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Ask Angie’s List: What can I do about frozen gutters?

December 22, 2018

Frozen gutters and downspouts may seem like an inevitable effect of winter weather. But those heavy icicles hanging from your rooftop after a heavy snow or cold snap need not be a foregone conclusion. You can take steps to prevent them - and should - because they can damage gutters and lead to ice and water backing up on the roof and forming even more damaging ice dams. The weight of ice can sag the gutter or bring it down entirely.

First off, resist the urge to go after the ice with a hammer or axe. Professional gutter cleaners say they find incredible damage to gutters every spring, and chopping away at ice ends up doing more harm than good.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT FROZEN GUTTERS

Once your gutters are already frozen solid, your best bet might be to wait it out.

Thawing out gutters tends to be expensive and short-lived. You’ll end up paying hundreds of dollars to get a steam system or hot water application to clear the ice, but it’s not a permanent fix. You might see the same spot frozen just a few days later.

To permanently prevent a future freeze, you can install a heating panel system in which wires or heating elements run the length of the gutter and downspout to warm the metal and prevent ice buildup. This work will typically cost between $500 and $1,000, depending on the size of your home.

Professionals advise against using salt or other chemicals to melt snow off the roof or gutters. These are corrosive chemicals that can damage the roof, and the runoff is harmful to grass and plants.

If the problem has reached underneath the shingles and water has begun leaking into the house, call a professional immediately.

HOW TO PREVENT FROZEN GUTTERS

The best way to unfreeze gutters is to keep them from getting frozen in the first place. Hire a professional gutter cleaner every six months to clear out debris that leads to water buildup. Debris in the downspout blocks up the water, gets frozen itself, and then adds unnecessary weight. A clear downspout will allow water to fall right through.

Also, in the off season, consider hiring a contractor to check your roof and attic insulation and ventilation. An overly warm attic runs a serious risk of causing rooftop ice dams and frozen gutters.

When working to prevent this, keep in mind that some freezing is inevitable. But by taking these steps, you can make it happen less frequently and cause less damage when it does.

None of these are DIY jobs. Working on the roof and with ladders is dangerous work under the best of circumstances. And frozen weather and ice-caked roofs are far from ideal. Whoever you hire, whether to clear out the ice or keep it from coming back, make sure they carry the proper licensing required in your jurisdiction and verify that they have liability and workers compensation insurance. If they don’t carry the proper insurance, you could be held liable for injury to workers on your property.

Paul F. P. Pogue is a reporter for Angie’s List, a trusted provider of local consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services from top-rated providers. Visit AngiesList.com.

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