Ice dams and basement mildew—that’s the last thaw!

Even if it snows the first four days of March—like we experienced across much of the country this year—Americans embrace its arrival as a harbinger of warmer days ahead. With March comes the promise of spring, greener lawns, sunnier skies, rising temperatures and that last thaw that puts snow and ice to bed for another year. Unfortunately, that final thaw can cost a homeowner thousands of dollars in water damage, damage control and home repair. Even more disheartening is the fact that a little vigilance and preparation could prevent much, if not all of the damage.

So, as we prepare for March to “go out like a lamb,” I thought it would be a good idea to look at some of the biggest offenders of spring thaw damages, as well as tips for avoiding them.

Ice dams. We’ve all seen these, evidenced by sheets of ice on shingles and icicles hanging from the eaves. As pretty as these look, they can wreak havoc when the ice begins to thaw causing water to back up under shingles and pour into your home. Even more scary is that, because water starts in “at the top” it can go undetected for quite some time, damaging walls and ceilings and generating mold or worse. Proper roof and attic ventilation and insulation is key to preventing this. This article offers more insights on ice dams and ways to prevent and fix them.

Snow-burdened roofs. As a rule of thumb, two inches of snow on a roof is okay. However, too much snow accumulation can lead to ice dams and, possibly, cave-ins. There are a number of specialty tools and service providers that can safely remove snow from your roof.

Trapped water. As snow begins to melt, the water needs some place to go. Oftentimes the “path of least resistance” is right into a homeowner’s basement. As temperatures rise after a snowfall, be sure to shovel a path away from the foundation of your home so the water can escape somewhere safe—toward a storm drain, into a garden, etc. Better yet, before winter strikes, adjust the grading around your home to guide water away. Also be sure that your basement walls, floors and windows are properly sealed.

Debris build-up. Make sure all the mechanisms whose job it is to keep water flowing remain clear and free of debris and snow/ice. These include sewers, storm drains, gutters, downspouts and flood drains.

Freeze-thaw cycles. Pay attention to extreme temperature changes, like those we had this year that took us from near-zero temperatures at the start of the week to close to 60 degrees by the week’s end. The more freeze-thaw cycles there are, the more likely you’ll find shifts or cracks in your home’s foundation as well as damage to indoor and outdoor pipes. Inspect your foundation and pipes frequently and make necessary repairs as quickly as possible to prevent flooding.

Invincibility. Lastly, remember that even the best-prepared homeowner can’t always prevent water from entering a home. Be prepared by making sure your sump pump is in reliable operating condition, keeping a backup battery-operated pump on hand, having a water alarm in your basement and storing anything of value on raised platforms or elsewhere in the house.

Don’t let spring thaw be your downfall. Take time now to be aware and prepare!