How To Install Ice-Proof Rain Gutters

Ice accumulation on your roof can be a major problem over a long winter. Learn how to install ice-proof rain gutters and rest easy.

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Every good roof needs some way of dealing with the water that runs off, and rain gutters are one of the most tried-and-true methods. Gutters catch rainwater and runoff from melted snow, then redirect it safely away from the building via a downspout. It's a great system, apart from one glaring weakness – ice.

Rain gutters dispose of liquid water, not solid ice. When temperatures drop below freezing, gutters can quickly fill with ice, leading to ice dams and roof leakage. That's why a plan for dealing with roof ice matters, before and during rain gutter installation.

It's worth noting not all roofs are vulnerable to winter ice damage. If your attic space isn't insulated, your roof will likely stay cold through the winter. That means transferred heat from your attic won't cause snow on the roof to melt.

Ice-proof rain gutters aren't essential in houses with chilly attics. But houses with cathedral ceilings or heated attic spaces are definitely at risk of ice dams forming on their eaves. All it takes is for snow on your roof to melt, drip down the slope and then refreeze just above the gutters.

If you have this sort of house, keep reading for my best strategies for ice-proof rain gutter installation. I used this approach on my house in Canada. After decisively ending a multi-year struggle with roof and eaves ice, I can confidently say this works.

Tools Required

  • Catspaw prybar
  • Crimping tool or needle nose pliers
  • Drill and bit index
  • Ear muffs
  • Helper with their own ladder (optional)
  • Impact driver with nut driver bit matching the size of your roofing screws
  • Pop rivet gun with rivets
  • Portable chop saw with metal cutting blade
  • Safety glasses
  • Stepladder tall enough to reach the eaves of your roof
  • Stepped drill bit
  • Utility knife

Project step-by-step (7)

Step 1

Purchase a customized Edge-Cutter package from Heat-Line

  • Measure all horizontal eaves of your roof where you envision rain gutter installation.
  • Use your measurements to order a customized Edge-Cutter kit from Heat-Line. The Edge-Cutter system prevents ice on your eaves, and installing it correctly will keep your rain gutter functional right through the winter.
  • Make sure the kit includes smart heating cables long enough to make at least three passes along the full length of your eaves, plus additional cables for your downspouts.
  • Deal with a Heat-Line expert to determine the exact details of your kit if you’re unsure about anything.

Purchase Edge CutterRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 2

Loosen the bottom of your roofing material

  • Set up your stepladder at one end of the first eave where you plan on installing rain gutters.
  • If your roof is shingled, gently use a catspaw pry bar to peel the bottom row of shingles away from the roof sheathing and aluminum drip edge.
  • Look underneath the shingles, inspecting for any roofing nails closer to the eaves than eight inches or so.
  • Hold the shingles up with one hand, then use the catspaw to gingerly wiggle these protruding roofing nails free. Be sure to collect them as they come loose.
  • For metal roofing, use an impact driver to remove all roofing screws within the bottom eight inches of your roof.
  • Double-check that all material where you’re installing gutters is loose and no longer fastened to the roof sheathing for the first eight inches up the slope.

Loosen RoofingRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 3

Install aluminum Edge-Cutter strips

  • Re-position your ladder at one end of your roof, then climb it with a length of aluminum Edge-Cutter strip in hand.
  • Lift the roofing gently with one hand, then slide the Edge-Cutter aluminum strip under it with the other. This is much easier to do with a helper atop a second ladder on the other end of the strip.
  • Ensure the Edge-Cutter strip is pushed all the way up and under your roofing so that only the heating cable channel at the bottom sticks out.
  • Fit your drill with a bit slightly larger in diameter than the shanks of your roofing screws. Drill shallow holes through your roofing material and the center of the aluminum Edge-Cutter strip. Stop drilling as soon as your bit goes through the aluminum.
  • Drill one hole at each end of your aluminum strip, and another in the middle.
  • Shoot a small dob of black roofing caulking into each hole, then drive roofing screws through each hole with your impact driver, securing the aluminum Edge-Cutter strip in place.
  • Repeat this procedure with more Edge-Cutter strips until you’ve covered your eaves. You’ll probably need to cut the last piece to the final length with a metal cutting chop saw.

Install aluminum Edge-Cutter stripsRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 4

Install heating cables

  • Plug the lead of the heating cable tailored for your eavestrough into the nearest outdoor receptacle.
  • String the cable up your wall near the end of your gutter opposite to where you plan to install the downspout. Press the cable carefully into the channel in the bottom of the aluminum Edge-Cutter strip.
  • Snap the aluminum cap piece that came with your Edge-Cutter kit over the heating cable as you install it.
  • Continue this procedure along the length of your eaves, coiling the extra cable and placing it to one side when you reach the end.

Install edge-cutting heating cablesRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 5

Install rain gutter

  • Install rain gutter and downspouts.
  • Use the A-M Gutter Guard System for extra strength. It also prevents damage if any ice does build up, and gives the first pass of heating cable something to rest on.
  • Branch your downspout horizontally away from your home and towards any naturally low areas.
  • Leave the sections of the downspout unfastened and sitting in place. You’ll fasten them together later.

Install rain gutterRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 6

Route heating cable through gutters

  • Unroll the extra heating cable protruding from your Edge-Cutter aluminum strip.
  • Fasten the cable down to the top of your gutter guard with cable clips and screws roughly every foot. Be sure to position the cable below and slightly out from where your Edge-Cutter cable runs.
  • Use a stepped drill bit to drill a 1-in. diameter hole in the end of the A-M Gutter Guard opposite to the one where the cable first enters the Edge-Cutter.
  • Slide your short length of plastic electrical conduit into the hole, then thread the remaining heating cable through the conduit and into the gutter until you’ve used up all the cable. It should cover the length of your eaves and gutter.
  • Repeat this procedure for all gutters. Find out the cost of leaf filters for gutters.

Route heating cable through guttersRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 7

Route heating cable through downspout

  • Use cable clips to route the lead of your second heating cable up the wall from your outlet, beneath the eaves and over to the downspout area. At this point, the lead should run out and you should be handling the actual heating cable.
  • Place the cable to one side. Take a stepped bit and drill a 1-in.-dia. hole through the gutter guard a couple of inches horizontally away from the downspout.
  • Install another four-inch length of plastic conduit in the hole.
  • Thread the heating cable through the conduit and into the downspout. Take apart the sections of downspout as needed to thread the cable all the way through until it appears at the bottom end of the pipe.
  • With the heating cable installed, pop rivet the sections of downspout together.

Route heating cable through downspoutRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman