Winter Roofing Solutions: Heating Cables

Heating cable on shingle roof

Image courtesy of Heat Trace Specialists

Excessive and constant snow throughout the winter can pose significant problems for homeowners. The extra weight of snow and ice can cause long-term structural damage, moisture penetration, and more. Installing a heating cable on the roof will prevent excessive snow buildup and minimize potential roofing problems

Types of Heating Cable Systems

Before you have a heating cable installed, you’ll need to decide on which system will best suit your housing needs.

There are two types of heating cables...

Thermostat-Controlled Heating Cables

A thermostat-controlled system allows homeowners to control the temperature of the cables as well as when and for how long they are running. Thermostat systems save energy and prolong the life of the heating cables.

Traditional Heating Cables

A traditional system does not provide manual control and is less expensive to install, but the energy expenses may increase over time.

Simply plug in traditional heating cables as needed. However, before you turn them on, factor in temperature, time of day, and the amount of sun.

A good rule of thumb to follow with heating cables is: If it's warm enough to melt snow at the peak of the roof, but cold enough for meltwater to refreeze at the roof's edge, the cables should be on. This is common during the late afternoon.

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Cost of Heating Cables

The size of your roof plays a huge role in heating cable cost. Heating cables are priced by the foot, so the larger your roof, the longer and more expensive the cable will be. 

On average, traditional heating cables cost around $60 - $90 per 100 feet of linear cable. 

If you wait to have your heating cable installed during the winter, this will increase the cost of installation due to higher demand.

Average Cost to Install Heating Cable System
Low-End Cost $400
Average Cost $800
High-End Cost $2,000
Since heating cables use electricity to melt snow and ice, expect to see your electricity bill rise when they're in use. Also, your installation contractor may charge more if your roof is unusually high or steeply pitched, or if the cables need to be installed in areas hard to access.

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Heating Cable Installation

heat cables on roof

Image courtesy of Heated Gutter Cable Installation - Easy Heat Cables

Heating cables are installed along the eaves of a roof—most commonly done in a zig-zag pattern—to prevent large sections of ice buildup.

To ensure a properly functioning heating cable system, keep the roof free of debris so that it can drain correctly. If meltwater gets trapped in frozen gutters and downspouts, it can back up and cause problems. This is why homeowners usually install heating cables or heating tape within gutters and downspouts.

Hometown Roofing Contractors recommends hiring a professional to install heating cables, as it can be a dangerous task to place and secure them correctly.

If you choose to install them yourself, follow these guidelines:

1. Install heating cables when it’s a dry, clear day and it's safe to work from a ladder.

2. Make sure you have a GFI (grounded) outlet to plug the heating cables into. You may need to hire an electrician to install one nearby.

3. Begin by attaching one end of the cable to the corner of your roof. Shape the cable into a zigzag pattern by creating a 15” triangle and allowing the cable to hang over the gutter then go back up to the warm area of the roof.

4. Secure the heating cable with brackets fixed to each shingle where the heating cable bends before coming back down the roof.

5. Run the last section of heating cable along the inside of the gutter and downspout to allow proper runoff.

When properly installed, heating cables can minimize snow and ice buildup and eliminate some serious problems facing homeowners.

Heating Cable Uses

icicles and snow on roof

Heating cables treat a symptom and are not a permanent cure for large amounts of ice and snow buildup. To properly fix severe winter buildups, an issue of inadequate roof ventilation needs to be addressed. In most cases, heat escapes from the attic and melts snow—even if the weather is below freezing—causing ice dams and other problems.

However, some homes simply have design flaws, and the cost to correct them is just too high. In these special cases, heating cables provide a great solution to keep troubled areas clear.

More often than not, heating cables should be used as a last resort for treating snow and ice buildups. There’s no substitute for an energy audit, proper insulation and ventilation, sealed air leaks, and a roof rake.

If you have exhausted all other options, invest in heating cables for helping with troubled spots. Installing heating cables can be done by a homeowner, but if you don't feel comfortable spending a length of time on your roof, we recommend hiring a professional.

Hometown Roofing Contractors makes it easy to find the right local roofing contractor for the job. You can examine company profiles, check out their full range of services, and request quotes from as many roofers as you'd like.