Homeowners know all too well about blistered paint, roof and ceiling damage, and structural weakness in the attic. If you live in an area where snow is measured in feet and not inches, then the culprit behind these types of damage are most likely ice dams.
During the wintertime, ice dams will begin to form days or even weeks after heavy snowfall. Despite our homes being insulated to keep the warmth indoors during the cold seasons, indoor heat will begin to float upward, causing the bottommost layer of snow on your shingles to melt. However, before the snow can belt, outdoor temperatures refreeze the melted snow, turning it into heavy ice. As this process repeats itself, our roofs will need to bear more weight, deal with water damage and leaks, and potentially cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in repairs.
How to Eliminate Ice Dams
Giving nature control over getting rid of ice dams is not a good idea since it’ll be months before they’ll begin to thaw. Luckily, there are several methods we can implement to get rid of ice dams, though their levels of effectiveness vary.
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Steaming and Scraping
The classical method of getting rid of ice dams is by shooting heat directly at the ice dam and chipping it away using an aluminum scraper. This is one of the most effective ways of eliminating ice dams, but let’s be honest; it’s a pain in the neck to do, and you don’t want to risk your life by balancing on a ladder in the middle of winter.
You make your own melting socks by placing calcium chloride ice melt into long nylon socks. You then place them on your roof and/or gutter to prevent snow and ice from building and creating ice dams. It’s a rather cost-effective way to prevent ice dams for forming, but there’s hardly any way to place them in downspouts without clogging them up.
Attic Thermal Insulation
Materials like glasswool and insulation spray foam can help you reduce cooling costs significantly during summer. Whatever cold air is in your home and attic will not be able to penetrate the insulation, allowing you to keep your AC off for most of the day. However, these are not foolproof, and oftentimes you’ll find cold air escaping through any spots you’ve missed or cracks in old glasswool.
The main issue is during the wintertime when warm air floats upwards, passing through the insulation and slowly melting away the snow accumulated on your shingles. Unless you do regular checks on your insulation, this method is far from being even remotely effective at preventing and eliminating ice dams.
Radian barriers use reflective surfaces that bounce away heat rather than conducting it. This is much more effective at reducing cooling costs, but when it comes to dealing with ice dams, this is definitely not the thing you want. Since it bounces light away, it can shoot beams of light and heat upward toward your ceiling and roof. Unfortunately, the heat that it produces doesn’t surpass how quickly melted snow refreezes and collects.
Although radiant barriers are installed to reflect light and heat upwards, you can also place the barriers to shoot heat down. During winter, this would be the better solution, and you can simply scrape off the snow from your roof. Unfortunately, this means you’ll actually be introducing more heat into your homes.
A de-icing cable – also known as roof heating cables, electric roof de-icers, and heat tapes – is an electric heat cord that gets clipped onto the top of your roof. These cables are set up in a zigzag pattern and fed through the gutter and downspout. During a snowstorm, you simply plug in the cable into an indoor or weather-proof outdoor outlet and the electricity will cause the cords to heat up. As the cords rise in temperature, they will begin to melt away at the snow and forming ice, sending water into your gutter and through the downspout.
This is one of the most effective solutions at getting rid of ice dams. As long as the de-icing cable is constantly plugged in, the melted snow and ice won’t have a chance to refreeze. This minimizes the risk of water damage and leaks from ice dams in your attics and ceilings.
Benefits of De-Icing Cables
Other than keeping ice dams from building on your home’s roof, de-icing cables help in keeping ice from forming in your gutters and downspouts. This is something that’s extremely hard to do with a steamer and aluminum scraper since they won’t fit in the downspout and will take forever to heat it up to a hot enough temperature to melt the ice within.
In addition, de-icing cables are easy to install on your own, so you don’t need to spend a ton of money to get a professional to clip them on your shingles for you. However, most of the complaints regarding de-icing cables come from homeowners who either install these cables incorrectly or purchase cords that are too short.
Roof De-Icing Cables Buying Guide
If you’re interested in investing in a good roof de-icing cable, then you should know that there are several factors to pay attention to. The following segment will provide you with a quick rundown of the different specs and features available in roof de-icing cables and what to look for.
De-icing cables can be as short as 20 feet and as long as 240 feet. As we mentioned earlier, many people who complain about their de-icing cord’s inability to thaw ice and snow usually pick up a cord that’s either too short or not hot enough (more on this later).
The first thing you need to do is measure how long your gutters are, the side of your roof, and the entire length of your downspout. There are free calculators online that can help you determine how long a de-icing cable you need by calculating the edge of your roof, how many roof valleys there are, the overhang of your roof, how many downspouts there are, and the distance to the nearest power outlet.
