Frozen Downspouts: What’s Up Doesn’t Always Come Down

Frozen water in downspout

How Do Downspouts Freeze?

Unfortunately, ice accumulation in downspouts is all too common during the dead of winter. Although snow or rain doesn’t fall directly into downspouts, it can build up if there is debris inside the pipe that blocks water flow, or if the bottom mouth of the downspout is blocked by heavy snowfall. The elbows of your downspouts are especially susceptible to ice buildup because they can act as a collection point for still water. Finally, ice dams along your roofline often accelerate the freezing of downspouts if left unaddressed.

Is the Best Course of Action To Do Nothing?

Some experts believe that homeowners should simply leave frozen downspouts alone. If the temperatures in your area will soon rise above freezing long enough for all of the ice to melt, taking a wait-and-see attitude may make sense. And if the problem is snow buildup around the bottom of the downspout, simply clearing this area of snow may resolve the issue.

Down spouts
Salt the ground around the downspout, and you’re good to go.

Frozen Downspouts Can Cause Costly Damage

However, consistently frozen (or frozen solid) downspouts may require immediate attention, especially if weather conditions will be less than ideal for the foreseeable future. Over time, the ice may back up into your gutters themselves, thereby creating extra weight on your entire guttering system. This weight may increase the odds of your gutters and downspouts tearing away from your roof or siding, which can lead to bigger problems involving water leaks and improper drainage.

How To Thaw Frozen Downspouts

So what’s the best way to address frozen downspouts? As the old adage goes, you should fight fire with fire – or in this case, (frozen) water with water.
Frozen gutter
If it is safe to do so, you can get on a ladder and pour warm water into the top opening of the downspout (or connect a hose to a hot water tap). This may be sufficient to thaw minor ice buildup inside your downspout and/or break up any blockages caused by debris. Another (safer) method is to run hot water down the outside of the downspout near the area where the ice has accumulated. With metal downspouts, the transferred heat may be enough to open up a small channel in the ice and permit water to flow freely again.
If water alone won’t do the trick, don’t resort to brute force. Striking frozen downspouts with a hammer or baseball bat in the hopes of breaking up the ice inside them may cause more damage and make the situation worse. Instead, use a hair dryer or consumer-grade heat gun to heat up the outside of the downspout near the ice blockage. For best results, start near the bottom of the downspout and work upward. However, you should never direct heat into the downspout through the bottom opening; if the ice suddenly breaks, water and ice could be sent out through the opening and pose an electrocution hazard.

Umm… I think this downspout is frozen. Just a hunch.

Preventing Frozen Downspouts

Once the ice is melted and runoff water is flowing freely again, there are measures you can take to minimize the chances of your downspouts freezing again. You can wrap your downspouts with heat tape or a self-regulating heating cable to keep the temperature inside them above freezing. You can even run a heating cable inside your downspout; though you shouldn’t do this to clear ice-blocked downspouts since the cables don’t fare well when fully immersed in water. You may also want to consider heating cables along your roof near your gutters to mitigate the chances of ice dams in your gutters themselves.
It’s hard enough to thaw ice when you can see it, and it’s even more difficult when the ice is enclosed in a downspout pipe. But with a little effort, you can get rid of frozen downspouts and prevent this issue from ever cropping up again.

Long Term Solution – Helmet Heat®

Helmet Heat® is a self regulating heating system that melts the snow and ice before it can form into damaging mounds weighing down on your roof, gutters, and downspouts. Helmet Heat® is wired throughout your gutters and downspouts. With it, snow melts before it hits the eaves of your roof and water flows down your heated gutters and downspouts. Damaging snow and ice buildup is averted.

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Written by Del Thebaud

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