Ice Damming & Gutters

A worker clears ice dams on a roof

We’re happy to present the dirty little secrets you’ll need to know and what you need to do to prevent unnecessary damage and avoid the heartache and headache of a potential water damage nightmare when you get ice damming in your gutters. Our roofing experts have seen it all, and they know what to look out for.

When winter’s disasters strike, too often it hits close to home. Bitter cold, harsh winds, ice and snow can wreck havoc  at the worst times!

So what do you need to do to stay ahead of the curve and avoid disaster?

Jim Allen, co-owner and water intrusion expert of TermiGuard Services & Fenwick, has a few important things to note about your gutters’ winter role and ice damming:

Gutters are designed to capture roof water run-off to protect our exterior covering materials and to keep water away from our foundation walls. But all too often gutters, and neglected gutters can and do cause a wide variety of water damage issues – ice damming being one of them. For some reason, we all seem to forget about them at winter’s onset.

Winter gutter issues

  • Frozen debris – never cleaned out at the end of Fall
  • Clogged drains – debris build-up over time
  • Underground drains clogged – and frozen!
  • Rain water, snow melt overflowing the gutter – from all the above
  • Sagging gutters or gutters pulling away  from the structure – ice damming

I sat down with Jim to talk further about gutters during the winter months as well as ice damming and the actions you should take now to stay ahead of the game.

An Interview on Ice Damming

Jess: Jim, what is the biggest problem with gutters and what’s the easiest fix?
Jim: Well, if you’re like me, you might procrastinate and neglect some of the household chores that are vital to do Let’s face it: I don’t know anyone who likes cleaning gutters! I mean, it’s dirty, messy, time-consuming and, well, dangerous. Ladders and gutter cleaning cause the majority of homeowner injuries. But to answer your question, keeping the gutter free of debris is #1. Ya gotta clean them, and the money that can save is big!

But if you do procrastinate or are afraid of heights, I recommend hiring a service company to clean them. From $60 – $120 is all it will cost. Do it at least 2 times a year. Although I prefer 4: twice in the spring and twice in the fall.

Jess: That all seems pretty obvious, but what should homeowners do if cleaning was forgotten?
Jim: If the gutters aren’t frozen with water get them cleaned. If they are frozen, see if the outlet can be unclogged. If they are frozen and you can’t unclog them, get them cleaned as soon as there is a thaw. The last thing you need is a flooded basement or crawl space. Besides the damage to building materials and personal stored items, mold can colonize in these areas pretty quickly, 48 hours or less.

Jess: What about the downspouts? Is there anything we need to know about them?
Jim: Great question and this is probably the 2nd thing you should check. Take a look at the discharge end of the downspout. Is it clogged with debris? Is it frozen with a block of ice? Is it tied into an underground drain and is the underground drain clogged? All of these issues should be warning signs and will certainly cause some problems. If you can do the maintenance to make these corrections, do so ASAP. If not, hire a professional. Underground drains typically require a little more skill and time than most homeowners have.

Jess: What if you think the underground drains are clogged, what then?
Jim: Disconnect the downspout from the drain and install a temporary one on top of the ground. Secure it so it doesn’t dislodge and then make your permanent repairs to the underground drain in the Spring.

Jess: Is there anything else to add?
Jim: If you know you have clogged gutters, and they’re frozen, and the temperatures don’t allow for a thaw to clean them, make sure your soil grade in those areas pitches away from the house. 1″ drop over 12″ of run is ideal for the first 4-6′. If you add soil, be sure to tamp it firmly.

Jess: Ok great, I have one more question. In your interview with Channel 3, Carol Erickson asked you what the ice was at the roof’s edge, you called it ice damming. Is that a gutter issue?
Jim: I’m glad you asked that. It’s not a gutter issue per say but it can and will lead to them.

You see, ice damming in gutters is a result of a poorly ventilated attic and most likely an under insulated attic. As heat rises in our home and makes its way into the attic, it causes the snow pack to melt too quickly. As that snow melt (water) hits the eve of the roof it then refreezes causing a back-up of ice and water. This puts added weight on the gutter. This extra weight makes the gutter pull away from the structure – your roof.

Jess: Well after hearing that I’m going to have to ask another question. How is this prevented? It sounds like something we should all be concerned about.
Jim: I kinda gave you the clues just a bit ago – better ventilation and a properly insulated attic are the keys. We want the least amount of heat loss as possible going from our living areas into our attics. Ideally, we want the attic cavity the same temperature as the outdoors but that’s not practical. That’s where the ventilation helps. Ways to achieve good ventilation (to get ride of that warm moist air) are by installing vents in our exterior soffits, vent baffles between our rafters that extend into the eves, and to have ridge venting along the entire length of our roof.

Jess: That sounds pricey?
Jim: It all depends on how you look at it. Water entering you home, damaging insulation, drywall and causing mold growth can be a very expensive alternative. And we don’t really benefit from those types of repairs, do we? The number one reason we see so much mold in attics is poor ventilation and ice damming issues. And the worst area for this to happen is on the north facing side of your attic. Those cold, north winter winds just exacerbate the problem.

Jess: Well then, I think personally I would take the precautions and preventative measures now, rather than have all of those problems and have to fork out potentially thousands in repair and mold treatment and remediation costs later down the road!

Thanks a lot Jim for taking the time to talk about this topic in detail! I really appreciate it and I’m sure the folks out there will too! You may have just saved them a bundle!

If you’re having any concerns about your gutters, think that you have clogged gutters, or suspect to have possible water intrusion issues from clogged or frozen gutters, give TermiGuard Services & Fenwick a call TODAY.