check the area: Is there a little layer of ice formed (1-2 inches) behind the icicle or is it growing larger on itself (4+ inches)?

How far back does it seem to go?  Larger and farther up the roof probably means the ice has the leverage to build on itself just like it would over an open gutter.

The bigger issue here is that the ice isn’t forming in the trough and then working it’s way up to the roof. Instead, the problem is that it’s starting sooner, right on the surface of the guard. This will happen if the system under it sits quite flat or the gutter guard changes direction from the roof pitch.

You’ll actually start icicles forming sooner than they would have if you had an open gutter.

Pitching the gutter guard with the roof means it’s harder for the ice to gain this leverage, thus smaller icicles tend to form and ice doesn’t start backing up the roof as much.

Tip 2: Want to give your gutter guard a head start on melting the snow that’s sitting on them? An extension pole and a pipe brush are a great way of pushing just enough snow off of the gutter guard to kick start the process and eliminate some of the icicles.  Be careful that you don’t bang up your gutters or the guards in the process.

Gutters Guards and Ice Dams

Ice dams form on gutter guards when lots of the issues we’ve already discussed come together: poor ventilation and insulation in the attic, the gutter guard creating a directional change in the roof where ice can gain a foothold and how solid or porous the product is.

Some solid metal “reverse curve” style gutter guards install under the second course of shingles and will cause ice dams to start higher up the roof line from the start.  A lot depends on the ice barrier under the roof shingles and how far up the roof it extends.

Ice dams that extend over this barrier will cause water to enter the home through the roofing materials. This is something that cannot be predicted unless the roofing is installed to code at the same time new gutters and guards are installed.

There are no inspections needed to install gutters or gutter guards and no third party will look for this issue for a homeowner.

Gutters that are Heated

Chapter Five: Heating Elements with
Roofs and Gutter Systems

As winter creeps in for another year you’re probably wondering whether or not getting a heated  gutter system is the best option for you. We are here to give you the best information to decide whether this investment is right for you, or if there are better options to help you keep your gutters working in tip top shape, while saving money.

Imagine you just finished decorating the interior of your home. Maybe you purchased a new couch, got new silk curtains and a new piano. You recently repainted your walls and had a local artist do a stunning faux finish to bring out the room. Your interior looks like it can be on the inside of a decorating magazine and you’re very proud of it.

But then an ordinary winter storm comes through your local neighborhood and that beautiful interior is destroyed. This very thing happened to a local family in New Jersey during a January snowfall.

Turns out the family had leaves stuck in their gutters and the snow fall caused water to backup. The low temperature froze the gutters, inhibiting the melting snow on the roof to flow down the downspouts, causing water to leak into the house. Their living room was flooded.

Don’t let this happen to you, consider whether heated gutter systems are right for you.

Heating a gutter is nothing new. Gutters have been the source of icicles, ice build up and ice dams for as long as they’ve been installed in cold climates. And unless you can starve them them of their fuel as we learned from Tim Carter, ice will form.

So, What Are Icicles’ Fuel?

Heat radiating out of your roof and snow and/or water – this is the combination that leads to ice dams. Starving a roof of this dangerous fuel can be hard, unless the space below is unheated, like a garage or shed. If you have a roof over heated space in a cold climate, you may have to resort to a heated gutter guard or gutter. Most people want a gutter guard primarily to eliminate gutter cleaning and other issues, but more and more of them want a heated gutter guard to offset one of the realities of gutter protection – that they can get icicles.

For years, we’ve been able to heat MasterShield simply by running heat cable on top of the hangers that the gutters are installed on. It works perfectly well at eliminating icicles. With the advent of Ice Shield, Mastershield’s heated gutter guard, we’ve applied heat directly to the gutter guard itself. Most important for the homeowner is that it doesn’t require changing the performance of the product just to incorporate a heating cable.

Look at any heated micromesh gutter guard – if you can see the area where the manufacturer has installed the heat cable, keep in mind that they’ve also reduced the micro mesh technology’s water receiving area. That’s not good for the performance of the gutter protection you’ll want working for the rest of the year.

