Dear Angie: My gutters and downspouts are totally frozen. How can I dislodge the ice and get things flowing again? — Joshua P., Indianapolis
Answer: There's no rock-solid way to cheaply, quickly and effectively thaw ice-filled gutters and downspouts.
Frozen gutters and downspouts might lead to water damage from ice dams or from gutters pulling away from the roof, but the solution can be as bad as the potential problems. Highly rated gutter pros tell our team that they see lots of damage in spring from homeowners who tried to remove winter ice with picks, shovels or axes.
But if you're really worried and are willing to spend $500 to $1,000, you can hire a professional to use steam or hot water to restore free flow. The problem is that if you get more snow, ice might form again.
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Experts disagree on the effectiveness of such do-it-yourself ideas as pouring salt directly on ice or placing a salt-filled stocking on top of the downspout.
Pros say patience is probably the best approach. They advise homeowners to wait until nature takes it course unless ice-clogged drainage systems cause water to infiltrate a roof and home.
They say modern roofing systems feature ice- and water-shield underlayment that in most cases provides sufficient protection.
Once temperatures heat up, consider options to reduce future chances of frozen gutters and downspouts. The easiest step is to keep gutters and downspouts clear of debris. Experts recommend having them cleaned out every six months.
A more involved solution is to install a heating panel. In such a system, wires or heating elements run the length of the gutter and downspout, warming the metal and preventing ice buildup. Heating panels cost about $500 to $750.
If you hire a gutter expert to handle a mid- winter freeze or a post-freeze preventive or corrective measure, be sure he or she is appropriately licensed and carries liability and workers compensation insurance.