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Copper Gutters Make Ice Dam Removal Take Longer

Copper gutters are beautiful.  But they create obstacles for safe ice dam removal.  Whether you’ve got copper gutters or are considering them, you need to know a few hard realities.

Copper gutters are soft.

It’s real easy to damage a copper gutter.  The first precautions we take are with our ladders.

Many gutters can handle ladders leaning against them, so in those cases we’ll plant our ladder some distance from the house to create an obtuse angle and an easier/safer climb. But when we must lean up against copper gutters we put our ladder in a near-vertical position, so as to minimize the pressure.  When possible we avoid leaning our ladder against the copper gutter altogether.

When safe and feasible to do so, we’ll try to find a spot that doesn’t have gutters at all, like the gable end of the roof.  Or we may use a stand-off ladder, which is specifically designed for situations like these.  (A stand-off ladder has arms that look like bicycle handlebars, which keep the ladder about six inches away from the edge of the roof.)

We have to take the ice out of the gutters first.

The ice in your gutters becomes a real problem if you’ve got copper gutters. The ice in your gutters is also frozen to the ice that’s frozen onto your shingles.  That connection serves as a cantilever: Your ice-filled gutters don’t collapse under their own weight only because they’re frozen to the roof.  Now, what happens if we start melting ice at the roofline (as we often do)?  We’d sever the connection between the roof ice and the gutter ice, and your fancy copper gutters will be ripped clean off of your house.  Copper is so soft that it will tear itself around the nails or screws holding it in place.

Of course, that’s what our experience and skill helps us avoid.  We usually start from the top and melt our way down. But with copper gutters, we’re now having to start from the edge and melt our way up.  It’s a much slower process that ends up costing you more money, but at least your copper gutters will stay on your roof and not become an ant farm on the ground.

We can’t let any ice chunks slide off the roof.

Our jobs go more efficiently and smoothly in part because we carve ice into chunks and let those chunks slide right off of the roof.  That saves our customers a lot of money, because we’re not trying to melt every little bit of ice with our steamers.

But if you have copper gutters we can’t let anything slide off the roof and dent your gutters.  We still can use the chunk-cutting method, but we have to melt smaller chunks. They must be small enough for our guys to pick them up and throw them off the roof by hand.

We can’t use as much heat.

Especially when we roll up to a home with copper gutters, I’m always glad we invested the R&D and money into building and maintaining a fleet of adjustable-temperature steamers.

Heat changes the color of copper. If you put a piece of copper under a torch you’ll see it develop pretty colors. Some people call that heat-coloring.  Other people call it, “Hey, jerk, you ruined my gutters.”

Also, if your copper gutters are aged, they most likely have a nice-looking patina to them (which copper often develops on its way to fine verdigri).  Although we can’t guarantee the patina won’t be affected by ice dam removal, we do our best to use as little heat as possible in order to remove the ice without removing the patina.

Not touching the gutters with hot steam is the key. We can avoid steam-copper contact if we go very slowly. Often we need to turn down the heat of our steamers. Most companies can’t adjust the heat of their steamers.  But we can and we do.  That’s how we avoid exposing your copper gutters to too much heat.  We know how expensive they are, and how important they are to the look of your home.

Just as your copper gutters are more expensive, copper-friendly ice dam removal also is more expensive.

All of that means it will take us longer to remove ice dams safely if your home has copper gutters.  But at least you’ll know why, and you’ll know what to expect.

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