The Truth About Gutters and their Relationship with Ice Dams
In 2011, Ice Dam Company owner Steve Kuhl wrote a nationally published article about ice dams for the Journal of Light Construction. One of the topics that receieved the most attention was the notion that gutters have nothing to do with ice dams. Here is a deeper look at that assertion.
There is a great deal of confusion and misinformation about the relationship between gutters and ice dams. Many people are under the misconception that gutters cause ice dams or that gutters filled with ice can cause water to back up into homes. Not true. We repeat. Gutters have nothing to do with ice dam formation or severity. For this reason, buying systems that heat gutters in order to prevent ice dams is a total and complete waste of money.
We know that ice dams occure when:
Escaped heat from the inside of the home warms the roof deck.
Melting snow results in water that runs down to a cold, unheated area of the roof (frequently the eave, as shown below).
That water freezes, forming ice. After many of these cycles, that ice piles up to form an ice dam.
Study the illustrations below. These are identical eave designs, one with gutters, the other without. The Area B in the diagrams below is referred to as the ‘cold edge’ of the eave because heat from the interior of the home doesn’t travel that far. Fact One: Whether or not a home has gutters, a cold edge will still exist and this is where ice dams form. Fact Two: leaks from ice dams occur in Area A, at the leading, top edge of the ice dam where water–with nowhere else to go–is forced up under the roofing material and into the home. Put another way, if the home in Figure 2 had bad leaks inside, those leaks would not be eliminated whatsoever if we took a chainsaw and cut off the gutters along the red dashed line (C). Moreover, if we heated the gutters using a fancy electrical system, the likelihood of ice dams and the subsequent leaking would NOT be affected. Spend money on heat cables for the lower edge of your roof, not on heating the gutters only. High quality heat cables can be quite effective in preventing ice dams.
Figure 1: Ice Dam Without Gutters; Figure 2: Ice Dam With Gutters
None of this is to suggest that ice in gutters are harmless. We have seen many gutters damaged or destroyed by ice dams and that is a problem most homeowners would like to avoid. The point here is that, all else held equal, if a home is likely to get ice dams the addition or deletion of gutters will be of no consequence to the formation or severity of said ice dams. Likewise, for this reason, installing heated gutters or adding heating systems to existing gutters will have no affect whatsoever on the occurrence or severity of ice dams.
To read more Case Studies click here.
Where Do Ice Dams Normally Happen on Homes? A List of the Most Common Ice Dam Locations
Where ice dams happen…and don’t happen:
Ice dams seldom occur over unheated areas such as garages and porches (A).
The valley areas of dormers frequently get ice dams (B).
Ice dams often occur both below and above skylights. Ice dams above skylights are hard to see from the ground, making them some of the sneakiest to discover (C).
Any openings through the roof – such as pipes and vents – are a good place for small ice dams for form (D).
Valleys are very common areas for ice dam formation. It is important to never use hammers or chisels near valleys as the difference between a thorough ice removal job and valley damage is fractions of an inch (E).
On roofs with a low pitch (angle) even a 1-2″ ice dam can cause significant leaking and interior damage (F).
The eaves edge is the most common place to see ice dams. 80% of the dams we remove are found here (G).
Interior rooms with vaulted ceilings are frequently associated with large ice dams. Bathrooms are often the worst. If you had recessed lighting to a vaulted ceiling, you are much more likely to have ice dams (H).
Ice dams occasionally form around chimneys and furnace flues. Any place heat escapes through the roof line. Ice dams in these locations can be very, very small and still cause leaking (I).
The piece also discusses other weather related problems and disasters that can happen from strong winter weather. Check it out. I am frequently interviewed from media and professional sources from all around the country on the topic of ice dams because I started The Ice Dam Company so long ago. We are in fact the largest and the oldest ice dam prevention and ice dam removal company in the country. Before the Ice Dam Company, no other company existed that specialized in this area of business. Now, of course, the web is littered with ‘experts’ and ‘specialists’ purporting to be leaders.
