Are Zig Zag Heat Cables Effective for Ice Dam Prevention?

Can the heat cables I purchase at my hardware store or big box store effectively solve my roof ice dams?

It might seem a little strange, but I pay attention to heat cable systems on roofs of homes and businesses. Most are easy to spot because of the unsightly cords strewn about on the roof edge and in the valleys. Some are done better than others. There is a really nice example on a strip mall near where I live in Delafield WI. The cables are the commercial grade self regulating style and they are installed correctly. Yet every winter the businesses in this strip mall have ice dripping off of the roof and on their awnings creating a terrible mess. The sidewalks are salted much heavier than they need to be. I will take a fresh picture coming up this winter and post it on our Facebook page

For the most part, the heat cable systems in Wisconsin are the zig zag variety purchased at hardware stores. These are known as constant wattage cables and are the plug variety (versus the hard wire kind). They are zig zag heat cable embedded in ice dam capable of a limited heat output. They are also prone to failure when they overlap themselves and create hot spots. However, even when they are working, these zig zag heat cables can get overwhelmed. Last winter this was the case. The picture to the right shows a heat cable system at the upper gutter being totally overwhelmed. The moderate amount of snowfall along with the below average temps meant that this heat cable system was unable to keep up. This customer contacted us prior to the winter to restring these heat cables. We declined to work with this cable system explaining to the customer that we work with our commercial grade radiant heat panel systems. They decided not to use us - maybe not a great decision given the results seen here.

hardware store heat cable not keeping up with ice damsEven in mild winters, there are circumstances when zig zag heat cables are not up to the challenge. Sometimes architecture proves too much for hardware store heat cables. The picture to the left shows a large ice formation on a local business. You can easily see the zig zag heat cable embedded in the ice formation. This roof heat cable was only really producing enough heat to make this icicle larger. The problem is that ice can be a great insulator. The limited heat output of this hardware store heat cable meant it lacked the umpff to keep up with what the valley area was sending its way. This picture was taken about 4 years ago during a milder winter. 

So, zig zag heat tape can sometimes keep up. But why risk it? Our radiant panels and heated gutters guards have proven themselves for years. You use less energy to get more accomplished. Our systems are long lasting with a ten year heat cable warranty. A permanent installation versus a yearly chore. Get in touch with us to find out how we can effectively solve your roof and gutter ice dam problems.