Winterize Your Gutters to Protect Them From Snow and Ice

Freezing Snow on Gutter

Gutters are designed to direct water from your roof to prevent damage to your home’s foundation. But what if that water is frozen?

Snow and ice can cause major problems for your gutters and your home. That’s why it’s important to winterize your gutters to protect them from snow and ice. Here is a handy guide to protecting your gutters from Old Man Winter.

Table of Contents

Why You Should Winterize Your Gutters?

Most of us love a winter wonderland, but wintry conditions are not quite as pleasant for your roof or your gutters. So, before gearing up for a visit from Jack Frost, you should take some time to winterize your gutters. 

But what, exactly, can happen to your gutter system during the winter? As it turns out, the ice and snow that accumulates on your roof can cause a lot of damage. For example:

  • If any water becomes trapped in your gutters because of a clogged downspout, it will freeze in cold temperatures. This ice will only exacerbate the clog, preventing water from melted snow and rain from draining properly. Eventually, any water that doesn’t freeze will overflow your gutters, causing water damage to your home’s foundation and your roof.
  • Even if the gutter doesn’t overflow, you could face severe damage to your gutters. Water expands in volume by approximately 9-10% when it freezes. If you’ve ever left a bottle of liquid in your freezer for too long, you know what happens. Just picture a cracked downspout instead of shattered glass.
  • Another concern for your gutters and your roof is the possibility of fallen tree branches. If you have a tree on your property, snow and ice will gather on the branches and weigh them down. If they snap off under that weight, they could smash your gutters or roof.
  • In addition, frozen water puts a lot of weight on your gutters and their connection to the fascia boards under your roof. The excess weight can cause your gutters to loosen, sag, pull away from your roof, or even detach entirely in extreme cases. 
  • Finally, winter storms bring high winds, frozen rain, and hail on occasion. They can batter your gutters with flying debris and ice, or loosen them in high wind.
  • Finally, there is safety to consider. Falling icicles, snow, or ice sheets can easily injure someone. Gutter that collapse under the weight of frozen water won’t go down gently, either. By winterizing your gutters, you can avoid damage to your home and avoid mishaps that could injure anyone around your home. 

What is an Ice Dam?

Snow can pile up on your roof, but heat from your home rises and melts the snow. The melted snow then runs down to the edge of the roof, where it refreezes and forms a solid block of ice known as an ice dam. Just like a regular dam, ice dams block the flow of water. When snow melt becomes trapped on your roof by an ice dam, it pools and freezes in large chunks. 

Ice dams can form in or around gutters following a snow storm. When they eventually melt or weaken, you could experience an avalanche of ice and snow.

Another problem? Ice dams will reroute snow melt entirely, directing it under your shingles and fascia boards. Water in these hard-to-reach areas causes rot and mold. 

How Winter Affects Different Kinds of Gutters

Gutters come in a variety of materials, and each material reacts differently to cold and ice. It’s important to understand these so you can address them accordingly. 

Vinyl 

Vinyl is the least expensive gutter material, and it’s easy to install. However, it’s also the weakest. Vinyl gutters can’t handle a lot of excess weight and are prone to breaking under pressure. And because vinyl contracts in the cold, it can become even weaker in the winter

Vinyl gutters are always sectional, meaning they come in pieces and are assembled during installation. The problem is that the seams present more weak points in the gutter, which weaken even further in the cold. If water gets into the weakened seams and freezes, the entire structure of the gutter could fail. 

Aluminum 

Gutters made from aluminum are more common than vinyl gutters due to aluminum being stronger and seamless with fewer weak points. Aluminum can also resist rust very effectively, though it needs to be treated to hold up against corrosion. However, you will require thick aluminum to hold the extra weight of snow. And while aluminum is stronger,falling branches will still dent it.

Steel

Steel gutters are some of the most durable gutters available. They withstand various impacts and wind, and steel gutters resist corrosion better than aluminum when they are galvanized. Sure, they can rust, but that would take 10-15 years with constant exposure to moisture. 

