How To Prevent Frozen Gutters With Fall Maintenance

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Follow these four steps this fall to prevent ice dams this winter.

As you’re preparing your yard and the exterior of your home for winter, don’t forget to inspect your gutters.

“Making sure your gutters and downspouts are free of leaves and debris just might be the most important home maintenance task you can perform this fall,” says Vince Christofora, owner of Woodstock Hardware in Woodstock, New York.

Clogged gutters can lead to thousands of dollars of avoidable winter damage, including:

  • Overflow leading to rotting fascia boards behind the gutters and rotting siding below them.
  • Wet insulation and mold inside the walls of your home.
  • Ice dams that cause leaks, damaged gutters and “waterfalls” inside your home.

It’s especially important to clean the gutters while the weather is still pleasant.

“Often, people wait until all the leaves fall,” says Scott Vaughn of Hoosier Contractors in Indianapolis. “But waiting can mean cleaning gutters in snowfall with the leaves frozen or compacted by rainstorms and then washed down the downspouts, making it harder to clear out the clogs. Don’t wait. Clean your gutters two or three times.”

Here are four to-dos for this fall to prevent frozen gutters this winter:

Clean Gutters and Downspouts

Safety first. Carefully consider whether it’s better to do this yourself or hire a pro.

“When you’re 20 or 30 years old, you’re more likely to be on a ladder with one foot on the roof, scooping leaves from the gutter,” says Christofora. “But when you’re 60, you don’t bounce as well as you used to! Think about paying someone to do the job if you’re not up for it physically, or invest in a ladder of reasonable weight and adequate length. It must reach three to four feet above the gutter.”

Gutter-cleaning kits make your time on a ladder safer and easier. A gutter-cleaning scoop that connects to a telescoping pole extends your reach. So does a cordless blower, especially with dry leaves and debris.

If you own a one-story home, a cordless blower with extension tubes lets you blow leaves and debris from the ground. Attachments for a garden hose also help. And a telescoping pole with a flexible wand connected to a garden hose lets you wash gutters without climbing a ladder.

Here’s a pro tip from Vaughn: “Temporarily disconnect the bottom elbow of your downspout by removing the screws. Gutters may be clean, but some washed debris may get trapped at that bend and cause clogging again. Also, if your downspout dumps into an underground drain and you don’t disconnect the bottom elbow, debris will go underground and may cause problems there.”

Fix Gutters and Check Slope

For reattaching gutters, you can find 7-in. gutter screws at a hardware store. For repairing minor drips or leaks, there are gutter sealants and the versatile Flex Paste.

Gutters should slope to ensure that water flows to your downspouts. The rule of thumb is a 1/16-in. drop per foot of gutter. Vaughn recommends looking for “dead spots” of standing water. Raising or lowering screw holes where gutter straps attach to the roof often gets water moving again.

Install Electric Cables

Add electric roof de-icing cables, like this one from Easy Heat, just above your gutters to maintain a clear path for water drainage. Or get quotes from companies that install cables in gutters and roof valleys.

Consider a Contractor With Roofing Expertise

If you’re too busy to do these maintenance tasks, or you’re not comfortable on a ladder, consider hiring a contractor. Many offer year-round maintenance programs and can advise you on insulation and blowing debris from soffits.

Adequate insulation ensures shingles stay cold, which helps prevent snow and ice on the roof from melting and re-freezing. Good airflow from the soffit area along the underside of the roof and up through roof vents allows attic air to stay cold enough to prevent or minimize freeze/thaw cycles.