So we’ve talked about the cause of ice dams (which has really been a problem this winter) including tips on preventing them and how to break up ice dams. Now let’s look at another method to prevent water from freezing in your gutters and to keep ice dams from forming – installing heat cables.
According to the University of Missouri Extension, “Properly installed heating cables will keep gutters and downspouts open when alternate freezing and thawing occurs. By keeping such channels open, water is prevented from backing up under the roof and causing damage inside of the home.” Electric heat cables can be run inside the gutters and downspouts. The cable is turned on only when snow or freezing precipitation begins to fall so water drains away. It’s recommended to use the cables with a thermostatic control so as not to overheat or run up your electric bill.
Another option is to install heat or de-icing cables along the roof edge where ice tends to build up. Plug them in after a snowfall or when you see ice dams beginning to form. De-icing cables will not prevent the formation of ice on the eaves but will keep enough ice melted to create drainage channels for water.
A note of caution regarding use of heat cables – if they overheat and come in contact with debris there is the possibility of fire. Please use them with care and attention.
Heat cables only treat the symptom of a bigger problem – inadequate roof ventilation. But if it is too expensive to seal, ventilate and insulate the attic, properly installed heat cables can serve as an alternative to prevent damage to your home caused by ice dams.