Unwanted ice buildup on your roof can cause significant damage to your home. Large ice dams and icicles also pose a threat to your safety. One of the easiest ways to combat ice dams is to install heat tape across your roof and gutter system.
What is heat tape?
Heat tape goes by many names: heating cord, heat cable, and foil heaters, to name a few. Heat tape is insulated wire you can attach to areas of your roof that are most prone to ice and snow buildup. As its name suggests, heat tape will elevate your roof's temperature to melt snow and mitigate ice dams. It can be cut to custom lengths to fit the size and shape of your roof, or you can purchase precut pieces to install.
How does heat tape work?
Installing heat tape on your roof is an effective way to significantly reduce ice and snow buildup. While it won’t eliminate ice dams, it can help prevent excess moisture from collecting on your roof, avoiding the major problems ice dams can cause. Place the tape around the eaves and along the valleys of your roof for the best heat output results. Also consider placing them in your gutters and downspouts and around openings like your chimney and vents.
Why should I use heat tape?
As we mentioned, ice buildup can cause damage to your home. One way it can do this is by putting stress on your roofing system. Ice and snow can place excessive weight on your roof and gutters. When it melts, pooled water can leak into your home, where it can contribute to mold growth. If ice falls off your roof, it can also injure anyone in its path. Heat tape is a standard ice dam prevention method and can be an effective way to protect your roof and home from harsh winter damage.
When an ice dam forms, it creates a blockage so water can’t flow safely off your roof and onto the ground. Instead, melted snow pools behind the dam and continues to build over time. This can cause moisture to seep under your shingles and roof decking. When this moisture freezes, shingles can lift out of place, breaking the seal that keeps out water, pests, and other harmful elements. Before you know it, you could have a leak in your home that causes severe water damage and leads to other serious problems like rotting wood and mold growth.
Gutters and Downspouts
Maintaining your gutter system is vital to keeping your home healthy. Suppose your gutter system is damaged and unable to direct moisture away from your home. If water runs down your siding and pools near your home’s foundation, it can lead to erosion, an unstable foundation, basement flooding, and cracks in exterior walls.
In the winter, your gutters need to be in tip-top shape. As snow and ice melt off your roof, your gutters must direct the water safely away from your home and its foundation. If ice buildup blocks this flow, moisture can build up, repeatedly freezing, melting, and refreezing. As it becomes heavier, it can put an immense strain on your gutters and roof. If the weight becomes too much, your gutters may even detach from your house and crash to the ground. Heat tape raises your roof’s surface temperature to alleviate ice buildup in your gutters and downspouts and along your roofline to prevent these types of problems.
Tips for Installing Heat Tape
Follow these essential tips for installing heat tape safely and effectively on your roof and in your gutters and downspouts.
1. Consider professional installation first.
Especially in the winter, with cold temperatures, snow, and ice, installing heat tape can be tricky. If you install it incorrectly or use low quality materials, you risk electrical shock or fire if your cables overheat. We recommend having a professional install your heat cable for you. If you’re confident in your abilities to do the job yourself, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions strictly. Keep in mind that these may differ from publicly available information. Don’t take any unnecessary risks, and seek professional help if you have any questions or concerns.
2. Gather all necessary materials together.
Before you run to the store to buy your heat tape, make sure you have all the other materials you need to get the job done right. You’ll also need a ladder, a tape measure, electrical tape, and roof clips. Pick a dry day for installation and install the tape from your ladder. Climbing on your roof is unsafe in the winter and could cause extensive damage to your roof system.
3. Plan and measure your route.
Plan out the route your heat tape should take to get from one end of your roof to the other. Remember that you’ll need to install it in a zig-zag pattern, so you should account for four to seven times the length of your roofline when measuring. Also take note of where you will need to backtrack and if you need to begin or finish near an outlet. After you have a game plan, measure the path's length so you can purchase the right amount of heat tape.
4. Buy the right type of heat tape and clips.
Next, it’s time to head to the store (or shop online). Look for heat tape that’s UL-listed, so you know it’s been tested. Also look for self-regulating tape, which can adjust automatically to changing outdoor temperatures for maximum energy efficiency. You also need to buy clips and spacers for installation. If you purchase a heat tape kit, these items should be included.
5. Carefully follow installation instructions.
Again, ensure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully to avoid potential hazards. Never install tape near leaking pipes. Don’t use extension cords to plug the heat tape into an outlet, either. Only plug it directly into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) receptacle. Use clips to secure your heat tape on the roof, and use your electrical tape to install it around piping and vents. Keep in mind that some types of tape can pose a fire risk if they’re covered in insulation or cross over themselves. It’s always a smart idea to research brands before buying their products.
6. Add insulation.
If it’s safe to do so, you can use waterproof insulation to enhance your heat tape's energy efficiency.
7. Monitor your heat tape for effectiveness.
Keep a close eye on your heat tape after installing it, and only turn it on when necessary—both to save energy and as an extra safety precaution. As soon as the ice and snow melt from your roof, make sure you unplug it again. If something seems wrong when the system runs, unplug it and call an electrician to inspect your roof immediately. If your heat tape malfunctions, it can start an electrical fire.
While heat tape won’t address underlying problems that cause ice dams, like insufficient attic ventilation or inadequate insulation, it can be an affordable and effective option. For a more holistic solution, ask a professional to inspect your roof and attic for problems. They can identify air leaks throughout your space and offer you the best solution for your ice dam issue.
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