Attic insulation contractor addresses ice dams with new insulation in Edina
Using the words ‘ice dam prevention’ in Minneapolis is a dangerous gamble. It’s true that with certain efforts one can greatly reduce the chances of getting ice dams, it is almost impossible to prevent them altogether. For example, we can do a top quality insulation and ventilation retrofit on a Minneapolis attic only to be thwarted by the fact that the homeowner likes to keep the attic at 90 degrees in the winter. That is a formula for ice dam disaster in Minnesota. There are a number of methods to employ in preventing ice dams (or reducing their severity, in some cases). Here are links to two such approaches used by our sister company, Kuhl’s Contracting, a nationally recognized ice dam prevention company.
Homeowners looking to fix or at least minimize the risk of ice dams in Minnesota are wise to look at the key contributing factors that spawn ice dams. Those are, the weather, insulation, ventilation, air leaks, personal lifestyle and home architecture. We are frequently successful in reducing and/or eliminating ice dams through the use of high performance spray foam insulation systems in combination with enhanced attic ventilation.
construction site ice removal, commercial ice removal, ice accumulation removal minneapolis, ice dam company
We have been called by property managers and builders to remove ice from a number of odd areas in Minneapolis over the years. Heck, we have even removed ice during the summer around cooling condensers at a chemical plant. While we frequently use our high-end steamers for the removal of ice, sometimes they are simply not appropriate. Such was the case on a recent job at a hotel under construction. A thin layer of ice had built up on the surface of a concrete floor that was perfectly flat…and huge. Using steamers in this application would have possibly resulted in making the problem worse by adding more water to the situation. While our steamers don’t generate much water, any time you melt ice, water is the result. Hence, my concern was that we would create a big mess. I suggested that we go old-school on this challenge. I sent three of my guys out there to hack and chip the ice with shiny, new scrapers. The resulting ice chips were simply blown and swept off the concrete, allowing the project carpenters to follow closely behind and lay out the wall framing without concern. It’s a low tech solution but sometimes that is what’s best.
Ice removal minneapolis commercial ice removal from flat surface
This past week, we were called out to a Fairview Hospital to resolve an ongoing roof leak in their EPDM roof or rubber roof. The roof leak, they suspected, was being caused by an massive ice build up on their flat roof. The area covered in ice was approximately 1200 square feet and ranged between 3-5″ thick. They had gotten another bid from acompetitor to remove the entire ice field for around $8,000.
Upon visiting the site, we quickly determined it was not necessary to remove the entire ice field in the area. Our experience as professional roofers and our use of thermal imaging quickly pointed us to a bad corner flashing detail as shown here. This area was completely covered by ice and was the main source of their leak.
The job was quite simple. We used our commercial steamers to cut through the ice and clear a channel from the area around the leak to the nearest roof drain. This allowed any melted snow/ice to run directly to the drain, instead of being dammed up and leaking into the hospital.
We also removed a the large section of ice that surrounded the leak area to allow for proper repair of the roofing and flashing that had failed. Fairview was so happy with our work that they ended up having us remove rest of the ice in that surrounding area. In the end, our cost for all of the work was half that of our competitor’s estimate. We pride ourselves in doing business under the philosophy that we’re trying to build lasting, honest relationships. Not just trying to earn the quick buck. Our guess is that we will be called for all ice removal needs by the Fairview Hospital network going forward. A lot of ice removal companies in the Minneapolis area are allergic to honesty. Perhaps Fairview has an ointment for that?
Removing Ice Dams in Minnesota: We Serve Many Areas in the Minneapolis Metro
The Ice Dam company based out of Hopkins, Minnesota, about 5 miles west of Minneapolis. We've done gutter ice removal, roof ice removal and ice dam removal all over the Twin Cities, on new houses and old ones.
Some of the more frequent places we've done ice dam services are: