How To Winterize Your Gutters

ice dams on gutter

When you think about prepping your home for winter, your gutters are probably the last thing on your mind. But it’s important to get them ready for cold, snowy weather. Clogged gutters can sag and become damaged from snow and ice, leading to costly repairs you don’t need. 

Let’s look at some ways you can winterize your gutters and avoid headaches in the cold winter weather.

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How Winter Affects Your Gutters Generally

Ice on rain gutter
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We all love the beautiful blanket of white after a snowfall. But winter also can really take its toll on a home. So, before winter sets in, take the time to protect critical exterior structures such as your roof and gutters. Proper gutter winterization will prevent water damage and keep your family safe.

But first, let’s look at all the ways winter weather can impact your gutters.

Puts Pressure on Your Gutters

The weight of snow and ice on your roof can put too much pressure on your gutters, causing them to crack or even completely collapse.

Creates Downspout Blockages

Gutter downspouts direct rainwater and melted snow away from your home and into the ground, which is why keeping them free of snow and debris is crucial. If ice is stuck inside, your entire gutter system will get backed up and damaged. This is especially true if there is a lot of snowfall.

Creates Ice Buildup

After a bad winter storm, ice can build up in the gutters, preventing the flow of water to the downspouts and below into the ground. This extra runoff also can form long icicles at the edge of the gutters, causing further obstruction to the gutter system and increasing the risk of moisture seeping into your home.

Forms Ice Dams

Do you know those chunks of ice that form along the side of a roof? They’re called ice dams. They don’t pose a risk to your home until they melt into pools of water on your roof. This moisture eventually trickles underneath your shingles, into your roof structure, and appears as water damage in your home. 

First, you’ll notice stains on your ceilings and walls, followed by paint that peels and drywall that rots and sags. Ice dams also can occur when runoff enters your gutters, which are colder than your roof, and refreezes – blocking proper drainage.

Causes Overall Damage

If it’s wintertime, it’s cold rain, high winds, freezing temperatures, hail, ice, and snow. Extreme weather can wreak havoc on your home and damage or loosen your gutter system.

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How Winter Impacts Different Types of Gutters

Like roofs, gutters are available in various materials, from aluminum and vinyl to copper, steel, and zinc. Let’s explore how each type reacts to the elements in winter.

Aluminum Gutters

Roof with aluminum gutter
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There are many great things to say about aluminum gutters. They are rust- and weather-resistant, completely waterproof, and easy to install. In addition, they can be painted, making them an excellent option for those looking to blend functionality with visual appeal. The downside? Aluminum isn’t as durable as copper or other materials, so you can expect dents in the event of an impact. If you’re looking for a strong gutter system, aluminum isn’t it.

Copper Gutters

Copper is typically used for seamless gutters due to its high quality, durability, and resistance to rust. Copper gutters are extremely strong and can withstand debris, a must for areas prone to storms and heavy rain. Plus, they add curb appeal and can easily blend with any home design. If correctly installed and maintained, copper gutters can last for generations.

Vinyl Gutters

Vinyl is a common gutter material because it’s affordable and lightweight. At the same time, vinyl gutters are less sturdy than aluminum or copper ones. They have a tendency to become brittle and crack over time, leading to leaks and damage to your home. Add to that a poor installation, and you’ll be dealing with sagging and lots of headaches.

Vinyl can withstand mild climates without much rain, but a more durable material is recommended in colder regions.

Steel Gutters

stainless steel gutter on a roof
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Steel gutters are quite sturdy, making them the ideal choice if you want something stronger. Nevertheless, the drawbacks can make it an unattractive option to some. Steel gutters tend to rust because of the iron present in the composition. When exposed to oxygen, that iron corrodes, causing the metal to fall apart and lose its visual appeal and functionality. Steel gutters are also very heavy, so installation is best left to the professionals.

Zinc Gutters

Zinc is another material often used to make gutters. It’s long-lasting, damage-resistant, and attractive, often seen on historic buildings and homes. But, of course, it isn’t perfect. Zinc gutters are vulnerable to acids and salty environments. They also require welding, meaning the installation should be done by a qualified professional. If you’re considering zinc gutters, remember that they will be more costly due to the extra labor involved.

