What Is Heat Tape for Gutters?

Just like heavy rain, snow and ice can wreak havoc on our home’s roof and gutters. If you live in an area that sees its fair share of wintry weather, consider heat tape for your gutters. 

What Is Heat Tape? 

Simply put, these are insulated electrical wires that are placed inside gutters and along the roof’s edge to stop ice dams from forming. And that could protect your gutters and roof from costly damage.

Heat tape may be referred to by several other names, including gutter heaters, heat cables or heat wire. No matter what you call it, it does the same thing, which is melt ice and keep water flowing through the gutters and away from your home. Heat tape for gutters may look like any other type of wiring or extension cords, but it is specially designed to withstand heat and exposure to the elements.

Why Do I Need Heat Tape for My Gutters?

In winter, when the snow is falling and your house is nice and warm on the inside, heat can escape from the roof. That heat melts the snow and ice on the surface. Snowmelt can then drip down and refreeze near the roof’s edge, where there’s no insulation and no heat. Then, you start to get ice dams and icicles forming on your gutters. This is why you need heat tape.

Heat tape or heat cable is installed in a zig-zag pattern along the roofline and inside gutters and downspouts. When plugged into a grounded (GFCI) outlet, the heat tape warms up and melts the snow, allowing it to properly drain away from your roof without causing damage. Look at it like this: Heat tape stops the “melt-freeze-melt-freeze again” cycle, which causes ice dams and can also cause water to back up and damage your roof. Properly installed heat tape along with clean gutters can go a long way in protecting your home in icy conditions.

There are two basic types of heat tape or heat cables: self-regulating and constant wattage. They differ in how they operate and how much energy they use. A constant wattage cable provides a constant heat output. It uses more energy because it cannot regulate power. As long as it’s plugged in, it’s using power. Sometimes, homeowners forget they have them plugged up. So, they’re constantly wasting energy and money. 

This prolonged use (remember, your cables are being exposed to the elements every day) can shorten the lifespan of your heat cables, which is typically only three to five years. The summer heat and winter cold can also cause the wire insulation to develop cracks and let in moisture, resulting in a short circuit.

 A self-regulating cable does just as its name implies, it regulates its own energy use. Today’s self-regulating heat tapes have a built-in thermostat that powers them on when temperatures drop and adjusts as needed. Once the cable gets warm, power usage adjusts and drops, then turns off when the air temperature rises.

The Pros and Cons of Heat Tape

The pros of heat tape? That’s easy. When installed properly, it does exactly what it’s designed to do, which is melt snow and prevent ice buildup on your home and gutters, therefore protecting your roof. So, having heat tape or heat cables can actually save you money in the long run.

On the flipside, there are a couple of notable cons to heat tape. The first, for many customers, is the price. There’s the initial cost of buying the gutter heating tape. Then, there’s the price you pay for operating them. If you have a large home, you’re going to need more heat cables. Let’s assume you have constant wattage heat tape. If you plug it up one to two hours before the snow starts falling, as directed, and leave it running for a week. That could make a sizable difference in that month’s utility bill.

Another con related to heat tape for your gutters— they’re not attractive. Unlike Christmas lights that you take down after the new year, heat tape is meant to stay up. After an extended amount of time, they can become worn down and start to look disheveled. Most heat tape manufacturers advise you to replace your heat tapes every three years minimum.

The biggest concern about heat cables is the electrical hazard. Some people worry that heat cables are dangerous. It’s a fact that fires can be triggered by improper installation. That’s why it’s best to follow the directions carefully when installing or using heat tape on your gutters. Make sure your gutters are in good working order before the snow starts to fall. If you’re not confident in the installation, hire a professional to do it and ask for a parts and labor warranty.


Heat tape can be effective in preventing ice dams at gutters, downspouts and roof edges. Be sure to purchase heated cables designed specifically for gutters and rooftops. When properly installed, heat tape can be used safely to prevent freeze-ups and potentially costly repairs. Although there is a cost to running the tape, doing so could save you from expensive roof repairs or replacement. Our best advice, if you do decide to install heat cables, get it done the right way by a qualified, licensed professional.