Do I Need a Roof De-icing System?

How important is it to prevent snow and ice buildup on roofs? What are the primary concerns for homeowners when it comes to caring for, and prolonging the life span of their roofs? What are ice dams and how do they form? Are they really that detrimental to roofs?

These are just some of the common questions posed by home and business owners regarding roof maintenance and roof de-icing systems. But how do you know if you need a roof de-icing system? What are the benefits? First, let’s look at the most common and expensive culprit that affects roofs.

Ice Dams

How does an ice form? Illustration

When it comes to roof problems, ice dams pose the single most prevalent – and costly – threat facing homeowners today. But why does one home suffer from recurring ice dams and an abundance of icicles while another home’s roof remains clear? Some factors include insulation, ventilation, slope and direction of roof facing, and construction.

In the wake of a large snowstorm, followed by sustained sub-freezing temperatures, your roof is likely to be covered with a thick layer of snow. While some homeowners may be concerned with the weight brought on by the new load of heavy snow, rest assured that roofs are designed to cope with an abundance of “live” snow loads. Roofs are generally built to withstand a snow load of 30 pounds per square foot (depending on where you live), so unless your house is under about 3 feet of snow, your roof should be fine. In truth, the weight of the snow is typically of less concern than the possible problems that remain hidden under that snow.

Ideally, your roof should be the same temperature as the outside air. This way, the top layer of snow melts (or evaporates) first. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with most homes today. Heat often escapes from the living area and rises up into the attic The warm air in the attic eventually warms the roof, causing the bottom layer of snow on the roof to melt. Though you cannot see it, the water trickles down the roof slope under the snowpack before arriving at the eaves.

Because the roof eaves hang over the house and aren’t affected by the warm air in the attic, this area of the roof remains cold. When the melted snow reaches the colder eaves, it slows and refreezes. Over time, more and more water reaches the eave and freezes, creating an ever expanding ridge of ice. Water then begins to pool behind the ice dam, and this is where serious problems can start.

Water behind the dam can find its way into tiny cracks and imperfections of the roof, and at night, or when the temperature falls, the water refreezes. The expanding ice accentuates the imperfections of the roof, and cracks can develop that ultimately allow water to seep into the home. Yet all the while, the homeowner is unable to see what’s going on.

Water that has seeped into the home behind walls without being seen can eventually cause mold to develop, and by the time the problem is discovered, an expensive repair is required.

Ice dams can also develop because of poor roof maintenance. If leaves, branches and other excessive debris have collected in the gutters, the debris can prevent the runoff from reaching the downspouts. Not every ice dam results in mold, but the effects can demand some costly fixes, so it pays to inspect your roof.

Roof de-icing system installed in roof eaves and valley

Tips for Taking Care of Your Roof

General Guidelines to Determine a Heated Driveway's Operating Cost
  1. Check the insulation in your attic. Add more if necessary to minimize heat from escaping into the attic.
  2. Inspect your roof and gutters at least twice a year (spring and fall). Clear leaves and debris from gutters and downspouts.
  3. Check the condition of your roof shingles. Make sure wind and wayward branches have not damaged any shingles.
  4. Gutter spikes can loosen over time. Check for loose gutter spikes and tighten if necessary.

What's the Best Roof De-icing System for Your Needs?

If your roof consistently has large icicles every winter, or you see snow buildup around the roof eaves, it may be time to invest in a roof de-icing system. But with so many de-icing options available, what is the best roof de-icing system for you? Why is one method recommended over another? In truth, it depends on the specific needs of the homeowner. Many different roof de-icing systems are available because there are many different structures and roofing materials, all with different roof heating demands.

Self-regulating roof de-icing cable

What are the Differences Between the top Roof De-icing Systems?

Self-regulating Heat Trace Cable

Installing self-regulating heat cable is one of the most popular roof de-icing options today. Heat trace cable is often used to facilitate runoff in roof valleys, gutters and downspouts, and also “zigzagged” along roof edges to prevent ice dams from forming.

Affordability – Heat trace cable systems are some of the most affordable roof de-icing options available.

Self-regulating – Because the cable is self-regulating, it’s irradiated conductive core increases the heat output as the outside temperature falls and decreases the heat output as the temperature rises. This makes the cable safe and highly efficient, and prevents it from overheating.

Easy to Customize – Heat trace cable is easy to work with, and can be manipulated to heat virtually any spot on the roof.

Ease of Use – Self-regulating heat trace systems can be automated or triggered manually.

Versatile – Different types of heat cable are available that can be used in a range of residential and industrial environments.

