When it comes to winter ice around your home, the best defense against property damage and personal injury is a well-executed offense. Unfortunately, you can’t always be ahead of the weather, and if you’re facing the inevitable outcome of an ice storm or a blizzard, you need to know how to handle what’s been thrown at you.
What’s the harm in ice?
When ice forms over the eaves of your roof or along doors and windows, you are facing one of a number of potential problems.
- When water freezes, it expands. As I’ve told a number of people who ask me about water leaks, water is insidious – it slowly seeps into areas, and as it freezes, the resulting expansion is so powerful it can even split rock. For obvious reasons, you don’t want this to happen to your foundation.
- Ice buildup on the eaves of your home creates what is known as an ice dam. As the ice forms on the cold eaves, the snow and ice resting over your warmer attic melts and builds up behind the ice, leading to roof leaks.
- Continual melting and refreezing can cause large icicles to form, and when they break loose, they can damage property and injure people.
To prevent such a homeowner’s nightmare at your house, it’s time to take action before you end up with thousands of dollars worth of damage caused by winter ice.
Before You Begin…
IT IS OK TO CALL A PROFESSIONAL!
I know you came here for some DIY tips, but this is the best advice I can give you. Every year, untrained homeowners venture onto the roof to remove ice and snow, and every year, people either fall off of their roof (and into the emergency room) or end up compounding the problem with ineffective solutions. As in, I’ve heard of people trying to manually remove the ice with hammers that damage their roof or torches that could burn down their house. Seriously – call a professional: they have experience, as well as safety harnesses!
1) Get Rid of the Water
If you choose to deal with this yourself, take care of the melting water (as the ice itself is much harder to tackle, especially if you have a multi-story home) first. This means opening up channels where melting water can flow, or it will end up seeping into your roof.
To do this, fill nylon stockings with calcium chloride (do NOT use rock salt, as it will damage your roof) and position them vertically along your roof while intersecting the ice dam. This will melt channels in the ice dam through which water can flow.
Also, it’s handy to buy a roof snow scraper in order to remove snow buildup, thereby reducing the source of melting water itself.
2) Remove the Icicles
This step is a bit simpler than others, as it doesn’t require to climb on your roof.
- Take an extension pole or a long broom and simply knock them down. Do NOT stand directly under the icicles when you do this. That’s the whole point of using the long pole.
- While this process is actually a bit of a hoot, exercise a little caution. Take care not to knock the icicles onto something (or someone), as large ones can cause real damage.
- Be mindful that icicles hanging off of gutters may also mean the gutters are filled with ice, and you could bring those down along with icicles.
- Know what’s around you before you start swinging a pole above your head. Try to avoid swinging wildly around windows (for obvious reason), and if the icicles are near an electrical line, then just don’t do it!
3) Clear Off Sidewalk Ice
Ice on sidewalks and steps present a real safety hazard. Our first instinct is to spread salt on icy surfaces to speed up melting, but too often, the ice you’ve just melted simply refreezes at night – and this can be as bad, if not worse, than the original ice.
- For slick conditions, use some fine gravel or kitty litter to provide some grip on the ice.
- If you do choose to melt the ice, still spread that gravel or kitty litter over the salt or other melting agent to add grip to those wet surfaces, as they will eventually refreeze. You will need to repeat this step multiple times as the ice refreezes on a surface, and add a layer on top of the final freeze).
- You can also chip away at an ice patch with a small shovel if the surface beneath the ice is hard enough to take the abuse. When you’re done, apply the traction options listed above.
Winter ice can be dangerous. We all want to avoid water and ice damage in our homes, but attempting to mitigate these problems isn’t worth risking injury or your life. Just remember: if it looks like you could get hurt, don’t do it. Nobody needs a trip to the emergency room on top of a roof leak – especially during the holidays. Stay safe, and keep warm!