One thing about de-icing cables that you need to understand is that they can consume a lot of energy. Unfortunately, this means that if you choose to get de-icing cables, you may need to babysit the power outlet to ensure that the cords aren’t on when you don’t need it. However, you can, to an extent, reduce the total energy consumption of your de-icing cord by choosing a model that has a lower wattage rating.
You may come across de-icing cable models that use 10 watts of energy for every foot of the cord’s length. Although more watts mean more heat which translates into more effective destruction of ice dams, they’re not the most cost-efficient. There are several models that use half as much power as these and perform admirably well during the winter.
Temperature and Moisture Sensor
Apart from checking out the wattage rating of a de-icing cable, you can also invest in temperature and moisture sensor. This ingenious little box gets placed outside, preferably on your roof and near to where you install the de-icing cable. The sensor will use two variables to determine whether to supply energy to the cables or not – temperature and the presence of moisture.
Basically, this two-variable measuring sensor checks whether the outdoors has reached a certain temperature (freezing, for instance) and the presence of moisture from snow and ice. If, for example, it has reached the desired temperature, but there is no snow, ice, or water, the sensor will prevent energy from flowing through the cables. This little tool could save you a lot of headache since a) you don’t need to babysit the cord, and b) it’ll automatically turn on and off, saving you quite a bit of money in the long run.
Since de-icing cables are going to be exposed to moisture from snow and ice, it’s imperative that the cords are completely waterproof and able to withstand freezing temperatures. Oftentimes, we see cheap knock-offs on the market not lacking the ability to melt snow, but basically breaking down within the first few months of use due to cracks caused by the cold. When this happens, and melted ice and snow find their way into the sensitive inner components of the cable, you can kiss your cords and warranty goodbye.
Gutters and Downspouts
You need to be aware of what materials were used to make your home’s gutters and downspouts. There are basically only two options: PVC piping and aluminum. Both of these materials are used for their natural ability to withstand extreme temperatures, non-corrosiveness, and lightweight. However, not all de-icing cords are made for use on both plastic and metal. Just be sure that you read the label clearly so you can get the right cable for the right job.
Top 5 Roof De-Icing Cables
In the previous segment, we’ve provided you with a quick buying guide on how to pick the right de-icing cables for your roof. However, after a quick search online, you’ll see literally hundreds of different models from different manufacturers offering seemingly similar products. To help you on your quest of looking for the cable, we’ll provide you with our picks of the five best roof de-icing cables that you can pick up today.
5 Easy Heat 240′ Roof/gutter Deicer Cable
The first de-icing cable model we’re looking at is the 240-foot cable from Easy Heat. You can obviously tell from its name that this cable is extremely long – one of the longest de-icing cables you can find. Because of its length, this cable is designed for large roofs with longs gutters and downspouts.
The long cable length can help if you don’t have an outdoor power outlet and need to run the cable indoors into your kitchen or living room. However, it can be a nuisance having to coil them up, and hiding several feet of cord is not an easy feat. Furthermore, excess length of the cable means not only creating a fire hazard but also paying extra in electricity bills for unused potential.
Forgetting about the length of the ADKS-1200 for a minute, this is an extremely good de-icing cable. It’s designed to work in both aluminum and PVC plastic gutters and downspouts. The kit comes with all the clips and spacers you need to install the entire 240-foot cable in a zigzag pattern across the edge of your roof, in the gutters, and down your downspout.
You need to ensure that you install this cable before heavy snowstorms since it won’t produce enough heat to melt fully formed ice dams. This isn’t unique to the ADKS-1200, but it can be a disappointment if you’re expecting it to thaw ice while the cable is resting on top of it.
4 Heat it HIRD De-icing Cable
The next de-icing cable is the HIRD 80-foot from Heat It. Although this is the 80-foot model, the company sells many different sizes, ranging from 20 feet all the way up to 200 feet. This 80-foot cable is in the middle of the cable-length spectrum, so it’ll probably work fine on most people’s roofs.
To help this cable withstand cold, moist environments, it comes with heavy-duty XLPE inner insulation and a PVC coating. Basically, you can leave this cable on your roof all year long without worrying about snow, rain, or dust affecting its performance.
This 80-foot cable is able to maintain a constant temperature despite how cold it is outside. 10 minutes after plugging the cable in, it reaches about 60°, more than enough to melt snow and ice in just a matter of minutes.
The HIRD cable uses about 5 watts per foot which is one of the most cost-efficient cables. Still, we recommend investing in a temperature and moisture sensor to reduce your energy bills further when using this cable.
The one complaint we have about this product is the clips that come in the box. This 80-foot cable comes with several aluminum clips that might not be able to grip the cables as well as steel. We’d recommend purchasing steel clips separately, meaning that you’d need to spend extra to make this cable work well.
