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Ice dams are the result of a freeze-and-thaw cycle when there’s snow on your roof, and they suck. They can cause damage to your roof and gutters, and in the worst scenarios they can even damage your home’s structure. But there are things you can (and should) do to prevent and mitigate ice dams.

Stop ice dams before they start by cleaning your gutters

The best thing you can do to keep ice dams from forming on your roof is to keep gutters and downspouts clear. Make sure to remove leaves and debris from your gutters and inspect downspouts to make sure they’re flowing freely. Remove any obstacles that can keep water from draining off your roof, and that’ll help stop the freeze-and-thaw cycle from forming ice blockages.

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Install a de-icing system on your house

If you know that ice dams are common to your home, you can install a de-icing cable that goes for about $70 per 100 feet. While self-installed de-icing cables can help, they do create a potential hazard if you rake or sweep snow off of your roof, as the cable can become dislodged.

If you live in an area where de-icing is a common problem, a professionally installed de-icing system is a good option. Although installing permanent heated panels can be expensive, it’s less expensive than replacing your roof or repairing the water damage from a leak.

Use a roof rake when the heavy snow starts

Once the snow starts, a great way to prevent ice dams and icicles is to rake the lower edge of your eves with a roof rake . These come in various sizes and lengths, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one that will work for your roof. This method works best if it’s done while the snow is still soft, before much melting has occurred.

Take care not to push on your shingles too hard—you don’t want to damage your roof while you’re trying to protect it. The water draining from your roof will take the path of least resistance, so clearing away obstacles in front of the gutter can help keep melted snow from refreezing on the roof.

Insulate your attic

Another method to help prevent ice dams is to insulate your attic. Heat loss from the roof through the attic can cause water from the melting snow on the roof to refreeze as solid ice as it gets farther from the heat source. Keeping the roof a little cooler can slow this process, and it’ll save you money on heating costs as well.

How to remove ice dams

If prevention isn’t an option, or doesn’t work, breaking up ice dams can be tricky. The first thing to remember is that you shouldn’t climb out onto your slick, icy roof unless you have the proper training and equipment. If there are sections of ice dam that you can reach safely, be careful not to damage your roof while breaking them up.

Using calcium chloride to help melt the ice is a common method for getting rid of an ice dam. Instead of just sprinkling the crystals over the ice, filling a sock with calcium chloride and draping it over the edge or the roof or across the ice dam will work better. This will melt the surrounding ice and keep water draining from your roof. It’s important not to use rock salt or other de-icers that contain sodium chloride though, as those can damage your roof.

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