How to De-Ice Residential Gutters: The Safe and Easy Way

Written By Kenneth Wilson  |  0 Comments

Are you frantically searching for a solution that will help you safely learn how to remove ice from gutters? If so, you’ve come to the right place!

Clogged ice in gutters, often known as ice dams, is a big problem for people who live in the coldest states of the US and presents a significant challenge when you’re considering how best to remove ice from gutters. If you’re not careful, you can damage or even pull down your gutters, as the added weight of the ice will affect the strength of the screws that keep the gutters in place.

So, if you’ve inspected your gutters and realize you have an ice dam, this article explains how to remove it safely and easily, so you don’t have to worry about ice falling from your gutters onto passing people (and pets) after a cold snap.

Let’s begin by considering what ice dams are, why it’s important to de-ice residential gutters, and why you shouldn’t just leave them to melt on their own.

What is an Ice Dam?

In areas that experience freezing winters and regular snowstorms, ice dams in gutters are a common occurrence. An ice dam is formed when the snow has melted into your gutters and then refrozen, and the rapid thawing and refreezing results from the heat emanating from your property’s roof.

When snow sits on your roof, the warm air rising from your attic melts the snow, and it drops into your gutters. Then, as they’re no longer exposed to the hot air from your attic, they refreeze and block the gutters.

Commonly, you will also see overhanging ice crystals that dangle menacingly from the edge of your roof and gutters. And while they look stunning, they are dangerous and can cause injury if they fall from your roof when someone is passing underneath.

Within the gutters, the ice that has formed creates a literal dam, preventing any other melting droplets from passing through the gutter system. This process continues as snow on the roof melts, and temperatures remain freezing. As such, it’s super important that you find out how to remove ice from gutters so they don’t fall from the roof or cause injury. (Related article: How to Clean the Gutters of Your Home Safely)

Reasons to Remove Ice from Gutters

Supposing you’ve noticed an ice dam has formed in your gutters, you should act quickly to do something about it. The main reason for this is that ice dams that have solidified in your gutters stop them from working, and the excess weight of the ice can cause the gutters to come away from the wall.

Here are the most important reasons why you need to learn how to remove ice from gutters:

  • Individual shards can fall. If the outdoor temperature changes even slightly, some of the shards of ice dangling from the gutters will likely crash to the floor, causing injury to any people or animals caught underneath.
  • The dam itself can crash to the floor. As the gutters receive more water due to melting slow, it can cause the ice dam to loosen and come crashing to the floor. In some instances, the gutter can come with it due to the excess burden put on the screws.
  • Melting ice can damage your roof. When melting snow and ice seeps underneath the shingles of your roof, it refreezes and expands. This process loosens the shingles and penetrates through several layers of roof, which could then compromise the structural integrity of your ceilings and walls and even cause internal leaks.
  • The insulation in your attic may become soggy. As melting ice seeps its way into your attic, it’s likely to cause your insulation to become soggy. Not only does this cause it to lose its effectiveness, but it also becomes the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew.

Although you might be tempted to leave the ice dam to melt on its own, this is inadvisable for the reasons introduced above. Don’t forget that most gutter systems are not overly durable and will start to come away from your roof if they are put under too much strain and pressure.

So, to protect your family from falling ice and ensure your gutters don’t crash to the floor with a heavy ice dam inside, you need to learn how to remove ice from gutters, which is precisely what we explain in detail in the following section.

How to Remove Ice from Gutters

There are several ways to remove ice from your gutters, some that you can do yourself, others that require the assistance of professionals.

There are also some steps that you can take to prevent ice dams from forming in the first place, which we also introduce a little later on, so you can better prepare for the next upcoming cold snap.

But before we get into that, let’s begin by looking at how to remove ice from gutters safely and easily, to prevent any damage to your home:

1. Melt the Ice with Sodium Chloride.

The good thing about ice is that it isn’t permanent and can be melted. The best thing to use for melting ice in your gutters is sodium chloride, which is the same product that tends to be used to melt ice on driveways and sidewalks.

Sodium chloride is widely available from home improvement stores and retailers like Home Depot, but bear in mind that it’s not always available at times of the year when snowstorms strike, so you may want to stock up in advance.

While it’s possible to simply sprinkle sodium chloride on top of the ice dam, this isn’t the most effective method of melting the dam. Instead, fill a pair of thin tube socks with sodium chloride and place them directly on top of the dam, hanging slightly over the edge of the roof.

As snow continues to melt, it will first seep through the socks filled with sodium chloride before channeling into the ice dam. This will create a pathway through the ice dam and will enable water to continue to pass through the space that has been cleared, running safely off the roof.

Some people use rock salt as an alternative to sodium chloride, but it’s not a good idea. Rock salt is damaging to shingles and may even kill any vegetation underneath. Sodium chloride, on the other hand, is safe for shingles and vegetation, making it the perfect solution to melt ice dams from your gutters.

2. Use a hot water Hose.

One of the simplest ways of melting ice is by pouring hot water over it! While it will take you an eternity to melt an ice dam with a kettle, if you can make use of a hot water hose, then your job will be a lot easier.

Begin by targeting the ice dam specifically and wait for it to start melting. Then, you can spray the areas behind the dam with the hose once it has been cleared, melting any other ice that has built up behind it.

However, if you use hot water, be mindful that if the cold weather is here to stay, this is only a temporary solution. It’s a good idea to line your gutter with some sodium chloride once clearing the dam, so you don’t have to use a hot water hose every few days to clear your gutters of ice.

3. Chip the Ice Away.

Before introducing this method, it comes with a caveat; climbing onto a snowy and icy roof is potentially dangerous, and if you’re not wearing the right clothes, you can fall and cause yourself an injury.

So, using a mallet or ice pick, carefully chip the ice dam away. Don’t get carried away here, as smashing it with a mallet can cause the gutter to come away from the wall. Although chipping the ice away takes a little longer, it’s a good way of ensuring the dam has split and water will be able to pass through as it seeps down from the roof.

4. Hire a Roofing Professional to Steam the Ice.

If you’re not keen to get up on the roof yourself, you could hire a roofing specialist to come and remove the ice dam for you. They tend to use specialist steaming equipment to remove the blocked gutters and will also clean out your gutters, removing other ice and debris at the same time.

For the best results with this method, you should ask specialists to remove the snow and ice from your roof at the same time. Otherwise, as they leave, you may find that the ice dam reappears within a few days, particularly if the cold snap is here to stay.

While this is perhaps the most comprehensive method of removing ice from your gutters, it’s also the costliest. Roofing specialists tend to charge upwards of $150 per hour for their service, so you might want to try removing the ice dam yourself before seeking professional help.

How to Prevent Ice Dams from Forming in the First Place

With ice dams in your gutter systems, prevention is always better than the cure. If you know you’re in for a period of bad weather and freezing temperatures, there are several things you can do to prevent ice dams from forming in your gutters.

You then don’t need to worry about how to remove ice from gutters, as it won’t appear in the first place!

Here are some things you can try if you know a snowstorm is on the way:

  • Rake your roof immediately after a snowstorm. If your roof isn’t covered in snow, it won’t melt and cause an ice dam in your gutters. While you may not be able to reach all areas of your roof with a rake, aim to clear at least four feet of snow from immediately above your gutters. This will help reduce the build-up of ice.
  • Ensure your attic is well insulated. Not only does a well-insulated attic keep the heat inside your home where it’s needed, it prevents the roof from heating, which is the cause of the thawing snow. If you live in a part of the country with cold winters, consider adding an extra thick layer of insulation to your roof, as this will help to prevent the formation of ice dams in your gutters.
  • Consider buying de-icing cables. Many home improvement stores sell de-icing cables, which can be affixed on top of the shingles to stop ice dams from forming. Although they’re fairly expensive ($100 to $200), they’re worth the investment if you regularly experience snowstorms and freezing temperatures.

Although most people think there’s little they can do to prevent ice dams from forming in their gutters, the reality is that the simple steps introduced above will work wonders and will help keep your gutters free from ice during cold spells following snowstorms. It will also save you lots of hassle and money in coming up with a solution.

Final Thoughts

Anyone who lives in an area that is prone to freezing temperatures and snowstorms will understand the hassle associated with removing ice dams from their gutters. Not only do ice dams prevent your gutters from doing their job, but they can also cause your gutters to weaken and even fall from your roof as a result of the excess weight that they’re carrying.

Our advice is to be diligent and prepare for snow and cold weather by preventing ice dams from forming in the first place, using the three tips introduced above as a starting point.

However, if you’ve been unable to prevent an ice dam from blocking your gutters, the simple methods introduced earlier are safe and easy ways of removing ice from your gutters, so you don’t need to worry about them collapsing as you walk underneath them.

About the Author

I can build it, and I can help you get the patio enclosure you want! I got my start in the Florida patio industry back in the 70s as a young general laborer looking for something to make a few bucks. At the time I never thought it would end up as my career. Over the years I grew beyond the laborer position, becoming a foreman, superintendent, and then into executive management for some of the largest patio contractors, and material vendors. Now into retirement and slightly bored, I offer consulting services to new and existing contractors, and publish this website to help the people who love their patio's and screen enclosures the most - YOU!

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