Regardless of what type of gutter system you choose, gutters and roofs need maintenance. If you have open rain gutters, they should be cleaned at least twice a year: in the Spring after trees bud, dropping flowers acorns, and seed pods; and in the fall after they drop their leaves. Depending on weather conditions where you live, an additional cleaning or two may also be necessary.
If you also have a low-sloped roof, even a leaf protection system cannot prevent debris from accumulating on your roof, so with or without a leaf protection system, roof maintenance is required. A simple cleaning with a broom or blower is all that is necessary. Plus, loose debris accumulating on the roof is a fire hazard and is extremely bad for the roof, accelerating wear and backing water up under the shingles.
However, cleaning out your gutters and brushing debris from your roof, though an important task, is not an easy one. Climbing and moving ladders and working several feet off the ground can be dangerous. It requires strength and agility to maintain your personal safety, as well as climbing protection systems or devices. If you cannot do this safely, call a contractor or install a system that offers leaf protection. (see our section on Gutter Guards, Gutter Covers and Gutter Screens).
According to the Insurance Information Institute, ice, snow and wind can have devastating consequences. Every winter there are billions of dollars in insured losses due to burst pipes, frozen gutters and other weather-related disasters.
Remove leaves, acorns, sticks and other debris from gutters, so melting snow and ice can flow freely. And check your roof insulation. Improper insulation and ventilation in your attic are at the root of most ice daming and gutter back-up causing leaks.
What causes an ice dam?
An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms at the edge of a roof and prevents melting snow (water) from draining off the roof. Ice dams usually occur after a heavy snowfall and several days of freezing temperatures. Usually caused by poor attic insulation and ventilation, the ice dam is formed when the warm air inside your home leaks into the attic and warms the underside of the roof causing snow and ice on the roof to melt.
The melted water drains along the roof, until it reaches the cold overhang. The overhang tends to be at the same temperature as the outdoors and the melted water refreezes and forms an ice dam which can cause icicles. As more snow melts the ice dam grows and runoff water is trapped behind the ice dam. Eventually, this dam can force the water to back up under the shingles and sometimes into the ceiling or walls of the home. Contrary to popular opinion, gutters do not cause ice dams. They can occur whether or not gutters are present.
First and foremost, it is not recommended that you get on your roof to solve an ice damming or icicle problem. It could be dangerous. Also, do not stand on the ground and chip away at the ice. This can cause damage to roofing materials and you might be subject to injury from falling ice, debris, or tools.
Some homeowners have installed roof mounted heating cables to melt ice dams. Heating cables should always be installed by a reputable electrical contractor and should not be installed by the homeowner or gutter contractor unless the gutter contractor is qualified.
A contractor who is an energy specialist or specializes in air sealing will use diagnostic equipment to evaluate the insulation and ventilation characteristics and flaws of your home and generate a list of ice damming concerns and recommend solutions.
A good way to immunize your home against ice dams is to reduce the attic temperature. First, make the ceilings of the house air tight so no warm, moist air can flow from the house into the attic space. One way is to install additional insulation on the attic floor or have more insulation blown in.
Install weather stripping and/or insulation on attic stairways or hatchways, and on attic floor-mounted louvers for whole house ventilation fans. Be careful if there are any exposed recessed light fixtures or vent fans poking through the attic floor. Some of these are not designed to be covered with insulation and information from manufacturers is available whether they can be covered or not.
Do not pack insulation deep in the corner where the roof meets the attic floor. This causes the roof area near the eaves to be colder than the rest of the roof, setting up a possible ice dam formation. If you have blown-in insulation, there are Styrofoam dams, that can be installed between the floor joists to hold the insulation back from the inside of the roof.
The same holds true for soffit vents in the exterior overhang of a house. If you have them in the overhang, do not let insulation block the air-flow from the soffit to the ridge vent of your roof.
Natural roof ventilation can help maintain uniform roof temperatures. Movement of cold air in the attic will help keep the entire interior roof surface cold. If you have small louvered windows at either end of the attic, known as gable vents, you may be able to replace them with larger ones to improve ventilation.
If the house's roof overhangs the outside walls, add soffit vents into these overhangs to improve ventilation. Improve the overall ventilation system even further with a ridge vent that sits along the length of the peak of the roof. Cold air entering the soffit vents rises along the inside of the roof and exits through the ridge vent, cooling the roof and