Keep Winter Thaw Out of Your House
A midwinter warm spell may be good for the psyche, but it might not be so great for your house.
Drainage issues, roof problems and maintenance oversights could result in leaks when heavy snow starts melting.
You may not be able to solve the underlying problems until spring arrives, but you can take some stopgap measures now to prevent or minimize damage, experts say.
Here are their suggestions.
■ Clear the snow.
Once the ground thaws, melting snow acts much like an extended rainfall, said Bruce A. Tschantz, who taught civil and environmental engineering at the University of Tennessee and is now a consultant on water issues. If the melted snow has nowhere to go, it can collect against your house and seep into your basement, he said.
You may be able to prevent a basement leak by shoveling deep snow away from the foundation wall on the uphill side of your house, he said. But don’t just leave the snow there in a pile. You need to remove it to a lower part of the yard, or else it will just melt and run back toward the house.
■ Check the drainage.
Tschantz said it’s a good idea to make sure you have clear, uncrimped outlets for your roof’s downspouts and the foundation drain that runs underground around the perimeter of your house. Those systems usually drain to either the street or someplace on your property. Sometimes the downspouts empty into the foundation drain.
Check that the openings from the gutters to the downspouts are clear, too, he said.
Make sure water from your downspouts is directed well away from your house, Tschantz said. That may require adding a flexible downspout extension that’s long enough to carry the water to a lower part of the yard. Those extensions can be removed to mow the yard.
■ Check your sump pump.
If water does get into your basement, a sump pump is designed to get it out. Now’s a good time to make sure that pump is working, said Mike Mackin, owner of Mackin & Sons Plumbing in Norton, Ohio.
The best approach is to fill the pit with water from a garden hose, perhaps attached to a water heater or laundry hookup. Make sure the pump comes on as the pit fills.
You can also pull up on the float to make sure the pump turns on, he said.
■ Safeguard your valuables.
The contents of your basement are vulnerable during a flood. Take a few minutes to make sure anything valuable is stored in waterproof containers or lifted an inch or more off the floor — perhaps on shelves, pallets or other supports. Tschantz said he puts small blocks under the computer equipment in his basement, just in case.
■ Protect a flat roof.
While snow usually melts off peaked roofs, snow and ice can remain longer on flat roofs. Those roofs are designed to be waterproof, but if you already have a small leak, it can turn into a big one during a thaw, said Mike Kozlowski of the Kozlowski Co., a roofing company in Tallmadge, Ohio.
Make sure the drains on the roof are open, so melting snow can escape easily, he said. It’s OK to remove snow and ice from the roof if you can, he said, but don’t chip off the ice. You could cause further damage.
■ Check for faucet leaks.
You may be tempted to wash your car during the thaw, but do so with caution, Mackin said.
The stem leading to your outdoor faucet can break if water freezes inside it, which will cause a leak when you turn the faucet on, he said. But since the leak is indoors, you might not even be aware of it.
Mackin suggested that when you first turn on an outdoor spigot after a cold spell, go indoors to check for visible water and listen for leaks inside the wall.
If you have a freeze-proof faucet, you can just shut off the faucet to stop the leak, he said. For other types of faucets, you need to shut off the water supply leading to the faucet.