Ice dams form when heat escapes through the roof and melts snow that’s settled there. That snow-melt flows to your roof’s edge and refreezes, usually at the eaves. Those pretty icicles can signal an ugly ice dam underneath. The problem with an ice dam is that snow that later melts can’t properly drain, so it has to go somewhere… and that might be through a leak in your roof, causing water damage in your home.

Fortunately, a few simple steps before the temperature starts to drop can go a long way toward preventing all of this:

1. Clogged gutters and downspouts are the No. 1 cause of ice dams. Clean them out to keep water flowing during the winter.
2. Seal places that may allow warm air to leak from your home to your attic, such as around vent pipes, exhaust fans, chimneys, attic hatches, and light fixtures.
3. Be sure soffit vents, which are along the eaves of the house and allow air to flow into the attic, are clear.
4. If you’ve had problems with ice dams before or have reason to suspect you might this year, you can take these additional steps:

a. Install snow and ice slides to prevent ice and snow from “bonding” to your roof.
b. Install a rubberized ice and water shield beneath the roof shingles, going three to six feet back from the eaves.
c. Hire a roofer to install heat cable along the eaves to melt ice.
d. Add additional insulation to your attic floor.
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