Prevent home damage due to thawing ice and snow

A house after a snow fall.

A house after a snow fall. Photo Credit: iStock

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It might seem hard to believe during one of the snowiest and coldest winters on record, but it is going to get warmer. And while a nice thaw won't force you to dig out your car yet again, it will have the potential to produce major problems for homeowners.

Melting snow can cause flooding and ice damming, which is what happens when water refreezes at the edge of the roofline, preventing water from draining off the roof and possibly sending it inside your home.

"We're seeing a tremendous amount of water-damage claims, mostly from ice damming and frozen pipes," says Gary Morris, chief executive of The Rampart Insurance Group, headquartered in Lake Success.

Here are more common problems homeowners might see as the weather warms up.


CAUSES AND SIGNS As anyone who's encountered a few potholes recently can attest, this winter has not been kind to asphalt. Artie Cipoletti, chief executive of DaVinci Construction of Wantagh and West Bay Shore and president of the Long Island Builders Institute, advises homeowners to check the driveway and the perimeter of their property after the snow melts to make sure there are no newly formed craters that need to be filled in.

"The prolonged rain and snow and ice, and this cold weather we've been having, affects the grade around the house," Cipoletti says.

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HOW TO PREVENT IT Cipoletti says there's no preventive measures to take and that this winter may cause more problems than most. "We go from a 50-degree day to a zero-degree day," Cipoletti says. "When it ever finally becomes spring, we might see more damage than we're used to."

Ice melt products can also damage concrete and asphalt. George Uribe, assistant manager of Long Island Hardware in Bohemia, advises spreading it around evenly. "Don't leave it in small piles and lumps," Uribe says. "One small area will get much hotter than the rest of the concrete around it, which will cause it to crack."


CAUSES AND SIGNS Icicles hanging from the roof may look pretty, but they're the sign of a huge headache for homeowners -- ice damming. The buildup of ice along the roof eave can cause moisture to get into your home.

"It would look like you have an abundance of icicles or an abundance of ice built up at the gutter line," Cipoletti says. "If you have a foot-and-a-half of snow on your roof and it starts melting very quickly'' but is trapped by a dam of ice, "it draws water inside the house at the eave."

HOW TO PREVENT IT Artie Cipoletti of DaVinci Construction suggests that homeowners clear snow from their roofs if six inches or more has accumulated. They can use special snow roof rakes sold at hardware stores.

If there is already ice clogging up gutters, he recommends hiring a professional to remove it. "The last thing we'd want is people getting up on their roofs with ice on it," he says.

Homeowners who have had problems with ice damming should look into installing an ice and water shield, which seals to the gutter edges of the roof and vulnerable areas, such as those around skylights, says Gina Marzano, general operations manager of MarCor Construction and Roofing in West Babylon. They can also install a drip edge, a piece of prefabricated aluminum installed at the gutter line that prevents ice and snow from building up.

Heat rising into the attic will melt snow and help advance ice dams, so homeowners should also increase insulation in their homes and make sure the attic stays cool.


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CAUSES AND SIGNS The freezing and the thawing, along with a big spring rain, can create conditions for sinkholes to form on lawns, says Kerry O'Brien, who co-owns T.F. O'Brien Cooling and Heating in New Hyde Park and is board president of the New York City/Long Island chapter of the National Association of The Remodeling Industry, a trade association based in Melville.

"What will happen with grass, you really won't see it," O'Brien says. "It literally could be a hole that sunk underneath the grass, but the grass is still there. Someone could be walking and just fall into a hole."

What looks like a depression in the lawn could be a sinkhole, O'Brien says.

He recommends poking the ground with a stick to check on the area before walking on it.

HOW TO PREVENT IT Sinkholes can be refilled with dirt, but O'Brien says there isn't really a way to prevent them.

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"They just happen," O'Brien says. "Some people have never seen any and some properties are just prone to them. People that have had them know, and they might have to fill it in and a year later fill it in some more."


CAUSES AND SIGNS Pipes are common casualties of the bitter cold. As the weather warms up, homeowners should check all of their exterior water connections, says Richard Goelz of All Suffolk Plumbing in Bohemia.

"You won't know you have a burst pipe until it thaws out," Goelz says. "If you have an area of the house where you have frozen pipes, they're going to thaw out now."

Check your garden hose connection. If there's a break right where the hose bib (the outdoor faucet) goes into the wall, the hose bib will be pushed off the wall and there will be ice behind it, Goelz says.

If the split is inside the house, try to locate where that pipe exits the house.

"The pipe will appear to have a large bubble and the top of the bubble will have a crack and usually there will be an icicle coming out of the crack," Goelz says.

Homeowners should also check sprinkler system pipes. Splits will usually be visible outside.

HOW TO PREVENT IT Today, a lot of newer homes have frost-free hose bibs. Hardware stores also sell insulating covers for them. Sprinkler systems should be properly shut off in the fall, with the remaining water in the system blown out with a compressor, Goelz says.


CAUSES AND SIGNS Basements can flood with melted snow if window wells are filled with the white stuff, says Gary Bechhoff, who owns G.B. Construction and Development in Manorville. "Homeowners should clean out their basement window wells because if the ground is frozen and it is full of leaves, it will fill with snow and ice," he says. "Then when it begins to melt, the water will not recede into the ground but will back up into the windows and may leak into the basement."

Flooding can also occur after a big thaw if gutters are draining water quickly, says Artie Cipoletti, chief executive of DaVinci Construction of Wantagh and West Bay Shore and president of the Islandia-based Long Island Builders Institute. "Sometimes the water rushing out so quickly causes erosion and creates a gully that pitches the water back to the house instead of away," Cipoletti says.

If water sits against a foundation long enough, it can seep inside. Gary Morris of The Rampart Insurance Group, warns that this type of damage is usually not covered under your homeowner's insurance policy.

"Water seeping into the house from the ground level will not be covered," Morris says. "No homeowner's insurance policy covers seepage."

HOW TO PREVENT IT Bechhoff advises homeowners to clear snow from basement window wells and around all doorways (not just the front door) to prevent melted snow from leaking in. Move piles of shoveled show away from the home.

Cipoletti advises checking the grade around your house to make sure it's sloping away and checking to make sure that there hasn't been any erosion that could cause water to flow toward the house and pool up against the foundation.

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