How to Prevent Frozen Pipes & Gutters

J&A South Park, How to Prevent Frozen Pipes & Gutters

Prevention Is Always Better than Cure:

You’ll Need to Prevent Ice from Forming in Your Gutters and Pipes

Winter can be quite challenging for homeowners in the Pittsburgh region, where below-freezing temperatures in the winter are quite common. And the damaging effects of severe winter weather on your home can appear in myriad ways.

Icy winds can knock down trees and branches, frosty temperatures can trigger pipes to freeze, and snow on the ground adjacent to your home for prolonged periods can even result in mold and rot complications.

One of the most annoying and frustrating winter weather challenges for homeowners are frozen pipes.

Frozen pipes can also be quite troublesome

Frozen pipes are troublesome, and pipes that burst can inflict a lot of damage to your home. To minimize this risk to your plumbing, you should learn how to thaw pipes and make temporary repairs where needed.

Water expands when it freezes. In pipes, this expansion can bring about ruptures. Surprisingly, the damage usually happens not at the point where a pipe has frozen but between the freezing point and the faucet. As the ice blocks the pipe and expands, the water pressure in the pipe intensifies. Eventually, too much pressure will rupture the pipe.

Such ruptures can be a time bomb. At first, there may be no leaking since the frozen water can completely block the pipe – until the ice begins to thaw, at which point you’re on the verge of a major flood.

Pipes that run through exterior walls are especially at risk; however, pipes that run through uninsulated attics and crawlspaces are also apt to freeze. Subfreezing weather over extended periods, cracks and gaps in walls or foundations, and entry points for pipes and cables all put pipes at risk. Poor insulation only boosts the vulnerability. Outside, hose spigots are also in jeopardy.

However, no matter the circumstances when temperatures dip below the freezing mark, unprotected pipes can freeze from a blend of exposure, wind chill, and the extent of the subfreezing weather.

Outdoor frozen pipe, J&A South Park, How to Prevent Frozen Pipes & Gutters

Long-term steps for preventing frozen pipes

Many of the repairs and upgrades to reduce the risk of frozen pipes are fundamental energy conservation practices that any homeowner can perform.

  • Locate and seal any cracks and gaps in the walls, attic, basement or crawlspace.
  • Weatherstrip and caulk around crawlspace doors and basement windows.
  • Make sure your home is adequately insulated. Pay particular notice to areas where pipes are situated.
  • Insulate exposed pipes in the crawlspace under your house as well as in the basement, attic, and exterior walls with snap-on foam insulation. Make sure the foam insulation fits tightly without any gaps. Apply duct tape to joints in insulation and miter foam around elbows, so the joints in pipes are totally covered.
  • Install thermostat-controlled, UL listed heat cables. Utilize cables that are applicable for your pipes and stick to the manufacturer’s instructions to keep from causing a fire hazard.
  • Install storm windows over basement windows or swap out old windows with energy-efficient replacements.

Short-term steps for preventing frozen pipes

If you don’t have much time to prepare, there are still steps you can take to protect your pipes.

  • Know where the main water valve is so you can turn it off immediately if a pipe leaks or bursts.
  • Unfasten garden noses from outside faucets to stop water from freezing in the hose and destroying the faucet. Drain the hoses and, if possible, store where it will be shielded against cold weather conditions.
  • To protect outside faucets, either cover them with insulated foam covers, cut off the water supply or install exterior faucets that cut off the water supply inside the walls.
  • Repair damaged basement windows.
  • Open cabinet doors under your sinks to allow the heated air from the room to reach the pipes inside the cabinet.
  • Install a permanent heater to keep places with pipes above the freezing point. As an example, an unheated basement or garage can be fitted with a permanent baseboard heater to maintain temps above freezing. Do not, however, use portable heaters, which are never to be left running unattended.

Warning: Never use a blowtorch or other open flame to thaw a pipe. This presents a serious fire hazard and can damage the pipe.

Gutter frozen on a house, J&A South Park, How to Prevent Frozen Pipes & Gutters

Why are frozen gutters bad for your property?

To put it simply, frozen gutters don’t successfully channel rain and melting snow and ice away from your property. One of the most significant hazards of an ice build-up is that the water will linger, pool, and flow over the gutter, on to your roof and sides of your home.

Additionally, ice can overload your gutters, wherein they detach and pull away from your home. Not only will you need to have your gutters refurbished or replaced again, but your home will also be subjected to leaks and water damage.

The truth is, avoiding frozen gutters is much easier than coping with them.

