How to Install Gutter Heat Cable on Your Roof

Prevent Ice Dams and Frozen Gutters

Low Angle View Of Icicles On Roof
Albert Pehlivanov / EyeEm / Getty Images

The type of heat tape used on roofs and gutters is properly called heat cable. Heat tape is actually an insulated electrical wire applied to water pipes that keep them from freezing and bursting. Heat cable is a similar product but is designed for installation on the edge of your home's roof.

The primary advantage of heat cable is that it can prevent ice buildup along the eaves and inside the gutters and downspouts, which can cause a significant amount damage. It is easy to install, but you will need to consider a few things before you begin.

The Damage of Ice Dams

Each winter, ice dams building up along roof overhangs cause damaging leaks inside many homes. Ice dams occur because snow and ice on the roof melt due to the home's interior heat. When this mass travels down the roof, it freezes again as it reaches the colder exposed overhangs or eaves.

Over time, the frozen melt-off can build up into a dam barrier that causes ice and water to back up under the shingles. This, in turn, can damage interior ceiling and wall surfaces. Additionally, the sheer weight of ice dams may damage the roof overhangs and gutters.

Important Considerations

If heat cable is installed incorrectly or if the wrong type of product is used, it could create a fire or electrical shock hazard. This is also true for heat cable that is old and deteriorated.

If your home has a heat cable that was installed before you moved in or is more than five years old, it is a good idea to have it checked for proper function. You can also simply replace the old cable with a new cable.

Heat cable is sold in a variety of lengths, ranging from 30 to 200 feet. Cables have 3-prong grounded plugs for plugging directly into outdoor electrical outlets. Do not use heat cables with extension cords.

It is also important that you make sure the heat tape you use is UL-listed. This indicates that it has been tested by Underwriter's Laboratories. Manufacturers that avoid UL listing usually offer substandard products that are more likely to fail than their listed counterparts.

GFCI Outlet

For safety reasons, heat cables must be plugged into a GFCI (ground-fault circuit-interrupter) outlet. If your outdoor outlet is not GFCI-protected, it's easy to replace it with a new GFCI outlet. It should be done before you begin this project.

How Much Heat Cable Is Needed

You will start by determining the length of heat cable you need:

  1. Measure the perimeter of your roof line.
  2. Measure the depth of the eave overhang, from the edge of the roof (not the gutter) straight back to the outside wall.
  3. If the eave is 12 inches deep, multiply the roof-line measurement by 4. If the eave is between 12 and 24 inches deep, multiply the roof-line measurement by 5.3. If the eave depth is between 24 and 36 inches, multiply the roof-line measurement by 6.8.
  4. Measure the length of each downspout and add it to the roof-line total. If a downspout is not at the end of a cable run, double its measurement (the cable will need to go all the way down and back up inside the downspout).
  5. Measure the distance between the edge of the roof (where you will start the heat cable) and the electrical outlet where you will plug in the cable.
  6. Add up all of the dimensions; this is the length of cable you need.

Installing Heat Cable

Here are the basic steps for installing new heat cable along a roof eave and gutter:

  1. Route the cable from the electrical outlet to the starting point on the roof. Clip the starting point of the cable to a shingle that is a little bit farther up the roof than the outside wall to ensure that the cable will warm the entire depth of the roof overhang. Secure the cable to the shingle with one of the provided cable clips.
  2. Run the cable down to the gutter at an angle and form it into a loop. Using one of the provided eave clips, attach it to the bottom edge of the shingle. The cable should form a loop that extends partway into the gutter.
  3. Run the cable back up the roof in a zig-zag pattern, creating a triangular shape that is about 15 inches wide. Bend the cable at the top of the triangle and secure it to a shingle with the shingle clip.
  4. Repeat the same zig-zag pattern as many times as needed to cover the entire perimeter of the roof.
  5. Begin laying the cable into the gutter once you've reached the end of the roof run. Secure the cable to the gutter clips you installed at the roof's edge, using the provided hooks or clips. The cable portion of the gutter hooks onto the loops of the cable on the roof.
  1. Feed the cable as a loop into any intermediate downspouts, extending the loop all the way down to the downspout outlet.
  2. Continue installing the gutter cable back to the cable's starting point, then thread the end of the cable down through the downspout to the downspout outlet.
  3. Plug the cable into the GFCI outlet and make sure it is working properly.

You can leave the cable unplugged until it begins snowing. There is no need to keep the cable plugged in if there is no snow or ice on the roof.