Image of a home with ice dams and icicles.

Reduce Flooding During Winter

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

Take a look at these great tips to reduce basement flooding. Learn key ways to protect your foundation wall during the winter. Reduce ice dams by keeping your gutters clean and make your home safer from snow melt.

Even though flooding is mostly thought of as a warm weather problem, water damage and flooding can happen to your home during the coldest parts of the year, too. Safely dealing with the ice and snow around your house should be a big part of keeping your home safe in the winter. So remember these simple tips on how to reduce flooding risks when the winter weather hits this season — you may save yourself both the headache of dealing with water in your home and having to clean up the mess that follows.

Ice Dam Prevention on Your Roof Starts in the Fall

One hint that flooding trouble is near comes in the form of ice dams, or those long icicles that hang off of your gutters. There are many reasons why ice dams form, and they can do a lot of damage to the way your home drains snow and meltwater away from your foundation. Here’s what you need to know to prevent ice dams.

Clean the gutters. After autumn’s over and all the leaves have fallen, clean out the gutters one more time. This way, you’ll know that debris or leaves won’t clog the downspouts. Be sure that you’re aiming away from your foundation as it exits the downspout.

Get a snow rake. After heavy snow fall, you’re wise to get the snow off your roof. A snow rake is a long-handled shovel that allows you to remove snow on your roof from the safety of the ground. You can also hire a contractor to get the job done. Not only will you reduce your ice dam risk, the weight of that extra snow on your roof can add up quickly. You’ll help to reduce the risk of your roof collapsing and it can save you the cost of a structural engineer to assess the damage, too and never use your snow rake from a ladder, for your own safety.

Install gutter heat cables. Gutter-heating cables can really help to keep the water flowing through your gutters and downspouts and away from your home. Keep in mind, they’ll require a power supply, which means you’ll likely need a pro to install them. If your home is already suffering from ice dam problems, a minor up-front purchase can help to save you costly repairs later on.

Use Your Snow Blower Carefully

With the power to move snow fast, there are many good reasons to be cautious when using your snow blower around the house. In addition to safety concerns, the build-up of snow near the house can spell big problems for the basement.

Clear the perimeter. As the outside of your home’s walls heat up in direct sunlight, the added warmth can melt nearby snow. One way to keep meltwater away from your foundation is to keep snow on sidewalks and driveways away from the sides of your home where possible. Even if you’re shoveling, it’s a great rule to follow. If you’ve got cracks or other issues with your basement foundation, that water can find its way into your home and cause damage.

Cast the snow away from your home. Just because your snow blower can toss snow 12 feet or more away doesn’t mean you should always use it, especially if that means sending snow in the direction of your house. It pays to aim the snow you’re clearing away from the house. Remember that snow blowers spin at high speeds, sometimes tossing rocks or other debris into the air. Your windows can be at risk of breaking if a rock is thrown in the wrong direction while you’re clearing your driveway.

Inspect Your Foundation for Cracks

If you’re thinking about finishing your basement, be sure to take a good look at your foundation first. A keen eye, and even the help of a basement waterproofing expert, can help you to see more clearly where problems may be hiding.

Beware the bulge. As homes age, and in climates that experience freezing and thawing across the winter, the expansion of ice and soil near the top of foundation wall can force the foundation wall inward. If this has happened, the wall will appear pushed in or bowing. Your foundation should look vertical, from top to bottom. If there’s any change, you may need to get in touch with a structural engineer and get it checked out. In addition to other serious issues, bulging can lead to cracking where water can seep through.

Look for cracks. Check the foundation walls for any cracking. If you’re not sure that water is seeping through, look at the areas around the crack for mineral staining on the cement. If rings or deposits are there, get in touch with a foundation sealing contractor and ask for a free quote. They’ll come in and do a review of the repairs your foundation needs to help keep your basement safe and dry.

Find your inspection report. Another great idea is to dig up that inspection report if you have one. Compare the photos that were taken of cracks or other foundation issues when the house was purchased and you’ll have a chance to see if they’ve grown over time.

As you’re thinking about how to keep your foundation and basement safe from winter flooding, remember to check in with your American Family Insurance agent. With fine-tuned coverage for flooding and other home-related issues, your agent can help build a policy that meets your home’s unique needs. And as the seasons change, you’re going to feel great knowing that you’re covered — whatever the weather may bring.

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