Got a winter gutter question.

I went out of town for a few days when we got a snowstorm and a couple of really frigid nights. Now I have big ice blocks filling all my north-facing gutters, with water dripping off one and turning part of the front entryway into an ice rink. I just cleaned the gutters a few weeks ago, and the gutters and downspouts were all clear. Haven't had many leaves fall since I cleaned them out. It's not a drainage problem, as the downspouts don't seem to be filled with ice. What caused this, and how can I avoid it in the future?
  9 answers
  • You have ice damming. I bet your home costs a bunch to heat and cool as well. What is happening is warm air is escaping out of your living area into the attic. This warms up the snow on the roof and melts it to it gets just past the front of the house. At that point any air that is coming in along the soffits is re-freezing the melted snow creating your ice dam. The correct and proper method to fix this is to pull back the insulation along the edges of the house and air seal either by using slow rise spray foam along the top plates and where ever wires are coming out. Or using caulk to do the same. You want to prevent any air flow, and yes there is air flow there from coming out of the wall cavity up to the roof line. Then using foam baffles that can be purchased at your big box stores. Staple them to the roof allowing them to hang just a bit past the outside edge of the wall. Once that is done you need to insulate with as much insulation you can from the ceiling to the bottom of these new foam baffle boards. Once that is done, you need to find all the air leaks in the attic. Pulling up insulation where ever there is a wall located below. This will expose the top plates of all the walls. Seal them even if they look like there is no way for air to escape, it is. If you look carefully for any dark spots on the insulation this is a sign that air is moving through the insulation in that area. All this air lowers the ability of the insulation to stop the cold or warm air in your case from escaping into the attic. The result will be much improved heating and summer cooling. And a colder roof which will prevent any snow from melting from underneath. The other method is to purchase snow melt tapes. Fasten them to roof and gutter to melt the snow and ice. Cheep method of doing this, but you not only end up spending even more on energy you end up not really fixing why it happened in the first place.
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Dec 13, 2011
    Steve, I have an article on this coming out later on networx...get some pics for me.
  • Charles R Charles R on Dec 13, 2011
    Warm weather State here piping in...: I read in a magazine about a company that has a "heater" device that lays inside the Gutter, that prevents those ice dams. Similarly I saw a heated ice blanket device that you attach above the gutters, to help melt the snow and ice. Plugs into 120 VAC. Anyway, I just throwing that out there.
  • Exactly Charles, those devices are a stop gap measure for something that is wrong with the home. Although lots of people use them, if they fix their insulation then end up saving money on heating bills, and do not ruin the look of the house with those cables being installed. It may cost a bit more, and take a bit more time to correct. But doing it the correct way always works. Besides if they were ever to sell their home and people saw those cables on roof, they would know right away that there has been issues with ice dams and water backups in the home. Both negative sale points when your putting your home on the market.
  • 3po3 3po3 on Dec 13, 2011
    Thanks, folks, for all your answers. I knew about the ice dam problem, but I was convinced that wasn't my problem for a few reasons: 1. We have been here through three winters and that has never happened. 2. The snow didn't seem to have melted. 3. The snowmelt and the ice buildup were the same above the unconditioned garage as the conditioned home space. 4. There is only a couple of inches of ice on the actual soffits. However, today, after a couple of days above freezing, I have finally noticed more melting over the conditioned space. Our heating bills really aren't too bad. I thought our attic was adequately insulated (barely), and I hadn't gotten around to adding more insulation (even though I am constantly telling people here on Hometalk to do so). This is definitely motivation to take care of this. Thanks guys.
  • The key answer was melting faster over the heated areas. Bingo! Now your on to it. Most homes that have air leakage out of attic from basement mud sill areas that get them sealed to keep the air from flowing up and out can save on an average of 20% on their utility bills over all. With older homes even more so. Its not uncommon for a home that is around 50 years old to see savings in the 40% range once done.
  • 3po3 3po3 on Dec 13, 2011
    I'm on it. I thought the melting was the key, and I hadn't noticed more melting over the conditioned space, but that is definitely noticeable now. Thanks Woodbridge for all your advice and expertise. I will get on this soon.
  • Karen M Karen M on Dec 14, 2011
    as one who had an entire 2nd floor of victorian RUINED from ice damming (and a ceiling collapse in one room as well!!!) do not wait one more minute to fix the problem. beg borrow or steal whatever you need to do, but get it corrected asap!!!! god bless you, that's a terrible problem!!!
  • KMS Woodworks KMS Woodworks on Dec 14, 2011
    As Charles mentioned above, the electric melting devices treat the "symptoms" not the "cause" . As is standard medical practice you want to get to the root of the problem. In my first winter here in my home we had serious icicles form off of our north face roof, I added 5" of rigid foam to the great room...problem solved.
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