Is a heated gutter guard really new technology?

Certainly one row of heat cable in a gutter guard is not unique. We researched the existing patents and applications as part of the due diligence of submitting our own applications, and couldn’t find one that used multiple rows of cables to heat the gutter guard. Just look at the products sold today and you’ll find only one row of heat cable in most of them.

We consider the fact that our installation methodology allows flexibility with the placement of the heat cable to be a benefit to the homeowner. The drawback of gutter guards with distinct heating channels (which is most of them) is that the cable must go into the channel. If a particular section of the gutter would benefit from extra heat, the heat placement in the gutter guard can’t be altered to make this accommodation.

Note also that gutter guard manufacturers are not in the business of manufacturing their own heat cable. We can all purchase the same cable with the same wattage from the same manufacturers and use it to heat our products. Do you get any more value out of one product than another if the heat cable is the same? Not necessarily, and the homeowner should consider the efficiency (of the heat disbursement) and effectiveness (of the gutter guard) before making a purchasing decision.

What our competitor was able to patent was how they cover a heat cable in a channel in a gutter guard. What they weren’t and haven’t been able to patent is the micro mesh technology they feature it with. When they describe a “316 stainless steel mesh over a support frame of anodized aluminum,” we believe that they accurately describe the features of Higginbotham technology, specifically as protected in US Patents 6,598,352, 7,191,564 and RE42,896. Higginbotham does not license this technology to our competitor; he does license it to the manufacturer of MasterShield.

We would suggest reciprocal courtesy toward Higginbotham and the multiple U.S. patents he holds on micro mesh technology by others in the industry. No one can legally sell a product that adds to or “improves” upon his designs if those “improvements” consist in whole or in part of what he’s patent protected. Implying that you’ve got the right to use it, if you don’t, may be construed as false and misleading.

What are Heated Gutter Systems?

Heating elements for roofs and gutters go by several different names like heat tape, heat tracing cable or just heat cable.

Heating cables are exterior grade electric cables which can be run on a roof, in roof valleys, in gutters and downspouts, anywhere some heat might help eliminate ice dams from forming.

The cables are turned on during winter storms, allowing snow in the immediate vicinity of the cable to melt. However, heating cables are not designed to melt all the snow off your roof, gutters or gutter guards, only help move water away from trouble zones where ice tends to form.

They primarily come in two formats, constant wattage and self regulating.

Constant Wattage: no matter the length of the cable, the wattage (or heat) it can produce remains the same.

Self Regulating:  this type of cable adjusts the wattage it produces for heat along the length of the cable depending on the amount of heat needed in a particular area. It has a resistance level in the cable that determines what the environment is calling for. When it increases, less heat is needed and when it decreases, more heat is needed, which creates the self regulating feature.

In a situation where self regulating tape is installed in gutter or on a roof, its usage will decline when there’s no snow to melt or if temperatures rise due to warmer weather.

Heat Tape and Cables

Some homeowners decide to use heating cables to deal with the development of ice and icicles. You’ll often see them snaked on a roof in a wave-like “W” pattern: running up on the shingles for a few feet (often lining up with the soffit below the roof) then turning and dropping down into the gutters where the pattern repeats.

The issue with heat tape is that they only run along the roof line. This means that any snow above the heat tape or not close enough to the heat tape will not get any heat or melt. Heat tape must also be snaked through the gutter system and down the downspout to avoid freezing in those areas.

Heat tape/cable require an electrician to install an exterior  GFCI outlet at the soffit which links to the inside of the house. The electrician than puts in a switch that a homeowner must turn on before a snow storm. If this is not done, then the cable must be run down the downspout and connected to an outlet at ground level and plugged in when needed.

The products designed for use under most circumstances are designed to create channels around the heating element that can create a path for water to flow- only while they’re on. This means that heat cables cannot melt pre-existing snow. Heat cables must be turned on before a storm to be most effective.

Turn them off and these channels can quickly refreeze with the melted water.

Keep reading to continue leaning about gutter guards and ice dams.

Do Heated Gutter Systems Prevent Ice Dams?

All gutters, whether they have a gutter guard or not, are susceptible to icicle and/or ice dam creation. This is an unavoidable truth. Even though a heated gutter system doesn’t prevent ice dams completely, it is an option that many homeowners find helpful to deal with various winter issues.

There is one important note we would like to add; many homeowners believe having a heated gutter system is the cheaper option to prevent ice dams. However, these homeowners fail to realize the root cause of their ice dam formation, poor insulation/ventilation.

Take a look at your insulation and ventilation to ensure that excess heat is not escaping through your roof. Adding more insulation/ventilation will save you money in the long run and help prevent ice dams.

Is a Heated Gutter System Right for Me?

The most important question to ask yourself when considering this option is to note where you live. Geographical location and average yearly climate plays a significant role in deciding whether heated gutter systems are right for you.

  • Look at Your Average Winter In many states, such as southern New England, winter varies from year to year. A homeowner in Connecticut can go from shoveling snow every other day to playing golf in February. It is easy to make this decision based on your most recent winter experience; however, it is best to take a look at the average winter when deciding whether a heated gutter system is best for you. Some homeowners might find this to be a great investment based on where they live, while another homeowner, who may not need the heating element as often, may question their decision.

  • Do You Live in the Snow Belt of the United States? If this is the case, a heated gutter system is a viable choice for you. The snow belt of the U.S. are the regions near the Great Lakes such as Buffalo, New York and Cleveland, Ohio. Since the average annual snowfall is consistently large in these areas , a heated gutter system may work well for you.
  • How Quickly Does Your Snow Melt? This is an important question to ask yourself, especially the farther south you live. Homeowners who live in colder climates may find that the snow on their roofs naturally melt in just a few days.
  • Does Your Attic have Sufficient Insulation? Ask yourself when was the last time you checked the insulation in your attic. Homes built before the 1980s commonly need more insulation. The lack of proper insulation is a significant factor in the creation of ice dams and icicles.

Homes that lack proper insulation allow heat to escape through the roof. This causes snow to melt faster during the day and refreeze at night. This can cause serious problems if the cycle continues over the course of a few days.  We’re a very big proponent of starting here to address the issue.

While heating elements may seem like the best option at first glance, take a look at your attics insulation first. Getting proper insulation can also lower your heating bills, and who doesn’t want to save on utilities?

  • Cleaning a Gutter with Heating Elements It is important to note that cleaning gutters become more complicated and tedious when heating elements are installed. If cleaning your gutters is already an annoying chore, maybe including a heating element is not the best option for you.

Heated Gutter System Cost and Performance

Did you make your decision to incorporate a heating element to your gutter or still trying to decide? Here are some important notes to take into account.

Heated gutter systems vary greatly in price. Elements can cause that average home anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000, not accounting for the leaf guard cost.

Many times these systems come with sensors that automatically turn on and off depending on the temperature outside. They also test for humidity so they are supposed to work only when water is present.  That means you only have to turn it on once and not think about it again. As someone who’s witnessed sprinklers with these sensors running in the rain, their quality is a bit suspect. You also won’t get an obvious sign (like the sprinkler) that they’re on when they shouldn’t be– until your electric bill arrives.

This investment is a more expensive both in installation cost and electricity consumption, so be sure this is an investment you are prepared to make. Despite their higher price tag, heated gutter systems offer a high convenience factor.

What Benefits Do You Get From Installing Gutter Heaters?

Are you still deciding whether or not heating your gutters is a good choice for you? Well here are some benefits that come from doing just that.

  • Safety: With heated gutters you can avoid the potential ice rinks that happen from dripping water. As temperatures rise in the day or as the season ends, melting snow can drip off your roof but refreeze on your front walk, deck or driveway. Ice rinks are fun when you are in your local rec center, but that’s not the case when dealing with your driveway or home exterior.  Heated gutters can help you prevent this potential threat.
  • Investment Protection: Water damage is a huge threat to investment when you have clogged or defrosting gutters. Costs to repair sheetrock, insulation, floors, siding and other home repairs can quickly add up. Gutter heaters allow melting snow on your roof to run along the intended path and avoid potential damages.
  • Money Saver: Gutter heaters can help homes avoid unexpected problems and expenses during winter months. You may see that installing gutter heaters is a less expensive than your insurance deductible.
  • Convenience: The beauty of gutter heaters is that you simply flip a switch and the job is done. Gutter heaters allow you to sleep soundly or work peacefully and not have to worry about your local snowfall. You know that your gutters are doing their job.

Ice Shield by MasterShield

Installing a gutter guard system is the best way to prevent clogged gutters year round; but just like your ordinary gutter, gutter guards are still susceptible to freezing and icicle formation during frigid winter storms. However, there is a product where you can get the best of both worlds.

Ice Shield by MasterShield Gutter Protection

With Ice Shield you get all the protection from a micro-mesh gutter guard while having the heating element that prevents icicles and ice dams.

Ice Shield Features

Ice Shield Features include:

  • 100% Higginbotham technology with MasterShield’s patent-pending approach to heating gutter guards.
  • Adaptable to have only one continuous cable be used outside the gutter guard. Cables can be used for roof valleys, around skylights, and in any troublesome area.
  • Heating occurs under our filter allowing more heat where you want it instead of heat dispersed through solid metal.
  • No loss of water receiving area of the product (for all the other seasons) when adding a heating element.
  • It can be heated retroactively, meaning if heat isn’t in your budget or you think you won’t need it when you initially install MasterShield, it can be added in at a later date.  This allows you to determine which sections are needed and which are not.

Ice Shield Benefits

There are several benefits to installing Ice Shield by MasterShield:

  • Adaptability MasterShield heat cable is flexible allowing extra heat to be added to a single panel or more if necessary. Trouble areas, like the area under a skylight, tend to lose more heat than other areas of your roof, but our heating cable provide sufficient protection from icicle formation and keep your gutter guards functioning properly.
  • Affordable Ice Shield is designed to give you the biggest bang for your buck while fitting various budgets. Heating requirements vary depending on climate meaning that may differ based on geographical locations. Systems are tailored to a homeowner’s needs.
  • Flexible Installation Time MasterShield heating cables can be retrofit to previously installed gutter guards at any time.

The Better Heating Methodology

It is important to not that ice dams are not completely eliminated by the introduction of a heated gutter guard. This is because ice dams can form on other parts of the roof which the gutter guard cannot reach. However, this product offers a solution for this issue. Ice Shield provides maximum heat disbursement.

  • Traditional Heating Methodologies Involve installing a heating cable in an enclosed channel. This method requires heat to pass through solid metal before the heat makes contact with the snow or ice.

To explain this methodology think of a stove. If you were to turn on one of your burners and hold your hand over the flame, your hand will quickly feel the heat coming from the flame. Now consider placing a metal skillet over the flame and hold your hand over the skillet. You’ll notice that it takes a lot more time for the heat to reach your hand, that is because the heat has been redirected to the skillet. A similar situation occurs with a traditional heat cable, less initial heat reaches the snow.

  • Our Trick Since MasterShield gutter guards are made with a micro-mesh filter, heat from our heating cables are able to escape through the wire mesh and allow more heat to reach the snow at a quicker rate. Ice Shield allows for maximum heat dispersion and guarantee the best results.

Does Ice Shield Work in the Summer?

Absolutely, yes! The beauty of Ice Shield is that you know your gutter guard will work year round. With Master Shield’s  proven technology, you’ll get the best gutter protection with their micro mesh screen, while getting the heating component that many homeowners seek and need. Big winter storm on the way, simply turn on the heating cable and you’re all set. Already have Master Shield on your house, call your installer and they’ll gladly add the heating cable to your existing gutter guard.

