Preventing Frozen Gutters and Downspouts

One of the more frustrating winter weather challenges is frozen gutters and downspouts.

Winter can be taxing for homeowners in Pittsburgh and surrounding communities, particularly in climates such as the Pittsburgh region, where below-freezing temperatures are common in the winter months. The destructive effects of winter weather on your home can exhibit themselves in countless ways. Frozen gutters and downspouts create a multitude of potentially long-lasting consequences.

The weight of ice in a gutter can pull the gutter away from the house, bringing about lasting damage to your roof and siding. Icy wind can bring down trees and branches, freezing temperatures can cause pipes to freeze, and snow on the ground near your home for lengthy periods can even result in mold and rot problems.

Why are frozen gutters and downspouts such a problem?

While frozen gutters may seem like no huge deal, they are truly very destructive. Over time, ice dams can expand and cause melted water to overflow onto your roof. If water gets underneath your shingles, it can eventually make its way into your home’s interior, which can ruin ceilings and walls.

If water overflows adjacent to your home’s foundation, it can trigger structural damage that could bring about thousands of dollars in repair costs. When a weighty dam breaks free from the home, it can rip away shingles and gutters. Ice dams can also damage underlying shrubs, cars, and windowsills while placing people and animals in danger.

Downspouts are among the most critical components of a home’s gutter system. They guard your home against foundation damage, soil erosion, and other water-related problems.

With clogged downspouts, water isn’t able to escape appropriately. During winter months, water that has remained in your downspouts can freeze. The elbows of downspouts are especially susceptible to ice buildup since it’s a spots where standing water is likely to settle. Your downspouts can also freeze if their bottom mouth is obstructed by snow.

In short, if you live in Pittsburgh and surrounding communities, frozen gutters and downspouts can be more than simply an annoyance; they’re a downright pain in the neck to alleviate.

The professionals at Schultheis Brothers, a leading HVAC and roofing contractor in Pittsburgh, is to keep in mind that the best way to prevent the damage caused by ice in gutters and downspouts is to keep them from icing up and freezing in the first place.

First, let’s look at how to approach frozen gutters

Icicles may look pretty, but they can significantly damage your home, especially when they form on your gutters. Water expands when it freezes, which can cause your gutters to warp and crack under the added pressure.

Gutters blocked with ice can also form ice dams on your roof, which can produce severe damage. Melting snow that isn’t draining correctly can also puddle in the foundation area, leading to leaks in your basement and a host of other concerns.

One rather ugly situation we heard about took place a few winters ago. A homeowner had to cope with water coming into the home due to ice buildup in the gutters. As he watched the maintenance workers stand on the roof and ladders, chipping away at the ice, he felt the relief of not having to be the one out there in the cold.

Regrettably, that relief swiftly turned to horror as he watched those same men accidentally rip apart the gutters while attempting to remove the ice. Has that ever happened to you or a neighbor? Do you wish there was a better, safer way to deal with this problem?

Keep gutters clean to Prevent Frozen Gutters and Downspouts

More than any other means, the best way to prevent ice from clogging your gutters is to stop it from occurring in the first place. As part of your home’s routine maintenance, ensure that you keep your gutters clear of leaves and other debris. Dirty gutters worsen ice dams since the water flow is blocked and, hence, more apt to freeze. Installing gutter guards can also help prevent debris buildup in the first place.

Check your gutters for leaks, gaps, holes, and rust

In addition to consistent cleaning, you need to have your gutters checked routinely by a professional. They will look for indications of rust, leaks, or holes. These issues are more liable to arise at the joints of the system, on the welded edges of the metal. If your gutters are severely damaged, rusty, or deteriorating, it may well be time to consider replacing them.

Make sure your gutters are properly sloped

The correct gutter slope lets the water drain through your gutters into your downspout. If your gutters are too flat, however, the water can sit there rather than drain through. If you allow water to stand still in the gutters overnight, you run the chance of the water freezing and forming ice. So, be sure to measure your gutters and adjust the slope if needed. This way, you can avoid iced gutters caused by poor drainage.

Clear snow from your roof

You can purchase a specially designed roof rake to remove snow from your rooftop before it melts into your gutters. This can be quite helpful after a heavy Pittsburgh snowfall since it eases the overall load on your roofing while also safeguarding your gutters.

Attic insulation

Another method to help avoid ice dams is ensuring your attic is well-insulated and sealed. If you have heat escaping from a particular spot in your attic, it can produce the perfect conditions for ice dams to form. The escaping heat will cause snow and ice to melt off the roof and journey down the roof right into your gutters, where it can change back into ice.