Preventative Maintenance You Should Do

Now that you know about gutter materials, let’s review some tips and tricks to prepare your gutters for the winter season.

Clean Them

person cleaning a gutter
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Gutter cleaning should be at the top of your winter maintenance task list. Leaves and debris can cause gutter clogs and put you in a difficult position. Not to mention that due to snow and ice, your gutters can separate from your home and collapse. When cleaning your gutters, concentrate on junctions and corners, as that is where leaves tend to pile up.

Inspect Them Thoroughly

If winter is around the corner, it’s time for routine gutter checks. Inspect joints, seal any cracks, look for missing fasteners, and perform necessary repairs. The extra attention will prevent damage to your surroundings, home, and family.

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Make Repairs

Working gutters are crucial in winter. They keep rainwater, snow, and ice from damaging your home, and they prevent soil and landscaping erosion.

Realign Them

Realignment should be done for sagging, loose, and inadequately pitched gutters. It will keep them in optimal shape and doing their job –  directing water away from the home.

Install a Gutter Protection System

A gutter guard installed on top of roof of house
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Gutter guards can strengthen your gutter system and keep it free of leaves and debris, preventing clogs. It will remain strong all winter.

Add Downspout Extensions

Extra downspout length will push snow and ice farther away from your home. To prevent water from seeping into critical areas such as your home’s foundation or the basement, choose a downspout length of 4-5 feet.

Check the Entire Exterior Structure of Your Home

Thoroughly inspect your home’s foundation, fascia, and siding for any signs of structural damage, staining, or rotting. Repair any damage found as quickly as possible to prevent further degradation. For more extensive damage, contact a qualified roofing contractor.

Trim trees

To minimize the debris that may fall into your gutters, trim any tree branches hanging directly over your home. Pruning will also reduce the risk of any branches weighed down by snow falling on your roof or gutter system.

What Is the Best Choice for My Home?

When it comes to gutters, you won’t find a one-size-fits-all solution. Your choice will depend on your personal preferences, your budget, and the climate in your region. Certain materials excel in some areas of the country and perform poorly in others. 

An aluminum gutter system is best if you’re on a budget or embarking on a DIY project. While aluminum isn’t the most solid material, it’s a good balance of affordable and durable. Its cons certainly don’t outweigh its pros.

If you’re willing to spend a moderate amount of money for good quality, opt for steel gutters. Look for the galvanized kind, as it comes with rust-resistant aluminum and zinc coating. Though you won’t be able to install them yourself, steel gutters won’t let you down.

Copper gutters are a stylish and effective solution if money is no object. While this product is more expensive and requires a professional installation, you can’t beat the quality of a copper gutter. If copper is too pricey, zinc is a practical, decent alternative.

FAQ About Winterizing Your Gutters

Should I remove my gutter guards in the winter?

In some cases, removing your gutter guards in the cold season is a good idea, especially if they are made of metal and are at risk of freezing. On top of that, snow and ice buildup can lead to further damage.

What can I do to keep my gutters from freezing?

To protect your gutters from Old Man Winter:

• Shovel your roof to reduce the burden of snow and ice and protect your gutters.
• Check the insulation on your roof. This will prevent snow and ice from continually melting and putting pressure on your gutters.
• Ensure your gutters are slightly sloped to ensure that any water will flow directly into your downspouts. If your gutters are flat, your drainage will be poor.
• Sprinkle sodium chloride in your gutters. Avoid rock salt, as it can damage your gutters.

Are icicles on my roof caused by gutter guards?

This is a common misunderstanding among homeowners. Gutter guards aren’t the cause of icicles; poor insulation and ventilation in your attic usually lead to icicles forming.

Get Reliable, Professional Gutter Installation

Choosing a gutter system can be quite a task. If you’re not up to it, we can connect you with a top-rated MyGutterGnome pro who knows the gutter business inside out. They’ll get the job done to your liking and answer any questions you may have along the way. There’s no time like the present to check or update your gutters.

You’ve got gutter and gutter guard questions. We’ve got answers.

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Andie Ioo

In my free time, I enjoy traveling with my husband, sports, trying out new recipes, reading, and watching reruns of '90s TV shows. As a way to relax and decompress, I enjoy landscaping around my little yard and DIY home projects.