Heat cables are designed for use in dealing with snow, ice and ice dams. These type of cables are categorized under various names, and in spite of their different titles, they basically do the same thing, which is to heat and melt away any major snow or ice that surround the cables on a rooftop area. As the cables heat up, they form grooves or channels for any melted snow and ice to travel down and drain into the gutter system of a roof. Some of the other names you will see used for heat cables include:
- De-icing cables
- Heat tapes
- Heat coils
- Roof heating cables
Whatever the name, heat cables appear to be a good way to get rid of excess snow or ice buildup, and even ice dams, but are they all that great for getting rid of any major kind of buildup that can happen on a roof? Here are some of the pros and cons of heat cables that can help you decide just what they can and can’t accomplish, and whether it is worth the time, effort and expense to use them.
Pros and Cons of Heat Cables
Pro- Properly Installed – When installed in the right way, heat or deicing cables can work well, but if you’re expecting to see every bit of snow and ice come gushing down your gutters, that usually isn’t the case, as these cables won’t completely melt all the areas of ice and snow, but they do clear out any that is in the immediate vicinity of the cables and will allow enough space for any water to empty into the gutter. This is a positive action even if ice dams form as the flow of melted snow from a roof won’t be blocked from leaving the roof and the roof will remain protected.
Con- Not a Catchall for all Snow and Ice – Whatever the profile of a roof, ice buildup may occur in areas other than an overhang or the eaves. With that in mind, additional heat cables will probably be needed. They should be placed on other trouble-spots on a roof, or alternative ways found to deal with those specific problem areas. Heat cables are not going to completely clear a roof of snow and ice. They can’t be expected to perform miracle snow and ice removal over an entire roof.
Con- Increased Utility Costs – Since heat cables require electricity to produce heat, the process can be costly. Some systems do regulate themselves as they can produce heat as temperatures decrease, or they can be programmed to go on and off when needed, which is of some help with a utility bill, but these heat cable systems can be expensive to buy as well as install.
Pro – Savings can be made – In spite of increased electric bills, savings can be made when a roof is freed up from ice dams. If ice dams are continually occurring, then appropriate placement of heat cables can be a wise investment as they can protect a roof and prevent potential damage to the interior of a home. So, in spite of the initial expense, heat cables can rescue a roof from the constant presence of ice buildup.
Pro- Variety of Forms for Easy Installation – With heat or deicing cables available in a number of forms, installing certain varieties of cables can be less difficult. One form, ice tape, which is actually an adhesive coil, makes for a less difficult installation. If you are comfortable on a ladder, you can, with caution, easily install it yourself.
Con- Only as Effective as its Installation Again, heat or deicing cables are only as effective as their installation. If you think you are incapable of doing the installation yourself, just don’t have the time and patience, or are simply plain wary of ruining a set of cables, it may be in your best interest to hire a qualified contractor who has references and has regularly completed a number of heat cable installations. It is always to anyone’s advantage to install deicing cables before harsh weather sets in and ice has had a chance to build. In order to speed up the process, a professional is likely more prepared to get a hat cable installation done quickly and efficiently.
Pro- Functional in Certain Temperatures – Heat cables only function well under certain temperature conditions. They do well in warmer situations, during less frigid weather. Ice dams are actually formed when temperatures are at the level of snow melting, which is right around the freezing point. Ice buildup is not going to be as much of a problem during severe cold as the ice remains intact. When melting occurs, the temperature will be higher and the heat or deicing cables will be more effective. Some would think that cables that only function at certain temperatures would not be effective when, in fact, the cables are designed to work when the ice is at the melting point and any accumulation of melted ice is more easily removed from the roof.
Other Solutions to Ice Dams
In addition to heat cables, there are other solutions to removing accumulated snow and ice dams. There are other products that can be of help and include:
- Roof Snow Rake
An aluminum roof snow rake is lightweight yet sturdily designed in a fashion to remove snow from the edges or eaves of a roof before any snow freezes and creates ice dams. The strategy is to eliminate as much of the snow as possible without digging into any shingles or other roofing materials. The rake has rollers on its bottom edge along with plastic sheeting to help catch a majority of the snow, so no damage occurs to shingles.
- Ice Melt Socks/Stockings
Ice melt socks/stockings can be easily made, and roofing specialists or electricians are usually not required in the process. Supplies will be needed in the form of nylon stockings, ice melt product (Calcium Chloride)and a pair of scissors. Simply cut the foot area off the stockings and fill them with several pounds of the ice melt. Once filled, tie up both ends of the stocking.
Installation is fairly quick. Simply place the socks/stockings in a vertical fashion with one end towards the gutter and the other toward the roof slope. Space them at three foot intervals. The socks/stockings will form a groove or channel in the snow or ice that will help the melting water to run off the roof, rather than forming along the edges and creating inside leaks.
- Zigzagged Roof Deicing
This type of ice melting heat cable is one that is more widely used but may require the help of an electrician or roofing specialist. It will have to be placed in a zigzag pattern on the lower part of a roof and possibly along the gutters.
If the heat cable is going to be placed without anyone’s assistance, be sure that the roof is clear of snow. A ladder with a stabilizer should also be used to prevent any slippage. In addition, watch that no short circuit occurs. A power or plug in source should be away from any water and should be located under the overhang of the roof. If you have no outlet, an electrician should be called in to run the necessary connections for you.
When the cables are installed on the roof, make sure that there are fasteners placed under any overlapping shingles. This is done to avoid any possible holes occurring in the roof and creating subsequent leaks.
Heat cables and some of the other ideas presented have both advantages and disadvantages. If you have a roof that experiences winter woes with snow, ice and ice dam accumulation, it might be wise to further investigate heat cables as well as other solutions. If you aren’t sure what is best for you and your roof, complete the online contact form and an expert will get back to you with the answers you need to securely protect and winterize your roof.