What is a Roof Heater?

G. Wiesen

A roof heater is typically a system used to keep areas of a roof warm in order to prevent build up of snow and ice that can cause damage to a building. This type of system usually uses a product called heat tape or heat cable that can be run along the edge of a roof and through the gutters on a roof edge. Different types of cables and tape can be used as a roof heater; some include systems that automatically control heating, while others will run as long as power is supplied to the cable.

A roof heater can help prevent snow and ice buildup.
A roof heater can help prevent snow and ice buildup.

Often called heater cables or tape, a roof heater is usually used in areas that see snowfall in the winter to prevent damage to a building due to snow and ice. Snow and ice buildup on a roof typically takes place in one of two basic ways: either on the edge of the roof itself, or in the gutters on a roof. What typically occurs in the first instance is snow will melt and run down the roof to the edge where it stops and then refreezes into ice. Once this occurs, melting snow will then continue to mass at this point and create more snow and ice, which is often called an “ice dam.”

A roof heater may help prevent water from entering the walls of a building, which can lead to mold growth.
A roof heater may help prevent water from entering the walls of a building, which can lead to mold growth.

Snow can also accumulate in the gutters around a roof as melting snow runs down into gutters. The gutters are often quite cold and so this snow and melting snow can then refreeze into ice, which builds up with more snow and ice. In either case, the buildup of ice and snow can be very heavy and lead to roof damage or water entering the walls of a building, which can create damage and opportunities for mold to develop.

A roof heater is typically used to prevent both of these issues. When used to prevent ice damming, the heat tape or cable, which consists of a length of cable and a plug that can be inserted into a power socket, can be secured to the edge of the roof in a “zigzag” pattern. The tape or cable will melt any snow and ice up to about one inch (2.5 cm) on either side of it and will prevent ice dams from forming. A roof heater system using tape or cable can also be used in the gutters of a house to prevent buildups of ice or snow in the gutters as well.

This type of roof heater can usually be found in different lengths of cable and can be either standard or self-regulating. Standard cable will heat up to a maximum temperature and remain at that heat while plugged in. Self-regulating cable or tape, however, changes temperature and will be cool at warmer temperatures and become warmer as outdoor temperatures fall. Either system works well as a roof heater, but the self-regulating cable can help reduce energy usage and costs.

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Discussion Comments


All that insulation in the attic is good for saving on the heating bills, but when you have less insulation and there is a little heat escaping this can prevent snow from building up and causing your roof to cave in. I'm not saying you should get rid of all your attic insulation, but that is the way it works.


I have a friend who lives in the North and they measure the snowfall by the feet rather than by the inches. He got tired of shoveling snow off the roof several times a year, so he bought a cheap heat tape setup and put it on the roof.

He thought it was working well. The snow wasn't piling up like usual. Then later he learned that the snow was melting and then being forced beneath the shingles on the roof. Long story short, he ended up with water damage in the attic.


Installing roof heating cables and roof heating tape appear to be easy jobs. Because of this the systems are often put in as part of do-it-yourself projects. This is where the complications start. People will probably save themselves a lot of trouble if they use a professional instead of doing the job themselves.


I have heard some negative comments about the roof heat tape. Some people say the tape is likely to lead to damage instead of preventing damage, which is the purpose for using the product in the first place.

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