If you have ever dealt with busted-up shingles and roof leaks due to an unchecked ice dam, you have probably considered a roof heat cable as your solution. However, roof heat cables are largely ineffective for ice dams. In the following post, Roofer’s Guild defines roof heat cables and outlines six reasons why you should avoid using them to address ice dams.
What are Roof Heat Cables?
Roof heat cables, for those who haven’t ever had to think about them, are pretty much exactly what they sound like: lengths of cable, tape or wire that is installed on top of your shingles that heat up to prevent water from freezing on your roof.
Why You Shouldn’t Use a Roof Heat Cable for Ice Dams in 2023
Roof heat cables sound like an innovative and clever way of preventing ice dams from forming on your roof. But before you haul off and pay someone to install them for you, take a minute to peruse our list of reasons why roof heater cables are actually not a great idea.
1) Roof Heat Cables Can Be Dangerous
Think about it; you are putting heated pieces of wire on top of your roof. According to a Washington Post Safety notice citing a Consumer Product Safety Commission report, roof heat cables are responsible for around 2,000 structure fires yearly and over 100 injuries. So are roof heat cables dangerous? They absolutely can be. But roofing safety isn’t the only concern related to this de-icing method.
2) Heat Cables are not a Cure-All
Many people who start to shop around for roof heat cables have the same misconception: they think they will clear off all the ice from the roof. That isn’t how heating cables work. Roof heater cables only melt snow and ice directly around them. When they work, you will usually see thin streaks that are the clear paths that cables melt in the snow and ice.
Their function is simply to clear enough space and melt enough ice to prevent ice dams and provide a channel for the water to flow to the gutters. That being said, heating cables will not protect your roof if your gutters are clogged, and they will certainly not clear all the snow and ice from your roof.
3) Cables are an Added Utility Expense
If you have an average-sized roof, you will be looking at an average cost of $7.25 per day to run your roof heat cables. In the winter months when you will most likely need to run your heater cables all day for days at a time, that adds up to a lot of extra money. Now the argument can be made that $7.25 per day may still add up to less money than repairing a collapsed roof, which is true.
But in most cases, homeowners don’t actually need to install roofing heater cables. Some regular maintenance and some due diligence are enough for most homes to avoid dangerous ice dams in the winter. For instance, raking your roof (safely) when snow accumulates on it is an effective and cheap way to protect it against ice dams.
4) Roof Heat Cables Require Precise Installation
If the contractor you hire to install your heater cables doesn’t have a lot of experience and the utmost investment in the project, your cables can very well become more of a problem than if they were never installed at all. That’s because the ice they melt can simply refreeze again on other portions of your roof if not installed very cleverly and strategically. They need to be placed to channel all melted ice to the ground or gutters.
5) Cables Look Bad in Summer and Spring
Unless you live in the Arctic Circle, you aren’t going to need your roof heat cables year-round. While the snow covers most of the cables up in the Winter, in the Summer and Spring months, the cables are on full display to the neighborhood – think broken Christmas lights are strewn atop your roof all year long.
Also, roof heat cable uninstallation isn’t exactly DIY work. In short, it isn’t worth taking your roof heating wires down every year and then reinstalling them again every winter – especially when the average cost for roof heat cable installation is $447-$1200. So you may want to avoid the eyesore altogether.
6) There are Better Ways to Address Ice Dams
Perhaps the most important reason why roof heat cables are ineffective for preventing ice dams is that there are much better ways to prevent them. In most cases, ice dams are caused because heat is escaping from inside, melting snow on top of the roof, and the melted snow runs down to a colder area of the roof and refreezes. Fixing these heat leaks is the most effective and beneficial way to prevent ice dams – and lower your heating costs to boot.