Heavy snow can simultaneously be great fun for kids (and big kids), and a real pain for adults who just want to get on with their daily lives. One example is the weight snow and ice puts on your gutters after a heavy snowfall – it’s just one more thing to worry about.
To prevent snow from tearing down your gutters you can fit either snow guards or heated cables. Alternatively, you can reinforce the gutters themselves so they are more robust and can take more weight. Keeping gutters clean and well maintained is also an important preventative measure.
Let’s dive down into this subject in more detail, and discover the finer points of protecting your gutters from snow in the winter…
How Do You Protect Your Gutters From Snow?
There are two main ways to protect gutters from snow damage: prevent the snow from building up in them or reinforce the gutters themselves (or both).
Gutters can also be damaged by ice dams, which are thick build-ups of solid ice that form along the eaves. Preventing snow damage can also help guard against these potentially harmful dams.
Stop a weighty build-up by installing snow guards (more about these shortly) which break up the snow fall on the roof. Think about the type of gutters as well: some homeowners swear by tough plastic guttering which is slippier and may allow the snow to simply slide off.
If you are willing to spend a few dollars, you can gently warm your gutters (yes really) to prevent snow and ice hanging around. A heated cable is passed along the gutter then covered, providing a constant warmth that melts snow and ice. Provided your gutters are clear, the melt will run off just like normal rainwater.
Before the winter, give your gutters a health check (we’ll look at this in more detail later on), and if they look a bit weak or damaged, replace them before it can snow. You can also strengthen your gutters by adding more brackets. The sheer weight of snow will pull down a weaker section of gutter, so more reinforcements in the way of more regular clips will help to strengthen it.
If you have gutter guards, will they help prevent a snow build-up? Gutter guards are designed to prevent leaves and other debris from clogging up your gutters, by letting water through but nothing else. So as you can see, they won’t help with snowfall which will simply sit on top of the guard. The advantage is that when the snow melts, it will be able to run down the pipe as usual.
There’s always good old manual labour. Get a special roof snow rake, and get out there every day, shovelling the roof. It’s hard work, but will help to keep on top of the snow load. Please take great care when doing this: you don’t want to fall, or get caught by a large snow dump. It’s a job best done with a partner.
And don’t think that because it rarely snows where you live that your gutters will be fine. It only takes one big snowfall to pull them down.
Do Snow Guards Protect Gutters?
Snow guards protect gutters from heavy snow dumps. These clever guards are small, upright devices that attach to your house roof. They need to be spaced at regular intervals across the roof, usually in two or more rows near the edge. They’re only a few inches high, but are strong enough to hold back the snow, preventing avalanches of snow sliding onto the gutters.
They are attached using fasteners or adhesives, and can be a DIY job if you’re feeling confident. Snow guards are made from metal or plastic, and clear plastic is a popular choice because it doesn’t discolor.
Note: if you’re going to use snow guards, you’ll need to be consistent and have a complete row. If you just position a few above your external doors, for example, this could just result in the snow gathering and falling further along the roof.
How Do You Prepare Gutters For Winter?
Firstly check your gutters, and think about replacing them (or at least, replacing sections) if they seem damaged or worn out. Clear the gutters of leaves and any other debris. This will keep the rainwater flowing, and will prevent water from pooling and becoming ice. If you have installed a heated cable, you need to make sure that the melted snow can run off.
Once they’ve been cleaned out check your gutters are working properly by flushing them with water from a hosepipe. You need to make sure that they’re sloping towards the down spouts, and that the spouts themselves are clear. To be honest, clearing and cleaning should be regular jobs throughout the year anyway, especially during the Fall.
If you haven’t already got snow guards, this would be a good time to think about installing them. Likewise, if you want to invest in heated cable, get it fitted now before the bad weather comes in. At the very least, make sure you have a roof rake handy for that manual snow shoveling.
Cast your eyes over your roof, too. Are there any loose, damaged or missing shingles? Check the attic: any signs of any leaks? An annual roof health check is always a great idea.
Should I Remove Gutter Guards in Winter?
Opinions seem to be divided on this one. On the one hand, gutter guards prevent debris from building up and restricting the flow of melting snow and ice. If you have a strong gutter guard arguably, it could help to take the weight of the snow.
However, on the other hand, a gutter cover can simply form a great surface for snow to build up on or an ice dam to form. One of the best solutions can be to use a gutter guard in tandem with a heated cable. The guard will help protect the cable, while the warmth prevents the snow from settling on the guard.
Should I Knock Icicles Off My Gutters?
Again, opinion is divided on whether you should knock icicles off your gutters. Icicles look pretty, but should they be allowed to stay there until they melt naturally?
The danger of knocking a large icicle off your gutter is that you could take the gutter down with it. It’s often best just to leave them alone, unless they are in a potentially dangerous place, such as above the doorway. In which case, try to knock them off as gently as you can.
How do icicles form on your gutter? Melted snow from the roof flows into the gutter and freezes when it hits the cold surface. Icicles will form on your gutters if water has not been able to flow through them. They’re like a large, frozen leak.
Just bear in mind that some states have specific icicle legislation. For example, in some places, businesses are responsible for clearing icicles from their premises in case they hit anyone. If your property is close to a sidewalk, again, you need to protect passers by from being injured by a falling shard of ice.
Why Are My Gutters Full of Ice? (And What To Do About it)
Ice forms in your gutters if melted snow or rainwater freezes in them. Ideally, any liquid that reaches your gutters should flow away down the spout. Prevention is easier than cure, and keeping your gutters clean from debris will help to keep the water flowing.
But, we’ll be realistic here. Blocked gutters and cold weather happen, and you end up with a gutter full of ice. Now what?
If you can do this safely, a slow flow of warm water will melt the ice. Attach your hose pipe to a warm water feed and carefully defrost the gutters. Don’t be tempted to use salt, as this can damage the gutters themselves.
Again, snow guards, heated cables, and regular roof raking will prevent snow from building up. Keep your gutters clear so that water can’t pool then freeze.
There are four ways of stopping winter snow from damaging your gutters. Firstly – keep them clear of leaves and well maintained so they work properly (eg. prevention is a great cure). Secondly, you can install snow guards, or thirdly heated gutter cables.
Fourthly – you can strengthen the gutters themselves so they are more securely attached to the house, meaning they can take more weight when the snow starts to fall.
But the way I look at this – for complete peace of mind why not take all of these measures if you live in an area with heavy annual snow falls. 🙂
Homeowner and property investor Larry James founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >