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What can be done to mitigate snow and ice damage to aluminum gutters on a Lamarite roof?

In the fall of 2007, we installed Tamko's synthetic slate roofing product, Lamarite, on our 1920's era Dutch Colonial home here in the Boston suburbs. The total cost of the installation was about $25,000. The Lamarite slate replaced conventional asphalt shingles which had been installed many years earlier by the previous owner. We had lived with the aging asphalt shingles for seven years without experiencing any snow and ice damage to our gutters when we made the decision to replace our old roof and upgrade to a Lamarite roof.

In the eight winters since we first installed the Lamarite product, we have incurred roughly $15,000 in aggregate costs arising from snow and ice damage, as well as related mitigation expenses. This past winter (2015) was far and away the worst year of all. Our repair expenses relate almost exclusively to replacing aluminum gutters and, following the winter of 2015, all of fascia and soffit boards on the second floor of our house. The actual Lamarite shingles have sustained no damage whatsoever. Indeed, they continue to look as good as the day they were installed. A description of our specific experiences follows.

We are looking for homeowners who have Lamarite roofs (preferably with aluminum gutters) in regions with moderate to severe winters in the hope that we can determine (a) whether they have had gutter and related damages similar to ours and (b) if so, what solutions they have developed to address these problems. If you are such a homeowner (or are a contractor who has worked with such homeowners), we would be most grateful if you could click on the link (at either the top or bottom of this page) to send us a message sharing your own experiences with us.

Based upon repeated observations over the last several years, the problems we are experiencing appear to arise from a combination of inter-related factors, including the pitch and orientation of the roof, the smoothness of the Lamarite shingles, the amount of snow accumulated on the roof and the daily temperature cycle. Regarding the impact of the temperature cycle, the greatest damage appears to be associated with extended periods of cold weather where daytime temperatures reach or slightly exceed the freeezing point. It appears that after the sun heats the snow and ice at the top of the roof during the day (a process that accelerates when the darker colored shingles at the ridge become exposed to the sun), the resulting snow melt runs down the roof and is both absorbed by the snow below it and also freezes in and around the aluminum gutters. After several days of this process repeating itself, a vast sheet of ice builds up on the roof and in the gutters. This mass then slowly starts to slide forward during the day when the sun is shining and the temperature is at or slightly above freezing. As this mass slides forward it damages and/or destroys the gutters: this has happened during the majority of the past eight winters. Notwithstanding the repeated damage to our gutters from sliding ice, we have had no interior water damage during this period: the Lamarite roof and the ice and water shield beneath it have both performed flawlessly in this respect.

We started out with snow guards (or ice hooks) in place for the first four years. They actually made the problem on the house worse. It is true that the snow guards were only on the bottom third of the roof (see the two pictures at left below showing the roof and garage with snow guards installed). When the snow guards were installed, the snow and the ice from the higher portions of the roof would slide down and build up on the lower portion of the roof with the snow guards. This process created a heavy and powerful, almost glacial mass. This mass would then proceed forward very slowly but unstoppably through the snowguards and into the gutters. The force was so great that it would ultimately simply tear the gutters off the house as it worked its way down. In the years since 2011 when we removed the snow guards, ice has continued to build up, and move down the roof and destroy our aluminum gutters but it has done so in a thinner more manageable form (see picture at right above). In the latest winter (2015), the accumulated ice didn't just pull off the gutters-- it stripped out many of the fascia boards and split several of the soffit boards in the process. (See picture at right below.)

In an attempt to deal with this problem, we have sought support from Tamko on multiple occasions. Recognizing that this is a complex problem that may be related to many different and inter-related factors, they have nonetheless done their best to work with us. In particular, they have suggested the following:

  • Insulate and ventilate the attic better. Our attic is unheated with insulation in the floor. In 2011, we hired an insulation professional to install new insulation in the attic floor, to clear the soffits and to install baffles to channel the air up from the soffits toward the ridge vent at the peak of the roof. Unfortunately, this didn't do any good. (This spring we discovered that the ventilation had not in fact been improved in the manner described above back in 2011; that error has now been corrected.)

