10 rules of rooftop deicing

icicles-on-a-roof Photo by Maridav/Shutterstock

Even though it’s now officially spring, the cold air still screams winter and we’re still likely to get at least one more snowfall. If your cottage is plagued by the tyranny of ice dams, there are ways to prevent it from happening each year. While it’s better to do this while it’s still warm so there’s no ice and snow to contend with while you’re climbing around on your roof, here are some tips to keep your roof winter-ready for next year’s icy weather.

As regular readers of Cottage Life know, we are steadfast crusaders against the ice dam scourge. With the possible exception of poor foundation drainage, ice dams are probably the single most expensive headache homeowners can expect to face.

Let’s review:

Ice damming is the buildup of ice and snow along the eaves of a cottage during winter. Their very presence indicates too much heat is escaping from the roof of your cottage, because as new snow falls on the upper part of the roof, it melts and runs down to the eaves, which is cold. The melted snow then freezes, forming a small ridge all around the eaves. Eventually, water gets held up on the part of the roof that’s over the cottage, thus still warm, and stays liquid. This is where the trouble lies, as the water begins to work its way under the shingles.

There are many ways to combat the problem, chief among them the proper ventilation of the roof cavity. Some homeowners fasten down a continuous layer of rubber, asphalt or metal roofing over the eaves. But for stubborn and chronic ice dam problems, there is the electric roof de-icing kit.

You’ve seen these kits before, no doubt. They consist of a cable that zigzags across the eaves; the cable heats up and melts away the ice buildup before it can cause any damage. Fittingly for this space, it truly is the quickest of fixes for the ice dam dilemma.

While installing the kit is fairly easy, it’s a good idea to get some seasonal maintenance in while you’re at it. Clean out the eavestroughs and make sure the downspouts are unblocked.

The ten rules of de-icing

1. Use a 120-volt circuit only.

2. Connect the cable directly to a GFCI weatherproof outlet that’s properly grounded.

3. Never allow an operating cable to overlap itself or touch another heating cable.

4. Remove any existing de-icing cables before installation.

5. Don’t alter, i.e. shorten, the heating cable; it will overheat.

6. Never install a heating cable or portion of heating cable indoors.

7. Keep the heating cable away from exhaust vents.

8. Don’t paint or cover the cable.

9. Don’t install on a flat roof.

10. Keep roof free of leaves and other combustibles.

What you’ll need

The de-icing kit, complete with all its shingle clips, a pair of gloves, and mesh barriers, if you opt for them. Other handy tools: a tape measure and chalk (for marking clip locations), pliers, and a ladder.

This article originally appeared on

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