Although it can be tricky to pinpoint these spots, the reward is certainly worth it. Not only can you ward off ice dams, but you might also reduce your home’s energy costs.

Install heating elements

Another possibility is to purchase heating elements. This is an easy and efficient job that will stop your gutters from freezing if regularly used. It entails installing a heating panel system and running heating elements adjacent to your gutters. Normally, this is not a huge cost, but the price depends on the size of your house. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that it will also save you money on any future repairs.

Now, let’s review some hints on how to prevent frozen downspouts

Install heat tape

You can fasten heating tape to your downspouts to help preserve an above-freezing temperature inside them. This heating tape is commonly employed to wrap plumbing to keep pipes from freezing; however, it can be attached to downspouts as well. Heating tape with a thermostat control will turn on by design to avoid ice blockages.

You can also run a heating cable inside the downspout as an alternate technique.

Clean your downspouts

What’s frequently helpful for the gutters is helpful for the downspouts. Leaves, twigs, pine needles, and other debris can create blockages in your downspouts. So, be sure they don’t have any clogs by routinely examining them visually from the top, probing with a tool handle, or disconnecting them from the gutters and completely cleaning them before reinstalling.

Clear away piled snow

Snow piled up at the bottom of the downspout can also form an obstruction, as any water that does try to exit can become trapped and freeze. Once the snow begins to fall, be sure the lower exit points of your downspouts are cleared. Simply add this to your shoveling or snow-blowing regimen.

So, your gutters and downspouts are already frozen!

Okay, your gutters and/or downspouts have already frozen. Now, what should you do? Here are some tips.

Thaw frozen downspouts

Only when it’s safe to do so, and you’re comfy with getting on a ladder, pour warm water into the top of the opening of the downspout. You might also attach a hose to a hot water tap and utilize it to thaw the ice. The warm water may be sufficient to thaw minimal ice buildup in your downspout or rid blockages produced by debris.

A safer option is to run hot water down the exterior of the downspout near where the ice buildup occurred. If you have metal downspouts, the heat may be enough to produce a way for the water to flow through the downspout again.

Clear away any snow buildup

Some professionals suggest that homeowners should leave their frozen downspouts alone. It may be better to wait until the ice melts if the temperatures in the area are expected to go up soon. If the source of the problem is snow buildup around the bottom of the downspout, removing snow from the area will probably do the trick.

Don’t use force

Never attempt to use heavy force if the water isn’t enough to thaw your downspouts. Under no circumstances do a hammer or a baseball bat attempt to break up the internal ice because it will do more harm than good.

Rather, you can use a consumer-grade heat gun or hair dryer to heat the downspout’s exterior near the ice blockage. Begin from close to the bottom of the downspout, working your way up. Remember that you never directly heat the downspout through the bottom opening. You could be at risk of electrocution if the ice suddenly breaks and water and ice come rushing through the opening.

Safely removing ice dams

There’s a slew of suggestions available on the web concerning how to safely get rid of ice dams once they have formed in your gutters and roof.

Almost all the experts concur that cautiously removing existing snow from the roof with a roof rake or comparable device is a first step.

From there, variants on a theme are suggested to remove the ice dam. First, you might want to mull over thawing the ice dam by using calcium chloride to assist in the melting of the ice. You should, however, steer clear of direct contact by filling stockings or long socks with the mixture and placing the socks on top of the ice-clogged gutter.

One more approach is to use hot water to melt the ice. While not a long-term answer, this choice can produce quick results. For minor blockages, use a ladder to climb up alongside your gutter and pour hot water the entire length of the gutters.

For larger ice dams, you’ll need to find a way to run a continuous stream of hot water through your gutters. This can present a substantial challenge for most homeowners, so you’re considerably better off hiring professionals to thaw your gutters for bigger blockages.

Call a pro to Prevent Frozen Gutters and Downspouts

The truth is, while most of these methods can be effective, calling for professional gutter help is always the best option for preventing damage to your house and yourself.

Bottom line: Winter weather can bring with it a slew of headaches, but with appropriate prevention and care, you can take frozen gutter and downspouts off your list of winter to-dos.

Why not give the Pittsburgh-based Schultheis Brothers Heating, Cooling & Roofing professionals a call? As HVAC and roofing contractors, they can offer assistance with any winter-related issues involving your gutters and downspouts.