Dealing with Ice Dams in Your Rain Gutters

If you live north of the Mason-Dixon line ice dams in your rain gutters are an annoying winter reality

While handy in protecting your petunias, your rain gutters are relatively fragile… and depending on where you live, they’re likely to be blocked by leaf dams in the fall and ice dams in the winter. So how’s a gutter supposed to do its job?

Of the two types of blockages, ice is the more damaging, because water expands when it freezes. The result? Dented, cracked gutters that are likely to fail much sooner than those fortunate gutters that live in more southerly climes. So let’s look at a few basic ways to handle these icy, flow impeding dams.

Face down in the gutter

Now that we’ve gotten the obvious pun out of the way, let’s face the reality of handling dams by actually getting on a ladder and removing them by hand. It’s bad enough when you have to do this with leaves in the fall; heaven forbid you should try it in the winter with ice. In fact, we don’t recommend it at all.

Combining a ladder with a slippery ground is never, ever a good idea.

Fortunately, gardening supply companies make giant tongs expressly for fishing junk out of the gutters; you don’t even need to leave the ground to use them. They’re really made for leaves, but can work for ice, too. At the very least, you can lift a water hose up there, so the flowing water can hopefully melt the ice.

Visit your local home improvement store to see if you can find one of these gutter clearing tools. If not, you can definitely find them online.

If that doesn’t work, you can always try to find a way up onto the roof to chip away the dam. Ideally, you should also remove any snow and ice up there, so there won’t be any fuel to cause additional ice damage. Again, I’d recommend you hire a professional for this type of rain gutter care rather than do it yourself.

Mechanical methods

Your best bet, of course, is to prevent dams from forming in the first place. Proper insulation and venting of the attic (one square foot of vent per 150 square foot of attic) is one way to do it. Ideally, this allows air to circulate, which limits the thaw-freeze cycles that lead to dams.

If your winters are very cold and you have a lot of precipitation, you may need extra help in the form of heating cables on your roof (or even in the gutters). Flip a switch, and they’ll heat up and melt the ice. But unless you’re an electrician, we recommend you have a pro install this method for removing ice dams!