  • Install a perimeter roof melt system. Tamko recommended that we consider installing an electric heating system to prevent the ice from reaching and damaging the gutters. While they gave us the names of several vendors, unfortunately only one company-- who didn't have any representatives in our area-- showed any interest in helping us. In addition, this company recommended a zig zag heating cable. Unfortunately, this was a non-starter for us since our roofer told us this would almost certainly fail as a result of the ice sliding down from higher up on the roof ripping off the cable. If some form of electric ice melt system is in fact the way to go-- even assuming it is cost effective-- important questions remain about how to install such a system on a Dutch colonial given the presence of gutters on both the second and first floors.

  • A snow rake didn't do any good since the rake in its most extended form only reached the lowermost two or three feet of the roof. As a result, it couldn't be used to prevent the formation of ice further up. And by the time the ice further up slid down to within reach of the snow rake, the ice was too hard to be broken or otherwise dislodged.

    As noted before, we never had a problem with damage to our aluminum gutters on this same house during the seven winters when we had a conventional asphalt roof. As a result we find it hard not to believe that the ice build ups we have been experiencing may be partially related to the unique properties of Lamarite shingles. (Other relevant factors may include the pitch and orientation of roof, the level of snowfall on the roof, the winter temperature cycle, and the temperatures and airflow in our unheated attic.) Our repeated observations over the past eight years suggest that the smoothness and slipperiness of the surface of the Lamarite shingles-- verus the rougher surface of a conventional asphalt shingle-- may play a role in the formation and downward progress of these powerful and destructive sheets of ice.

    In support of this hypothesis, it also turns out that we have had minor gutter damage on the north facing side of our completely unheated, free standing garage during at least three winters since our Lamarite shingles were installed. The pattern observed on the north facing portion of our garage roof (even though that roof is much less steep and has a much shorter distance from the gutter to the ridge) is similar in microcosm to what we have observed on the second floor roof of our main house. Because our garage is completely unheated, we believe that this observation may lend some weight to the theory that it is not heat loss from the house but heat from the sun that is the primary source of our melting and refreezing problems.

    Another important question relates to the use of aluminum gutters in the first place. At least one contractor has told us that we could solve all of our problems by replacing our aluminum gutters with wooden gutters. We have certainly noted that of the many houses in our neighborhood with genuine slate roofs, none has aluminum gutters against a pitch comparable to the main portion of our roof where we have had recurring gutter damage. If aluminum gutters simply aren't compatible with a synthetic slate roof on a typical Dutch colonial such as ours, it would be extremely useful to know this (even though we can't afford the $50,000 we were quoted as the cost to replace all of our aluminum gutters with wooden gutters).

    During the several weeks this past winter when our gutters (and the associated fascia and soffit boards) were being destroyed, we closely watched many of these nearby houses with real slate roofs. Despite virtually identical weather conditions, there was no evidence that any of these nearby homes experienced any comparable build up of ice and snow on a similarly pitched roof, much less the extensive damages we incurred. It is also worth pointing out that none of these neighboring homes with real slate roofs used any kind of (visible) electric ice melting system.

    Possible fixes that have been suggested by friends and neighbors include:

  • Reinstalling new snow guards on our roof, but going up all the way to the ridge this time (rather than stopping 1/3 of the way up); and

  • Installing spray-on insulating foam under the roof in the attic.

  • If anyone has tried either of these two possible solutions, we would love to hear about your experience.

    As part of the reconstruction of our soffits and fascia boards this past spring, we did not re-install aluminum gutters on the second floor of our house. Our hope is that even if we have the same experience of ice building up next winter (i.e., in 2016), we can at least forego the cost of replacing the second floor gutters the next time around. And now that the soffits are fully clear and provide for an uninterrupted flow of air up through the baffles, it is certainly possible that our problems will all be over. Longer term, if the problems do occur again, unless we can find an affordable solution, we expect we will remove our Lamarite roof and replace it with a conventional asphalt roof.

    In spite of everything described above, we still love our Lamarite roof and hope to find a way to keep it if we can.

    To contact Bill Wood, please click here.