Winter’s coming

Now’s the time to fight ice dams

Let’s face it – no one wants to think about winter right now. But the fact is, the cold and snowy season is on its way. And if you take a few steps now to protect your home, you’ll make your life a lot easier down the road.

The biggest challenge homeowners face in the winter are ice dams, says Mike Frentz.

Last winter, we had a big storm followed by a warming trend, and the result were ice dams all over the place. “We had people lined up around the store to buy roof rakes,” Mike recalls. “Every year, people wait until there’s three feet of snow on their roof and then they come running in here looking for rakes and gutter cables to melt the snow.”

The staff of Frentz and Sons Hardware is more than happy to help in times like that, but Mike suggests that waiting is not the smartest approach.

“Fall is the best time of year to get up there and install roof and gutter cables instead of waiting for the snow to pile up,” he says. “Not only is it a cold and annoying to get up on your roof in the middle of winter, it’s also very dangerous.”

So the message here is simple: Install gutter cables before winter gets here!!

Gutter cables are high-resistance electrical wires that you mount on the roof edge in a zigzag pattern and plug into an outdoor receptacle. Remember, you have to route the melting water away. Otherwise it’ll refreeze in the gutters and along the roof edge so you’ll also want to run the heat cable inside a downspout so the downspout doesn’t clog with ice.

Frentz and Sons Hardware carries a line of roof and gutter cables made by Wrap-On that come in lengths from 20’ to 250’ and range in price from $34.99 to $129.99. “People have already started installing them – we’ve sold a lot and are already restocking,” Mike says. The 100’-length cables are the most popular, Mike says, because they seem to run the length of most gutters and downspouts.

Figuring it out
Figuring out how much cabling you need is easy – the rule of thumb is that for every roof edge you need to heat, you’ll want to buy 2 ½’ of cable. Then you want to add in the length of the downspout from the roof to the bottom where the water exits. On a two-story home, most downspouts are about 8' to 12' in length, while a two-story home’s downspout is usually about 20’ in length.

For an example, let’s use a standard two-story colonial home that is so popular around Royal Oak. The roof’s gutters run across the front and back of the home and are about 25’ wide. So let’s do the math:

25’ gutters x 2.5 = 62.5’ of cabling

+ 10’ cabling for the downspout = 72.5’ cabling per side

You’ll need approximately 145’ of cable total. The cables do come in 80’ lengths and cost about $56.99. So the whole project should cost you about $114.

Installing the cable will take a little pre-planning, because no matter how long the cable is, using an extension cord is not recommended. The way to do it is plan backward – think the installation through from the outlet, rather than just starting on one area of the roof and worrying about plugging it in later.

How to install the cables
Mike says the installation isn’t just a safety issue. It’s also a matter of economics – you’ll want the plug within easy reach. These cables really work, and do so by drawing a large amount of electricity. For example, a 40-foot cable draws 200 watts of power. Often people will have a weatherproof electrical outlet installed on the outside if you don’t have one. A good place is under the overhang to protect the plug from water. You also might want a switch inside to turn the cables on and off as you need them.

Once you’re ready to install the cable, take a look at the diagram here, which comes from the instructions for the type of roof and gutter cable available at Frentz. It shows the insulated end of the cable at the end of the downspout and then goes up and down across the roof. The cable attaches to the shingles with aluminum clips.