an ice dam
Photo: Keller & Keller
Q: I have a problem with ice clogging up one of our downspouts. I've used a hose and hot water to melt the blockage, but is there a better solution?
Edward Kellogg, Walden, N.Y.

A: Tom Silva replies: Absolutely. The same electric heat cables that keep plastic or metal gutters from clogging with ice can also maintain a clear passage for water to flow through frozen downspouts. The cable should run the length of the downspout—don't just stick it down halfway.

At the very least, connect the cables to a dedicated thermostat that will turn them on and off automatically when the temperature drops below freezing. Some products have sophisticated sensors that sit in the gutter and turn on the cables only when weather conditions are likely to result in icing.
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