Gutters are an essential part of your roof’s drainage system. They collect the water that falls onto the roof, direct it to the downspout, and away from your home. Functioning gutters will keep problems like leaks, roof damage, flooded basements, etc, at bay. However, gutters are often open and tend to collect debris. This debris can accumulate over time and start to block the system. That’s when problems start to occur. Clogged gutters won’t drain water effectively and that can be especially problematic during the winter. More often than not, clogged gutters lead to ice dams.
What Are Ice Dams?
If you live in an area with snow-filled winters, you probably know what ice dams are. As their name suggests, they’re a dam of ice that forms on the edge of a sloping roof. The most obvious indication of an ice dam is the icicles that form on the edges. It’s easy to understand how they are formed. It takes a combination of snow, heat, and cold to create them.
When you allow the snow to build up on the roof, there’s always a chance of an ice dam. The snow offers a slightly insulating effect, which causes the bottommost layer of snow on the roof to melt. The snow can also melt if you don’t have proper insulation in your attic. When the snow melts, it turns into water and flows down the roof towards the gutters. However, if it’s exposed to cold temperatures, the water can freeze and turn into ice.
This ice will gradually build up, forming a dam over the edge and the gutters. This dam won’t allow the melted water to flow off the roof. That means you’ll have a small pool of water accumulating on your roof. That can lead to leakages, wet insulation, water damage on ceilings and walls, mold, water damage on the soffits and siding, and damage to the roof and shingles.
What Role Does the Gutter Play?
As we mentioned in the introduction, a gutter is an essential part of the roof’s drainage system. During the winter, when the snow melts, the resultant water flows down the slope of the roof, into the gutters, and away from your home. There is just no opportunity for the water to form into ice again and lead to ice dams.
If your roof is properly insulated and the gutters are unclogged and clean, the water from the roof will be efficiently drained away. However, if the gutters are clogged with debris, the water wouldn’t drain easily. That means it would be exposed to colder temperatures for a longer period of time. That would lead to ice dams.
How Do Ice Dams Damage the Roof?
Ice dams can cause a lot of visible damage. You can see the leaks and the icicles, notice the water damage, and feel the damage in the insulation. The ice dams do cause unseen damage to the roof as well. The process of ice formation itself is damaging. When ice is formed on the shingles, it will lift the seal placed on them, leaving them vulnerable to the elements. They would considerably shorten the life of the shingles and your roof. After the ice dam is formed, the damage is already done and it’s not just cosmetic.
Removing the ice dam will add to the damage, sometimes even cause the shingles to crack. After the ice dams are removed, if the roof isn’t sealed again, the shingles will lose increasing amounts of granules and become weak over time.
The freeze-thaw effect of water is particularly problematic. As a liquid, water can get into even the tiniest of cracks. When the temperature drops, water will freeze and expand, widening the crack. The longer this is ignored, the more extensive the damage can be.
How to Avoid This
One of the best ways to avoid ice dams is to ensure that the insulation in the attic is efficient and the gutters are clean. You should also regularly rake the snow off the roof to ensure that there is no way for the water to become trapped under it. If you do this, you won’t have to deal with ice dams and the damage they can cause.
While regularly cleaning the gutters can help, you can also install gutter protection or guards. That would slow down the accumulation of debris and keep the gutters clear.