Believe it or not, sock beats hammer in this circumstance
It’s not unusual in cold climates to see icicles dangling from a home’s roof. While picturesque in the winter season, icicles indicate a problem—your gutters are filled with ice. But you can learn how to melt ice in gutters safely and effectively, and also work to prevent it from happening again. Read on to learn how.
Prepping to Melt Ice in Gutters
Before tacklings this DIY project, you’ll need to have a few things handy. Grab the following items:
An old sock or pair of pantyhose
Calcium chloride (Note: don’t use rock salt as a substitute.)
Jug of hot water
How Ice Dams Form
First, understanding how ice dams form in gutters will help you tackle the issue—and see why certain methods aren’t right for this job.
Here’s how an ice dam in your gutter typically forms:
Snow accumulates on your roof after a winter storm.
Warm air from your home escapes through the roof, melting snow.
Your gutters, which don’t receive the same roof heat, act like a basin for water runoff.
Cold air turns that snow into ice in your gutter.
Uneven melting or runoff causes blocks of ice to accumulate, impeding flow through your gutters.
When this happens, the newly formed ice dam and its backflow of water cause runoff to back up and potentially find its way into your home.
Avoid Any Extreme Ice Removal Tactics
Using a hammer or ice chopper will likely dent your gutters and could damage your roof. When dealing with ice dams on your roof or in your gutter downspouts, you should avoid this and other extreme actions, even if water is leaking into your home.
Two of the three ice removal tactics outlined later on require you to climb a ladder during wintertime. Be sure to practice proper safety tips, such as:
Have someone hold the base of the ladder while you climb.
Clear a path around where the ladder will be of ice and snow.
Make sure the ladder is secure on the ground and against your home before climbing.
If this isn’t a job suited for you or you need immediate service to prevent leaks in your home, call a local roof ice and snow removal specialist to help.
Decide if Waiting Is the Best Choice
Many professionals say the best course of action when you notice ice forming in your gutters is to simply wait it out.
When deciding if you should do something, consider:
What the weather will be like the next few days (warm weather could help melt the ice).
The current state of the dam (is it dripping in your home?).
If you have the proper tools/equipment to complete the job.
If you have someone willing and able to hold a ladder.
Water dams that aren’t leaking inside the home may look menacing, but when you consider the risk of damaging your gutters or climbing on a ladder during a storm, it may simply be worth it to wait for them to melt naturally.
How to Remove Ice from Gutters
Here are three common ways to safely melt ice out of your gutters.
1. Use a Roof Rake to Clear Ice and Snow
If taking action is right for your situation, start by removing snow and any obvious ice from your gutters and roof. This, at the very least, will help slow the accumulation going forward.
You can do this safely from the ground with a roof rake. They cost between $40 and $70, and can be found online or at local hardware stores. These products have a gentle blade, not plastic or metal teeth like a regular rake, which is safer for removing debris and won’t scratch up your roof or gutters.
2. Use the Hot Water Method for Melting Ice in Gutters
Pouring hot water down your gutters is a good temporary solution to break up small ice blockages and prevent larger ice dams from forming. Keep in mind: climbing a ladder in winter is dangerous on its own. With this method, you’ll need to carry a jug of boiling water. Use extreme caution or call in a pro if this isn’t a job for you.
3. Use the Stocking Method for Melting Ice in Gutters
The stocking method works best as a preventative method, but can help reduce ice buildup when it accumulates. Fill old socks or pantyhose (enough to clear a channel through the blockage(s) with calcium chloride (ice melt*). Place these stockings directly on top of the ice blockages.
Don’t use rock salt—it may cost less, but it’s also less effective, and is more likely to kill your plants if any of it leaks or ends up below your gutters.
Also, avoid the temptation to preserve your garments and sprinkle rock salt directly into your gutters. Direct exposure can lead to stains on your roof and siding come springtime.
How to Prevent Ice in Gutters
If ice in your gutters has become a regular occurrence, you might want to address the problem when the weather is warmer. A few proactive measures can prevent ice dams from forming in your gutters and downspouts. Here are some tips:
Maintain your roof during the summer months to avoid leaks.
Add foam or spray foam insulation to your gutters or downspouts.
Install heat cables in your gutters to help thaw ice as it forms.
What ice melt is safe for gutters?
Calcium chloride is an ice melt that is safe for gutters. Once in your gutters, the calcium chloride will melt through both ice and snow, creating a channel for water to flow.
Does calcium chloride harm gutters?
Calcium chloride does not do significant damage to gutters when used properly and in moderate amounts. If you use too much too frequently, it could eventually cause corrosion in your gutters. Rock salt will harm your gutters, though.
Are heated gutters worth it?
A heated gutter system can help prevent ice formation and save you money in water damage from leaks and other repairs. The cost to install heated gutters runs between $500 and $1,300, depending on your home’s size. Heated gutters are worth it if you live in areas with harsh winters with a lot of snow and ice, and you also have several tall trees near your home that drop a lot of debris.