To keep downspouts from freezing and forming ice blockages, clean your gutters of debris each fall and clear piled snow away from the exits of your downspouts. If your downspouts do become blocked with ice, pour boiling water on the exterior of the downspout where the blockage has formed. Alternatively, you can wrap your downspouts with heat tape to thaw ice and prevent future freezes. Gutter guards also prevent snow and ice from clogging your downspouts, and some have heating measures to prevent ice buildup from destroying your gutters and downspouts.
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What are the Dangers of Frozen Downspouts?
If your downspouts freeze in winter they can fill with ice and back up into your gutter, causing your gutters and downspouts to tear loose. Compacted snow and solid blocks of ice are heavy enough to strain gutter systems, and when they tear off they can cause serious damage to your roof.
- Frozen downspouts and gutters can tear loose, damaging your home.
- Can create ice blockages, leading to roof leaks.
If ice and snow block your downspouts, this can lead to snow backup on your roof, increasing the chance of winter roof leaks and water damage. Keeping your downspouts flowing freely protects your home and property.
5 Ways to Prevent Downspouts from Freezing
If your downspouts have frozen in the past, or if they’re currently frozen, there are ways to both prevent this problem and solve it if it occurs. With just a few simple tactics, you can maintain proper drainage through winter and prevent damage to your home.
Fall Gutter Cleaning
Leaves, twigs, pine needles, dirt, and other materials can form blockages in your downspouts. You may not notice them in the summer when the water can still filter through, but when winter arrives these blockages can collect snow and ice, turning into compacted masses in your downspout. To combat this:
- Clean your gutters in fall, after most of the leaves have come off the trees.
- Use this gutter cleaning wand to easily clean gutters without using a ladder.
- Make sure all downspouts are cleared and water flows freely through them.
To ensure your downspouts don’t have any clogs, you can inspect them visually from the top, probe with a tool handle, or detach them from the gutters and clean them thoroughly before reinstalling.
Clear Away Piled Snow at the Downspout Exit
Snow piled up at the bottom of the downspout can form a blockage. Then, any water that does try to exit can become trapped and freeze. Once the snow begins to fall, make sure the lower exit of your downspouts are cleared. Add this to your shoveling or snow blowing routine.
- Snow on the ground blocking downspout exits can create blockages and encourage ice formation.
- Clear snow away from downspout exits after each snowfall.
This simple winter maintenance task requires a few minutes, but it can save you a lot of trouble. Simply keeping downspout exits clear can stop them from freezing.
Clear Blockages With Hot Water
If your downspouts do freeze, they can be cleared with hot or boiling water. Although you may think this involves climbing onto a ladder and pouring water into the downspout, avoid this if possible. Remain safe and use the method below:
- If you can, avoid using a ladder. You may not need to pour water into the downspout from the top.
- Lightly tap the outside of your downspout with a hammer handle. Places where it is solid, not hollow, indicate a blockage.
- Pour hot water on the exterior of the downspout at the point of the blockage.
- Observe. If water begins to flow freely, along with chunks of ice, the blockage is cleared.
- Recheck the blockage using the tapping method. If the downspout is still frozen, repeat with more water.
The hot water will both thaw the ice inside the pipe and cause the metal of the pipe to expand slightly. These two factors together can be enough to unclog a frozen downspout.
Install Heating Tape on Your Downspouts
Are your downspouts frozen solid? Are they prone to re-freezing despite the measures you take to keep them flowing? Then it’s time to wrap your downspout with heating tape. This tape is typically used to wrap plumbing to keep pipes from freezing, but it can be applied to downspouts. To implement this method:
- Use this heating tape with an adjustable thermostat to automatically heat downspouts in subzero conditions.
- Wrap the heating tape around the downspout, focusing on problem areas where blockages typically occur.
- Connect the heating tape to a power source.
- Set the thermostat to apply heat when temperatures drop below freezing.
Heating tape can be used temporarily to clear a blockage or can be left on a troublesome downspout all winter to automatically keep it from freezing. Heating tape with a thermostat control will turn on automatically to prevent ice blockages.
Install Gutter Guards
Gutter guards are an excellent measure for preventing downspouts from freezing. By blocking large chunks of snow and ice from entering your gutters and downspouts, gutter guards keep your roof drainage system clear.
- Use this stainless steel gutter guard to prevent debris, ice, and snow from clogging downspouts and forming ice blockages.
- Gutter guards work year-round to stop dirt, leaves, and branches from entering your gutters, making cleaning easy.
- Some specialized gutter guards include heating elements to prevent ice formation and keep gutters and downspouts safe.
Gutter guards are a great investment that eliminates gutter cleaning and drastically reduces the chance that your downspouts will freeze. They’re worth the cost for the time they save.
What Not to Do When Downspouts are Frozen
If your downspouts are frozen, it’s important to clear the blockage without damaging your gutter system. Here are some tactics to avoid when your downspouts freeze.
- Climbing a ladder to pour boiling water into your downspout.
- Hitting the outside of a downspout with a hammer or other tool to “break up” ice.
- Jamming a pole or tool handle into the downspout to clear blockages.
Climbing a ladder in icy conditions while carrying boiling water is a recipe for injury, so avoid this whenever possible. Similarly, using force to attempt to clear downspouts can seriously damage your downspouts or tear them loose from your home.
How Do You Thaw Out a Downspout?
To thaw out a downspout, use one of the following tactics:
- Perform a fall gutter cleaning to remove debris that may collect snow and ice.
- Keep the lower exits of downspouts free of snow in winter.
- Pour boiling water on the exterior of frozen downspouts to clear blockages.
- Wrap your downspouts in heating tape to automatically heat the downspout and clear or prevent freezing.
- Install gutter guards to prevent large chunks of snow, ice, and other debris from entering gutters and downspouts, where they can create blockages.
With these techniques, frozen downspouts will cease to be a problem and your gutter system will weather the winter without issue.