Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this month, and homeowners throughout North America are dutifully serving their six-week sentences as winter soldiers on. While the celebrated groundhog has no actual authority over the temperature, it’s true that many regions haven’t seen the last of below-freezing temperatures -- which means the risk of frozen gutters remains.
Unless you have heating elements installed in your gutters -- a handy but uncommon feature -- you’ll likely have to put up with some icicle formation if you live in a colder climate. But the real danger is when your gutters and downspouts fill up with significant amounts of ice.
Watch Out for Winter
Keeping your gutters clean is a year-round priority. During warmer seasons, clogged gutters can cause rainwater to pool right up against your eaves and shingles, which can cause major damage over time. The water may also overtop the gutters and spill straight down to the ground next to your house, which can contribute to basement leaks, soil erosion and foundation settling problems.
But during the winter, there are additional concerns. If trapped water freezes, it will expand, and that can bend and deform your gutters. In extreme cases, it could even split your downspout open.
If huge chunks of ice form in the gutters above, the added weight could be enough to cause the gutters to pull away from the house. If pieces of guttering -- or worse, huge blocks of ice -- come completely loose, they could fall and cause serious injury to anyone standing below.
Clean Early, Clean Often
Winter is a lousy time to be up on the ladder, scraping leaves and twigs out of your gutters. In addition to working in the uncomfortable cold, damp and icy conditions make slipping hazards a real concern. That’s why it pays to thoroughly clean your entire gutter system in late fall, before the first blast of winter weather arrives.
Over the course of the winter, take advantage of fair weather days to inspect your gutters and downspouts for signs of clogs. If you cleaned them well before the start of winter, there’s a good chance you’ll make it until spring. But if you have lots of trees around your house, it’s possible that you’ll need some midwinter maintenance.
If your gutters do fill up with ice, there are professionals who can clear them for you. But doing so safely and properly is a fairly big job -- most service providers use steam machines to melt the ice as they clear debris. It’s cheaper than major gutter repairs or replacement, but it’s expensive enough that you’ll want to try your best to avoid it.
A well maintained gutter system is essential to the moisture control needs of most homes. If you end up with basement leaks as the result of a gutter problem, call your trusted local plumbers to make things right again.