Ice chopping damage to gutter (C) Daniel Friedman Guide to Snow & Ice Damage to Roof Gutters

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This article describes gutter problems caused by snow and ice and we suggest some remedies where snow or ice tend to freeze in gutters or push gutters off of the building. This article series discusses how to choose, install, diagnose & maintain roof gutters & downspouts, & roof drainage systems to prevent building leaks and water entry.

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Snow & Ice Damage to Building Gutters

The holes in the aluminum gutter shown below (left) were caused by someone chopping ice at the roof eaves - a nice clue that the building has a problem with ice dams.

Ice chopping damage to gutter (C) Daniel Friedman Ice chopping damage to gutter (C) Daniel Friedman<

Especially in climates of extensive snow fall and freezing weather, snow and ice sliding down roofs can make it very difficult to keep gutters on a building. In the New England states of the U.S. we often see that homeowners have simply given up any hope of keeping their gutters in place. Instead these homes employ metal flashing (against ice dam leaks) at the building eaves.

Roof eaves treatment to avoid gutter problems (C) D FriedmanBut unless these same homeowners are meticulous about surface grading around these buildings, basement or crawl space water entry is likely to be a problem, especially in wet, non-freezing weather or when it rains before the ground has frozen.

  • In areas of moderate snow and ice loads on roofs, mounting the gutter so that its outer edge is at or below a straight line projected from the roof slope outwards can prevent snow or ice from pushing the gutters off of the building.
  • Mount gutters and leaders securely to the building, using hangers at 16" on center.
  • Keep gutters clear of clogging debris so that water and snowmelt do not accumulate in the gutters. The weight of melting snow and ice in a clogged gutter can accumulate to become enough to pull the gutter off of the building.
  • Use of heat tapes on the roof eaves or in gutters and downspouts is, in our OPINION, a last resort that may also work.
  • Abandon using gutters and leaders on the building: in areas of heavy snow and ice loading on buildings, such as in northern New England in the U.S., (photo, above left, White Mountains area of New Hampshire) building owners rely on a combination of roof edge flashing or ice and water shield to prevent ice dam leaks into the building, combined with careful drainage slope-detailing and waterproofing of the soil or subsoil surface and/or foundation waterproofing to keep roof spillage from entering the building.

Watch out: on buildings with no roof drainage system to conduct water away from the building in areas of heavy ice and snow, snow (fallen off of the roof or shoveled from nearby walks) can form a "snow dam" parallel to the building foundation. During warming weather melting snow or ice on the building roof may drain behind the snow dam to collect right at the building foundation, inviting basement or crawl space flooding.

Other measures to keep water out of such basements are illustrated below (just ignore the downspout in this sketch).

Foundation Waterproofing & Footing Drains

Gutter and Downspout Details (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

buildings built to typical construction standards and practices are not "boats" - that is, the foundation is not water tight. Instead we rely on keeping water away from the foundation walls.

But for problem sites, wet soil sites, etc., it may be necessary to take extra steps to try to make the building foundation more waterproof or "boat-like".

The illustration demonstrates an extra building waterproofing step taken in areas of wet soils: a geotextile or foundation drainage mat is placed against the building foundation wall and carried down to the gravel-covered footing drain system.

Watch out: this system will not work unless the footing drain system itself is intact and draining properly.

Watch out: it is still necessary to extend the roof drainage system downspouts well away from the soil backfill and onto ground that drains away from the structure (as shown) lest we overload and clog the foundation waterproofing system.

Sketch courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.

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