It’s no secret that winter is harsh. But what may be a secret to some homeowners, is what should be expected from their gutters system in winter. It is important to understand what is normal winter wear and tear, and what may be cause for alarm. Asking do gutters cause ice dams is a practical question.
Do Gutters Cause Ice Dams?
Before we answer, let’s look at another question first. What exactly is “normal” to expect from your gutters and gutter guards in winter?
Normal: Yes, unfortunately, freezing is inevitable. When subjected to temperatures below freezing, aluminum and metal get cold enough to freeze water. It can form icicles on the edge of your gutters/guards. Icicles are usually a sign that snow from your roof is melting and is heading down towards your gutters. And occasionally, may refreeze. Icicles are not only normal, but common.
If this is your first season with gutter guards, it is very important to note icicles are perfectly normal. With an open gutter system, there is a channel at least 5 inches deep for the snow and ice to fill up in first. Because of this, you may not see icicles until that channel is completely full. Or when the snow and ice begins to extend over the edge and overflow from your gutters.
With guards, the snow and ice will not accumulate inside of your gutter. It will form on top of the guards right away, meaning they will become visible more quickly. This means the guards are actually protecting and preventing your gutters by eliminating the interior buildup of ice. With buildup and expansion of ice, your gutters could come down and/or split.
Abnormal: Ice dams. You may be asking yourself, what is the difference between icicles and ice dams? Icicles and ice dams are in fact similar, however, ice damming may indicate you have a bigger problem. Ice damming is most commonly due to heat loss from your attic.
Like above, the snow from your roof begins to melt and head towards your gutters and guards. However, when your attic is experiencing heat loss, the snow and ice will melt at a much more rapid pace. Especially in colder conditions. This large amount of water then refreezes when it reaches your roof’s edge, and gutters, which are still cold. When normal melting occurs, it will be at a slower rate, and in warmer conditions lessening the amount of/chance of refreezing.
Different from normal icicles, ice dams are large buildups of ice on your gutter. These large masses can cause your gutter system to tear down, or other damages/dangers to the surrounding areas. This can also prevent the drainage flow of melted snow and ice through your gutters, which can lead to water damage.
** See our blog on how to prevent ice damming HERE.
Normal: Depending on the severity of the winter, and the amount of snow accumulation, it is likely that minor repairs will need to be done following the last winter storm. Minor repairs could include tightening of your gutter system’s screws, a few screw replacements, a small section repair, etc.
Abnormal: If your gutters struggle from severe ice damming, that added weight, especially from a harsh winter, can pull your gutter system down. Gutters pulling from your home, cracking, or falling completely, is not something you should expect during winter.
Reasons, other than ice damming, that these damages could occur, is clogged gutters, old gutters, improperly installed gutters, improperly installed guards, the wrong guards, etc. That being said, we cannot predict the weather, and sometimes, weather can be too severe for anything that stands in its way. In these severe, and often rare cases, even your properly installed and clog-free gutters may need some more repairs than just the minor tweaks.
Unfortunately, as a homeowner, your to-do maintenance and repair list will often always be longer going into spring than any other season. Overall, it is important to remember, when setting your own expectations for winter, that minor repairs from normal winter wear and tear are to be expected. Being proactive is the best way to protect your gutters and your home from any damage associated with the cold months.
Some examples of proactive practices are snow removal from your roof after each significant snowfall, installing heat cable, and properly insulating to prevent heat loss. Prior to winter, your gutters should be cleaned, secured, and in great working condition. Understanding the difference between normal wear and tear, and more alarming damages can be key in setting realistic expectations for your home when heading into winter.
To conclude, do gutters cause ice dams? The official answer is no. As explained, educating the homeowner on the effects of the seasonal changes on their gutter system is our priority.