3 Easy Heat ADKS-500 De-Icing Cable
The next de-icing cable is the ADKS-500 from Easy Heat. This is a 100-foot long cord that comes with two mounting screws and six clips. Installation is rather easy, but you need to install these cables on a warm day before ice dams can develop.
This is the 100-foot long model, though Easy Heat has different lengths for different roofs, starting from 30 feet to 200 feet. Be sure to use an online calculator to count how long a cable you need, otherwise you’ll end up spending more on energy if you get one that’s too long. Speaking of costs, this cable only takes 5 watts per foot.
One complaint we have is that the clips don’t seem to be as durable as they should. First, the clips can hold onto the cables well, but their grips are somewhat weak on shingles, allowing the cables to slip easily off at the slightest tug from animals or heavy snow.
Unfortunately, this means this cable may not last you more than one season. In plastic and metal gutters and downspouts, there shouldn’t be any problems.
Like other models, this isn’t meant to be installed on top of the snow. The good news is that you can fit the cables in your gutter and downspouts even when there’s snow. However, if there’s already a buildup of ice, you’ll need to steam it away before installing this cable.
2 Frost King RC160 Roof Cable Kit
The next de-icing cable we’ve chosen is the RC160 from Frost King. The cables come pre-installed and ready to attach straight from the box. Be sure that you’ve measured the edge of your roof beforehand, taking valleys, overhangs, and the distance to the nearest power outlet into account.
This is the 160-foot model, but the company also prepares models from 30 feet all the way up to 200 feet. This is one of the more costly products in terms of energy consumption. It uses 7 watts per foot, whereas the other models on this list use only 5 watts. However, the extra wattage means more heat (up to 80°) for better snow and ice destruction. Be sure to have a temperature and moisture sensor on hand when using this unit.
Installation is a breeze, and the clips, though aluminum, are well-built and won’t release from your shingles easily. This is a breath of fresh air, considering that if the cables detach, you’ll need to take out the ladder and expose yourself to bone-chilling winds.
However, some customers have complained about this product’s inability to withstand rainwater. The only way to save this cable from frying is by detaching it after the snowy season. This can be a pain in the neck to do, but if you want to make good use out of the RC160 for multiple winters, this is something you absolutely have to do.
1 Easy Heat ADKS-300 Roof Snow De-Icing Kit
Finally, the number one product on our list of the five best de-icing cables is the ADKS-300 from, once again, Easy Heat. This is a 60-foot model that fits around your roof and valleys for effective ice dam demolishing.
Although this is the shorter version of the ADKS-500, this has been noted as being the most durable cable length. The cable is able to stay on your home’s roof all year long, so there’s no need to detach the ADKS-300 during the rainy season. The clips are a bit different from the 500 model and keep the cable intact, preventing small critters from tugging them out of position.
Like the ADKS-500 and other models on this list, the ADKS-300 uses 5 watts per foot of cable, making it one of the most energy-efficient de-icing cables ever. The cable reaches about 60°, even during heavy snowstorms, so you can rest assured that no ice dams or snow buildup will accumulate on your sensitive shingles.
The only complaints about this product aren’t even about the ADKS-300, but rather about the other cable lengths’ (30 feet to 200 feet) inability to perform as well as this one. Because of this, you may need to invest in several of these cables if you have a larger roof with tall valleys and eaves.
De-icing roof cables are one of the most effective ways of eliminating snow buildup and prevent ice dams from forming. Any homeowner knows that ice dams – an accumulation of melted snow and ice that refreezes over to build a Fortress of Solitude on your roof – can wreak havoc on your attic walls and ceilings, potentially leading to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in repairs.
Of course, there are several methods that homeowners can implement to prevent ice dams from forming, but de-icing roof cables have proven to be one of the best ways to do it.
When looking at potential de-icing roof cables for your home, it’s important that you choose the right model that fits not only your roof but also your energy bill budget.
This means taking the following factors into consideration: the length of the cable, how many watts it uses per foot, investing in a temperature and moisture sensor for auto-turn on and –turn off, and the unit’s ability to withstand frost and rain.
You also need to the materials used in your gutters and downspout (plastic or aluminum) and check whether a prospective de-icing cable is compatible.
To help you make a quick purchase decision, we’ve included five different de-icing cable models for you to consider. Although they all attach similarly, there are several things – including the clips and mounts – that can really make or break a cable.
Of all the cables we’ve looked at, we feel that you get the most value out of the ADKS-300 from Easy Heat. Even though it’s one of the shorter models in the company’s line of de-icing cable series, it’s somehow the most effective at doing its job.