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With winter weather upon us, those living in areas of snow and freezing cold temperatures need to think about their gutters and how best to keep them working. Unfortunately, gutter maintenance is rarely done until it’s too late, when something has already gone wrong. 

If not tendered to properly, a clogged or under-performing gutter can potentially wreak havoc on homes during the coldest months of the year. Water can get into the house, or the heavy weight of snow and ice on top of piled up leaves can cause them to break off, causing quite the expense. That’s why you want to make sure that you do all you can to get your gutters in shape.

Here are five ways to protect your gutters in the winter:

Remove All Debris
During the fall, leaves will find a way into your gutters so you need to have a thorough cleaning once all the leaves have fallen. Dirt and waste can clog gutter system and create an environment ripe for ice dams that degrade your home’s roof, walls, foundation and ability to insulate. 

Stay on Guard
Consider adding gutter guards to your system to prevent such buildup in the first place. Gutter guards are available in brush, foam, screen or mesh, reverse curve and other styles. Factors like budget, climate and proximity to sources of debris will determine what kind of gutter guard is right for you. 

Keep Things Hot
By installing a de-icing cable as a heating system to your gutters and roof, you can stop ice dams and even melt away ones that have begun to form. While not common, this is making its way into more and more households in colder climates.

Look for Holes
Identify any holes in your gutters and repair them. Leaks in your gutters will divert water from the appropriate downspouts, and instead, trickle down the side of your home. This can cause water damage, such as rot and mold, as well as weaken your home’s foundation. You can make a patch with the same material as your gutters and install it with roofing cement. 

Get Out of Your Slump
Check for sagging gutters and fix or replace them. Slumping gutters will cause a buildup of water and debris. Remove problem areas and replace damaged screws, brackets or entire sections, as needed. 

While many of these things can be done by yourself, you can save a good deal of time, effort and exposure to potential injury by hiring professionals. It’s not too expensive and you won’t have to worry about getting hurt on the ladder.