Q: Last winter, we had a serious problem with ice clogging our gutters. And every time it melted a bit during the day, the overflow would spill onto the walkway and driveway and refreeze at night into a sheet of ice. How can we stop this from happening?

A: Tom Silva: One way is to run electric heating cables inside the gutters and downspouts. Turn the cable on during snowy, freezing weather so the water drains away and stays off your walk and drive. Be sure to use cables with thermostatic controls so they don't overheat or run up your electric bill.

But these cables only treat the symptom of a bigger problem: inadequate roof ventilation. In other words, the heat escaping from the house is geting trapped under the roof and melting the snow, even when the weather is below freezing. That meltwater ends up refreezing in your gutters. (See "Birth of an Ice Damn," at thisoldhouse.com/shortcuts.)

A roofing contractor can install the ridge and soffit vents that a properly ventilated roof should have. But if you can't get this work done before winter, try placing a small box fan in the attic to cool the underside of the roof. Face it towards the area of the roof that gets warm, and run it whenever there is any snow on the roof. That's a lot less expensive than installing and operating heating cables.
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