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Frozen Gutter Deicing FAQs: All About Gutters & Ice Dams

Many people ask Ice Dam Guys® about ice dams and gutters, especially how to clear the ice and how to prevent it from forming in the first place.  You might think those two concerns are intertwined, but they’re not.  Ice dam removal and gutter ice removal aren’t related the way teeth problems and gum problems are related.  Here are some gutter-ice questions we get all the time:


Do gutters cause ice dams?

No.  If you have an ice dam, you’d have an ice dam even if you didn’t have gutters.  Gutters do have an effect on ice dams, in that they extend your overhang .  Gutters add space for ice dams to grow, and more surface area for ice dams to stick onto.  But they do not cause ice dams to form; they just allow ice dams to grow a little bigger.


Do gutters cause roof leaks?

No, because gutters don’t hold water on top of your shingles.  Ice dams, on the other hand, do cause water to pool on your roof, and that water may leak through your shingles and roof deck and into your home.


Do frozen gutters mean you have an ice dam – or will get one?

No.  Gutters freeze all the time on ice-dam-free roofs.  Usually that’s because they’re clogged with leaves and similar flotsam.  Clear your gutters a couple of times a year and they probably won’t freeze, unless you get an ice dam.  If you do get an ice dam, your gutters probably will freeze around the same time – whether or not you cleared them during the fall.


Is gutter ice dangerous?

Yes, but only if your gutters are so loaded with the ice that they rip free from the soffit and come crashing down.  Other than that possibility (which we see happen all the time), ice in your gutters mostly is not dangerous.  In effect gutters extend your roof’s overhangs, so in theory more snow and ice might sit on your roof than if you didn’t have gutters.  But we never get to a customer’s home, see frozen gutters, and think, “Yeah, this really IS an emergency.”  You’re most likely to get hurt by gutter ice in trying to remove it yourself and getting beaned by an icicle in the process, or by a falling ice-filled gutter.


Can ice dams form in or on gutters?

By definition ice dams don’t form IN gutters, but an ice dam that forms on your overhang can sprawl onto your gutters and stay there until Mother Nature removes it, or you get it removed, or gravity wins and the gutter breaks free from your overhang.


Can ice dams damage gutters?

A little ice in your gutters under normal circumstances will not damage your gutters or your overhang, assuming everything is in tip-top shape.  But if your gutters are cracking, bent, or just very old, the weight of ice dams may bring them down (perhaps by causing the fasteners to detach first).

It’s possible for gutters to be ripped off completely if the ice dam or a large chunk of it somehow detaches from your roof – as it may at the hands of an inexperienced ice dam removal tech, or because of sudden change in temperature.  Also, in the wrong hands copper gutters can be damaged during ice dam removal.  In general, if the ice in and near your gutters melts as slowly as it formed, your gutters probably will be fine.  (Of course, roof leaks may mean that you can’t wait that long.)


How do you thaw frozen gutters?

The only way to melt or clear all the ice in frozen gutters is to steam them (though in some cases it can be even faster to use extremely hot water).  Either way, that takes a while – as in it can easily add hours to an ice dam removal job.


How can you prevent gutters from freezing?

By doing two things: (1) clear your gutters a couple of times a year (especially in late fall), and (2) rake your roof, so as to minimize the amount of snow left sitting on your roof that can melt and run down to your gutters.


Should you put salt or ice-melt in frozen gutters?

No.  Salt or an ice-melt chemical usually won’t prevent your gutters from freezing, and it certainly won’t lessen your ice dam problem or the probability that ice dams form.  Salt will only make a mess and damage your lawn, landscaping, and potentially cause certain roofing or gutter components to rust or oxidize.


Do gutter guards prevent ice dams?

No.  In fact, gutter guards make ice dams harder to remove.


Do frozen gutters make ice dam removal difficult?

Somewhat.  Most often they make ice dam removal take longer.  They’re another area where ice can sit, and usually we need to steam out your gutters before we can get to the rest of the roof.  That’s because we want to cut chunks of ice off of your roof and give the chunks a clear pathway to slide off.  That is more difficult if your gutters have gutter guards or if they’re made of copper.

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