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Preventing Cold-Weather Damage

While heavy winter accumulation is not as commonplace in the Midwest as in the northern States, cold weather can still be the bane of many homeowners in the Midwest. Side effects of cold weather, such as burst pipes and ice dams, have the potential to cause serious and costly damage to a home. Homeowners can help prevent cold-weather damage by following some simple, DIY steps.

Burst Pipes

Burst pipes occur when water-filled pipes are exposed to extreme and prolonged cold. Typically, pipes that are susceptible to freezing include uninsulated pipes against exterior walls, garden hose bibs, and water supply lines to unheated areas inside basements, crawl spaces, attics, and garages. Pipes inside the house can also freeze if the temperature inside the house gets too low. As the water inside the pipes freezes and expands, the pipes are put under a tremendous amount of pressure. If a pipe bursts, water can flow rapidly into other parts of the house, damaging drywall, carpet, ceilings, and furniture.

Preventative measures to keep pipes from freezing include:

  • Fitting exposed pipes with insulation sleeves or wrapping pipes, which slows the heat transfer. Newspaper can also be wrapped around exposed pipes if insulation is not available.
  • Sealing cracks and holes in exterior walls and foundations with caulking.
  • Keeping cabinet and vanity doors open during very cold temperatures to allow warm air from the house to circulate around the pipes
  • Turning on some of your faucets to a slow trickle. Allowing a small amount of water to continue to flow through pipes that run through an unheated or unprotected space will help keep them from completely freezing.
  • Warming exposed pipes with heat tape and heat lamps
  • Draining the piping system in the event that the home may be left alone for a long period of time

Ice Dams

In areas with significant snowfall, ice dams can form along the eaves of a roof when heat rising out the house melts the snow and ice on the roof. When the melted snow flows down to the unheated eaves, it re-freezes at the edge of the roofline, creating a thick barrier of ice and icicles. Without proper prevention and removal, an ice dam could grow large enough to prevent water from draining into the downspouts or off of the roof. The water then trapped behind the dam may over time break through the shingles and leak into the exterior walls, the attic, or even the rooms below.

Roof with an ice dam

To help keep ice dams from forming, install insulation in the attic floor and make sure that the attic is well ventilated. Also seal all the places where air can flow from the living areas to the attic, such as exhaust fans, chimneys, attic doors, and light fixtures. The insulation and seals will prevent heat from the living area from rising into the attic, while allowing fresh air to come in will lessen the difference between the temperature inside the attic and the temperature outside. These steps help prevent the melting and refreezing cycle that causes ice dams to form. Before the snows come, also clean out all the gutters and downspouts so that any melted snow will drain way instead of refreezing in the gutters.

When it comes time to replace the roof, look into installing a water-repellent membrane between the subroof and the shingles. This membrane, though it does not stop ice dams from forming, will act as a barrier to any water that works its way under the shingles, and will prevent the water from damaging the subroof and leaking into the attic or exterior walls below.

If snow has already fallen and there’s no time to insulate the attic or provide more ventilation, the roof can be cleaned off to prevent refreezing and a channel can be cut through the ice to allow the water underneath to drain. Heating cables can effectively “cut” a channel by running the heat cables from higher up on roof to the gutters and downspouts. A draining channel can also be cut through an ice dam by pouring a thick line of calcium chloride perpendicularly across the dam. Homeowners should ensure that they use calcium chloride, not rock salt, and be aware that any vegetation on the ground below or near the downspout could be damaged or killed.

Basement Water Infiltration: The Basics