Over the course of a long Canadian winter, the buildup of snow can create massive drifts leaning up against the exterior walls of your home. While the snow may help to insulate you from sub-zero temperatures, it can also cause flooding when all that snow melts in early spring. It also poses other threats to your home and your personal safety. Here are tips to manage snow buildup over the coming winter months.
1. Snow Buildup on the Ground
Shovelling your own snow presents several risks, especially if you live in an area that gets a lot of snow. It can lead to a variety of health issues including falls on the ice, backaches, and muscle fatigue. It’s better to hire a professional to remove snow after each snowfall.
While there are a number of different types of snow plowing contracts, they boil down to two broad types: 1) Fixed lump sum for the season regardless of amount and number of snowfalls that occur or 2) Variable amount for each snowfall, based on number of visits, depth of snow accumulation or time spent.
Ensure snow is plowed or blown away from your foundation walls. The moisture from snow melting can slowly seep through your foundation because concrete is actually porous. As water gets absorbed into tiny pores in concrete, it freezes and expands slightly. These freeze/thaw cycles create small cracks that gradually increase in size every winter. And if you’re using salt as a de-icer, it can gradually erode brick mortar, with voids climbing up from the ground with each passing winter.
2. Slip and Fall on Ice
Ice on your sidewalk and driveway may cause slip-and-fall accidents that send you, or someone walking by, to the hospital. While rock salt is cheap and effective, use it sparingly – it is hard on concrete or asphalt and it burns the grass come springtime. Salt can also cause your dog to lick salt off their paws, which may cause them to throw up later. Add traction to the surface by dispersing sandbox sand or fine gravel over the area. While sand will not melt the ice, it will provide improved grip underfoot.
Most snow removal companies will specify a minimum snowfall for them to come out, so when you get a light dusting of snow, keep a coarse-bristle push broom or light shovel handy to sweep it away. Even a light snow flurry can lead to ice, especially if temperatures are hovering near freezing when snow changes to rain or worse yet, freezing rain. This can create ‘black ice’ which you may not see until you slip on it!
3. Snow Buildup on the Roof
Snow will provide an extra layer of insulation to a well-built roof. But too much snow and ice can cause a roof to weaken or even collapse, in particular, flat roofs. Some municipalities may ask homeowners to remove snow from flat rooftops, overhangs and gutters, especially if the area has had heavy snowfall.
But don’t risk damaging your roof or personal injury – removing snow from a roof is not a DIY project, it’s a job for snow removal professionals.
What are Ice Dams and Their Causes?
Ice dams are another snow related issue that can damage your home. If a roof is not well insulated, heat will come up through the roof’s surface and melt the snow resting on it. Direct sunlight on a south-facing roof also accelerates snow melting. The meltwater flows down the roof until it reaches a place that is below freezing – typically at the eaves where there is no heat from inside. When the meltwater reaches the frozen eavestrough, ice forms and accumulates, growing a dam or barrier that impedes the further passage of meltwater off the roof. Meltwater then backs up the roof and may cause water to leak into the attic through small roofing nail holes, resulting in damaged insulation, ceilings, walls and roof structure.
Once started, the dam continues to build in size and weight, also forming long and heavy icicles from the eaves. Serious injury can occur when the ice dam falls off suddenly or if someone attempts to remove it.
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So here a few steps to consider before the snow flies:
- Hire a snow removal company to remove your snow throughout the season. Sign a written contract that clearly defines their responsibilities and your expectations.
- Check the grade around your house to ensure it slopes down away from the foundation of your home. Get a landscaping company to improve your grading.
- Ensure downspout extensions carry water from the eavestroughs far away from the exterior walls, ideally two meters or more.
- Call a roofer or eavestrough specialist to check for damage from previous winters that should be repaired before the snow accumulates.
Use these suggestions to ensure you’re ready for that first blizzard when it comes.
Cover image courtesy of GGY Geography.