The problem with steel gutters is that they are heavier than vinyl or aluminum. It takes less snow to weigh them down or cause them to detach from your house. And because steel is more expensive, repairing any damage may cost more than you’d like.

Copper

Copper is the strongest gutter material. It completely resists corrosion and is difficult to dent, bend, or damage. Gutters made from copper are always seamless, and their corners are soldered together to ensure extra stability. 

However, as with many other things in life, you pay more for greater quality. Copper is the heaviest and most expensive gutter material. All the weight issues you could experience with steel gutters are magnified with copper gutters.

Wood

Wood gutters are rare, usually found on more historic homes. While they were common in years past, modern homeowners have moved on from this material because it is highly expensive to maintain. Wood gutters are also the most prone to damage, leaks, and rotting. 

The cold temperatures may make wood gutters brittle, making them vulnerable under the weight of snow and ice. 

How to Prepare Your Gutters for the Winter

Knowing what winter weather can do to your gutters is just one part of solving the problem. What can you do to maintain your gutters when the temperature drops and snow blankets your home?

Tip 1: Clean Your Gutters

Leaves, dirt, or other debris can block your downspouts, preventing water from draining properly. Trapped water can freeze, leading to worse blockages or damage to your gutters. By keeping gutters clear, you can ensure a path for snow melt to safely run off of your roof without damaging your home. LawnStarter has an excellent guide on how to do clean gutters.

Tip 2: Install Gutter Guards

Installing gutter guards is a great way to keep your gutters free of leaves and debris that could clog your downspouts and necessitate gutter cleaning. Mesh guards can help to break up patches of snow and ice, allowing them to melt more efficiently so they don’t form chunks that place excess weight on your gutters. 

Tip 3: Make Repairs

Check for damage and make the necessary repairs. Look for weak points in the gutter connections, and seal any cracks or leaks. Next, check that the hardware that attaches the gutters to the house – brackets, screws, etc. – is sound. Those are the items that support the gutters under the weight of ice and snow.

Tip 4: Trim Overhanging Trees

Trim any trees that hang over your roof to minimize the debris that falls into your gutters. Pruning long branches also reduces the chances that a weak branch weighted down by snow will snap and fall on your roof or gutters.

Tip 5: Insulate Your Attic

What does this have to do with gutters? A lot. If you recall, we talked earlier about ice dams, which form when snow and ice build up on the roof, then melt because of heat escaping from the roof due to poor insulation. Check the insulation to prevent heat from escaping. As a bonus, it will also keep your heating bills down. 

Tip 6: Consider Installing Heating Cables

You can also install heating cables in your gutters or at the edge of your roof to help prevent ice dams. These cables consist of an insulating material wrapped around a conductive core that produces heat slowly to prevent a buildup of ice and snow melt. Even with a heating cable, you will still need to take extra precautions against the winter weather, however. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you knock or scrape ice off of your gutters?

No. Falling ice is unpredictable and can cause damage to your property or injure someone, not to mention potential damage to your gutters as it falls. If ice forms on your gutters, you can wait for it to melt naturally, or you can use warm water to gently melt excess ice if it is causing your gutters to sag. 

Can you salt your gutters?

Though the outside of your gutters may be coated with a protective finish, the inside typically isn’t. Exposing your gutter run to sodium chloride consistently could eat away or stain the gutters permanently, depending on their composition. In addition, salt water that runs off from the downspout can damage concrete and landscaping.

The Final Word

Gutter winterization is a significant part of ensuring that your home remains safe and beautiful. It is also one of the many ways to care for your gutters, all of which are vital. If you would like expert help with the cleaning, installation, or winterization of your gutters, call on the gutter experts today.  

Main Photo by: Pexels

Nick Crawford

Nick Crawford

Nick Crawford is a blog writer based in Philadelphia, PA. He enjoys writing just as much as he enjoys reading a good book, cooking, and working out in his spare time.