Here, then, are some tips to help prevent frozen gutters:

  • Keep gutters clean – First, you’re going to want to keep your gutters as clean as possible to prevent any build-up that can produce water retention. As part of the regular maintenance of your home, cleaning your gutters by hand or spraying them out with a water hose can significantly increase the performance and life of your gutters. This will also help to put a stop to overflow from backups of rain, not just ice.
  • Make sure your gutters are sloped – Your gutters ought to be somewhat sloped to make sure any water flows into your downspouts. Totally flat gutters can hamper adequate drainage.
  • Check your attic insulation – Another way to prevent ice from forming in your gutters is to make sure your attic is properly insulated. If you have heat escaping from certain spots in your attic, it can produce the ideal conditions for ice dams to form. The heat escaping will melt snow and ice off the roof and allow it to travel down into your gutter, where it can turn back into ice. Although it can be difficult to identify these spots on your roof, the reward is definitely worth it. Not only can you prevent ice dams, but you could also lower your home’s energy costs.
  • Look for signs of inadequate ventilation – Rust spots, rusty nails or a mildew smell are all signs that moisture has formed on the inside of your roof.
  • Shovel your roof – You can also use a special roof rake to remove snow before it melts and overwhelms your gutters. This can be especially helpful if you experience blizzard-like conditions, as it minimizes the weight of snow on your roof while also protecting the gutters.
  • Roof maintenance – If your roof is in its last stages, you may want to call in a roofing specialist for some maintenance. They will examine and repair a broad range of roofing issues that can lead to more serious trouble down the road.

Here’s one more great tip in how to prevent those damaging ice dams.

Use heated cables – Fastened with clips the length of the roof’s edge in a zigzag shape, heated cables help stop ice dams that actually lift shingles and trigger leaks. This lets you balance your roof’s temperature by heating it from the outside rather than blowing in cold air from the inside. It’s a bit late this year to think about installing heated cables. They need to be set up before any bad weather hits.

Frozen Gutter, J&A South Park, How to Prevent Frozen Pipes & Gutters

Let’s say you’re past the point of no return and currently experiencing ice dams in your gutters. What can you do to get rid of them?

We are aware of a situation a couple of winters ago; a homeowner had to cope with water entering their home due to ice build-up in the gutters. As he observed the maintenance workers stand on the roof and ladders, chipping away at the ice, he recounted his relief at not having to be the person out there in the cold.

Regrettably, that relief rapidly turned to horror as he watched those same men unintentionally rip away the gutters while attempting to remove the ice. Has that ever happened to you? Do you wish there was a better, safer way to deal with the crisis?

First, here’s some other methods NOT to use when removing ice from gutters.


One of the more common misconceptions when it comes to defrosting frozen gutters is to pour salt directly onto the ice. True, this might help gradually melt the ice in some instances, but it can do more long-term damage than good. Salt can harm and literally destroy gutters over time, which will only make your circumstances worse. Not to mention, it’s going to be a very laborious job if you decide to go this route.

Also, Using salt-filled stockings may NOT work.

Another commonly used technique is a pantyhose filled with salt. The idea behind this approach is not to allow the salt to harm the gutters by keeping it enclosed in the pantyhose. While this might be a fairly safe approach, it’s going to take a serious amount of time to get the job done properly. Also, while it might be all right for smaller jobs, this is not the road you want to take when facing bigger ice problems.

Froze pipe, J&A South Park, How to Prevent Frozen Pipes & Gutters

Here’s what you should do when your gutters are frozen solid.

Use hot water – One of the easiest and largely successful ways to rid your gutters of ice is to pour hot water onto them. It’s certainly no secret that hot water melts ice quickly but getting it up to larger roofs could be quite painstaking. A popular method used by those who employ this approach is hooking a water hose up to the hot water supply from the water heater. This will provide a steady stream of water to enable you to defrost the ice trapped in your gutters. If you’re dealing with a smaller, more accessible spot, a pot of hot water just might do the trick.

Use a roof rake – Ice dams can make frozen gutters more difficult to defrost as they only build an additional barrier of ice and snow that has to be melted. To help lessen the likelihood of ice dams developing, as previously mentioned, use a roof rake after a snowfall. A roof rake is a drawn-out rake that lets you knock down any built-up snow on your roof and help prevent ice from building up near your gutters. They can also help to push off any branches, leaves, and other debris on your roof that might otherwise end up in the gutters.

Let’s face it. While these described methods can be effective, calling for professional assistance is another possibility for avoiding harm to your hour house and yourself. Winter weather can certainly bring about a hoard of headaches, but with appropriate prevention and care, you can help cross frozen gutters off your list of winter woes.

There may be other areas around your home that need attention. For example, irrigation systems, swimming pool supply lines, and devices in unheated garages – such as washing machines, water softeners, and pressure washers – are at risk. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions for weatherization.

Hopefully, these tips will help you in your battle against ice build-up in your gutters or frozen pipes. In the meantime, should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call our technical specialists at J&A South Park at (412) 357-6043 for more information.

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