Avoid this with Ice Shield by MasterShield

Chapter Six: Christmas Lights and Gutters

During the holidays, homeowners want to proudly display their beautifully decorated homes with their numerous sting of lights and snazzy Santa Claus and reindeer decorations. Yet, no homeowner wants to compromise their roof or gutters integrity and risk potential repair costs. We have all the information you need to maintain your Christmas traditions without risking harm to your roof and gutters.

Gutter Covers and Christmas Lights

Many of you are probably wondering where is the best place to hang your Christmas lights. We have two recommendations on where to hang your twinkling lights:

  • Roof Shingles Instead of hanging christmas lights directly on gutters, hang them on the last row of your roof shingles. If you already have a gutter cover installed, you shouldn’t have to make many changes to add christmas lights without greatly disturbing your shingles. Just ensure, that your shingles don’t slip into your gutters.

Make sure to take care of any areas where you have to connect one string of lights to another to minimize potential water damage.

  • Fascia Board Homes built east of the Rockies usually have a section of their fascia board showing below their gutters. This is a great place to attach light hooks to string your Christmas lights. During the day time, you may think that this area might be too low to string your lights, but once night hits your eyes won’t be able to tell the difference. This way, you’ll be able to string your twinkling lights while keep the integrity of your roof and gutters maintained. Those living west of the Rockies should consider stringing their lights from the bottom of your home’s rafter tail. Using the equivalent of a cup hook will allow your lights to extend below the bottom of your gutter.

Christmas Decorations and Roof Safety

To ensure that you are able to have a beautifully decorated house while maintaining the integrity of the house and roof, we have a few safety tips and recommendations to offer.

  • Don’t Compromise Your Roof’s Integrity When putting up Christmas decoration on your roof, be sure to work carefully and minimize the amount you walk on your shingles. Walking on your roof can cause roof damage and be a potential safety hazard.
  • If You Can’t Reach It, Leave It Keep lighting designs to the most accessible areas of your roof to minimize safety risks.
  • Don’t Leave Holes Avoid hammering nails or adding stables through the roof.
  • Strap Decorations Down Make sure larger decorations like wooden sleighs or plastic reindeers are tied securely to your roof to avoid potential safety risks. Again, avoid nailing decorations to your roofs since holes can cause structural damage and lead to expensive repairs in the future.
  • Check Lights First Remember to check that your lights are working properly before stringing them across your roof. Malfunctioning holiday lights can be a potential fire hazard.
  • Avoid Overloading Power Plugs Ensure you are not overloading your electrical circuits while putting up your holiday decorations.
  • Use Proper Ladder Safety When working on ladders, always make sure to use caution and take proper precautions when climbing.

Christmas Lights on Gutter Guards

Do Christmas lights pose a threat to your gutter guards? The answer is “Absolutely not”.

String your lights proudly and know that your gutter guards will be fine, as long as they are strung up in the right way.

Remember not to put any holes or staples into your gutter guards since that can ruin the effectiveness of your gutter guards and void your product warranty. Additionally, avoid forcing any traditional gutter clips on to your gutters or gutter guards since that too can damage them and void your warranty.

Before stringing up your lights, keep in mind that gutter clips will create a natural path that allows water to flow through, potentially creating more dripping and icicle formation.

If you want to keep your holiday tradition of stringing up lights, the best thing to do is plan ahead.Homeowners who have Master Shield Gutter Guard already installed, and are interested in hanging Christmas lights, should contact their installer to create a custom clip which goes under the drip lip.

Homeowners considering adding a gutter cover and Christmas lights should let your installer know beforehand of your intentions to avoid voiding your product warranty by installing traditional gutter clips that can damage the product.

Decorate your house proudly and know that your gutter guards will be fine.

Any there you have it, everything you need to get your gutters through winter.

Make sure to check out our other ultimate guides.

Learn how to deal with gutters and gutter guards in the fallspring and summer.