Low-voltage RoofHeat STEP®

Arguably the best roof de-icing system on the market today, this premium system is a favorite among homeowners and roofing professionals alike. The low-voltage roof heating system consists of thin, flexible polymer panels that can be installed directly under the shingles, and can also be used to safely heat metal roofs.

Low-voltage roof de-icing system heating element

Top Performance (100% Coverage) – The low-voltage system provides 100% coverage, so it reliably eliminates snow and ice in entire areas. (When properly installed along the roof eaves, the system keeps the roof edge completely clear of snow.)

Discreet – The heating element is discreetly installed under the roof shingles, so there is no visible sign of a roof de-icing system – except for the lack of snow.

Versatile – Capable of heating shingle and metal roofs. The panels are also available in different widths, so it can be installed to heat roof valleys and gutters as well.

Ease of Installation – The polymer heating panel can be cut on site, and nailed and stapled through, facilitating the installation for installers.

Fully Automated – The systems are controlled by automatic sensors that detect temperature and precipitation so that it operates only when conditions warrant.

Self-regulating – The heating element is self-regulating, so it increases the heat output as the outside temperature falls and decreases the heat output as the temperature rises. This adds to the efficiency of the system while also enhancing safety and preventing it from overheating.

RetroRoof roof de-icing heating element

RetroRoof is another innovative de-icing system that features near paper-thin heating elements. The thin panels can be installed in new construction as well as retrofit roof de-icing applications. The heating element is inserted under existing shingles, giving homeowners the unique option of heating their roof without having to remove the existing shingles.

Heat Existing Roofs – The thin heating panels feature adhesive strips on the top and bottom, so they can be securely installed under existing shingles.

Easy Installation – The panels feature a modular design, so they can be easily plugged together and installed under the shingles. The thin panel is inserted under the shingle and the underside release liner is then removed to expose the adhesive, allowing you to secure the panel firmly in place. The top release liner strip is then removed, sealing the panel to covering shingle. No nailing is required.

Discreet – The panels feature a thin profile, so they can be discreetly installed under the shingles.

Wide Coverage – The wide panels are installed under the shingles to keep entire sections of the roof snow and ice free.

Roof de-icing panel system installed
SnoFree™ Roof Heating Panels

SnowFree™ RoofHeat Panels feature attractive aluminum panels (available in various finishes) with channels for self-regulating heat cable. Warmth is radiated across the panel from the heat cable, making the system highly effective for heating entire roof eaves, eliminating ice dams and icicles.

Aesthetic Appeal – Each roof heating panel is coated with a durable finish and is designed to complement the aesthetics of your home.

Full Coverage – The efficient aluminum panels distribute heat across the entire width, preventing snow and ice accumulation along the entire area.

Easy Installation – The heated RIB panel is designed to easily attach to each rib creating an open channel that allows melted snow to flow easily off the roof. Self-regulating cable is easily installed in the pre-engineered channels of the panel.

Energy Efficient – The aluminum panels are designed for maximum heat transfer, minimizing operating costs by making the system very efficient.

Pre-terminated heat trace cable with optional GFCI power plug
Pre-terminated Self-regulating Heat Cable

The 120 V, self-regulating heat cable comes ready to use with the option of a 6-foot standard or GFCI power plug a standard plug. The heat cable can be used to prevent icicles and ice dams from forming.

Self-regulating – Because the heat trace cable is self-regulating, when the ambient temperature rises, the electrical resistance of the heat cable increases, so the consumption of electricity decreases, ensuring energy-efficient operation.

Easy Installation – The versatile single-point connection cable (available in custom lengths), can be easily positioned to heat the problem area and then plugged into a standard 120 V outlet.

Affordable – Pre-terminated heat cable gives homeowners an affordable de-icing option for dealing with problem areas on the roof. This solution is typically used for small areas in valleys or along roof edges and gutters.

Constant Wattage Heat Trace Cable

Affordable – Constant wattage heat cable is the most affordable de-icing solution on the market. Typically used for small problem areas.

Easy to Install – The cable is secured to the roof using roof clips and then plugged into a standard outlet.

Can I Combine Roof De-icing Systems?

Yes, homeowners can get the best of both worlds by combining roof heating systems. For example, RoofHeat STEP can be installed to keep roof edges entirely free of snow and ice, while self-regulating heat trace cable is installed in roof gutters and downspouts, or other small problem areas.

Before you make any decisions, speak with a roof de-icing expert and learn more about roof de-icing systems, and what the best options are for heating your roof. Call us today at 888-488-9276.

Helpful Links and Information

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Navigation bullet   Heat Roof Gutters and Downspouts

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  Navigation bullet   The Benefits of Roof De-icing Systems

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  Navigation bullet   Roof Heating Systems Photo Gallery

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