There’s nothing quite as magical as a fresh snowfall. As those fluffy flakes hit the ground and envelope the area in a blanket of white, everything gets a little quieter and a whole lot brighter. Plus, it signals the time for sledding, building snowmen and snow forts, drinking hot cocoa, making snow cream, and spending time with loved ones. Unfortunately, it’s not all fun and games, as many homeowners know. Those snowflakes, combined with fluctuating temperatures and ice, can seriously damage our indoor spaces. Knowing how to prevent snow damage to a home is an important part of staying safe this winter season.

Even though I'm sure snow patrol is way down at the bottom of your list of winter weather activities!

Building a snowman is definitely more fun, but the more you can do to protect your home from damage, the less money you’ll have to spend on repairs and the fewer opportunities there will be for indoor contaminants like mold to move in. That means understanding how snow damage can occur and proactively taking steps to prevent issues from popping up. 

With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know to safeguard your home this winter and for many cold-weather seasons to come.

Why is Preventing Snow Damage Important?

enjoying snow

You may be thinking, "It’s just a little snow; what’s the big deal?"

That white blanket of precipitation may look pretty, but it can quickly become a homeowner’s worst nightmare. And for a couple of reasons- not just because it can cause power outages. The major issue is the structural damage it can create in a home. 

Cracks in the foundation, holes in the roof, shifting landscapes, and faulty gutters all result in one thing: money spent resolving the issues. The longer these problems go unaddressed, the more they’ll snowball into larger issues such as foundational failure and framing issues. A few results of either scenario are compromising the integrity of the building walls and leading to problems with doors and windows.

Not only this, but structural issues open the door for a major home health issue: water damage. Moisture intrusion is a huge green flag for contamination issues such as microbial growth. Take mold, for example.

If a food and water source are present for 24-48 hours, a mold spore can transition into a living colony and settle within a home. Once established, it will begin to release more and more microscopic particles into the surrounding environment, lowering indoor air quality and contaminating surfaces. This can negatively affect those exposed because the particles are so small that they can be inhaled, ingested, and absorbed into the body. 

The longer someone is in the home, the more particles they’ll be exposed to. This can lead to a long list of adverse health reactions that will persist until the exposure stops.

Resolving these types of situations can be costly. Between remediation, fixing the underlying issue that led to the growth in the first place, and tackling any necessary detoxification program, that bill can quickly add up. 

Hence the importance of avoiding the whole issue by preventing snow damage to a home!

How Can Snow Damage Cause Structural Issues in a Home?

Snow damage to our homes can occur in a variety of ways. Understanding the “how” will help better prepare you to take action to stop it from happening in the first place. 

These are a couple of routes winter weather can rain on your healthy home parade. 

1. Ice Dams

snow damage from ice dam

Snow on a roof can give your home that picture-perfect postcard aesthetic, but it can also lead to issues as the precipitation melts. The heat from the interior of the home or higher temperatures during the day can slowly thaw that blanket of snow, resulting in a downward trickle of moisture toward the gutter system. 

The colder temperatures of the gutter or the freezing temperatures around nightfall can lead to this water freezing, and that’s where the issues begin to occur. As the ice continues to build up and expand, it can lead to damage to the walls, roof, and gutters. Each scenario leads to moisture intrusion into the home and an indoor contamination opportunity. 

Pro tip: A buildup of ice along the eaves or an abundance of ice cycles can point to an ice dam situation.

2. Snow and Ice Melt

Speaking of melting precipitation, this natural process can lead to issues for the foundation of the home as well.

As the snow melts during the day, moisture will permeate into the soil and begin to build up. This is an issue for a couple of reasons. Oversaturation of the soil can lead to moisture intrusion into any cracks, holes, or porous surfaces in the home’s foundation. It can also create added weight against the home’s foundation, leading to cracks and other structural issues.

Refreezing is the other piece of the puzzle that can cause problems. As the temperature fluctuates back to freezing during the night, any moisture that makes its way into cracks or other areas of the home will turn into ice and expand. This growth will further exacerbate the current foundational issues, creating even more room for moisture to intrude indoors.

Not to mention, the newly formed ice causes the soil to expand, pushing against the foundation of the home. This back-and-forth of expansion and compression can result in structural issues for the building, such as cracks or shifting in the foundation.

3. Frost Heave

snow damage from frost heave

Piggybacking off of this, icy soil can trigger another effect called frost heaving. This is a particular concern in areas where the temperature stays below freezing for some time because the cold air is able to permeate deep within the soil, creating more opportunities for ice lenses to form and deepen. 

The melted snow and ice located in the soil will freeze and create ice pockets. That ice will expand up to 9%, causing the soil to swell. The larger the ice pocket is, the more it will push the soil upwards. From there, any melted precipitation can then be added to this increase of ice in the soil when the temperatures drop back to freezing. 

This expansion shifts the soil surface, which in turn forces parts of the home’s foundation up. As you can imagine, that can cause a long list of structural issues to the building.

4. Tree Damage

Snow-laden trees can look beautiful, but they can quickly become a home health hazard.

Limbs weighed down with snow and ice can result in drooping, allowing them to scratch or hit the exterior of the home. Over time, this can lead create pathways for moisture intrusion. The additional weight from the snow and ice can also lead to branches breaking and falling on a home, creating even more damage. This results in more money spent on repairing the snow damage and more opportunities for moisture intrusion and microbial growth.

In some instances, heavy snow and ice can cause entire trees to fall. This can cause widespread damage to a home and severe moisture intrusion.

5. Excess Weight on Roof

snow damage from weight on roof

That fluffy snow may not look like a problem, but it’s not as weightless as it appears.

As snow continues to accumulate over time, the weight of this buildup will also increase. And that’s not even considering the ice that can form on the surface as well. This can put significant stress on the roof. If other issues such as poor design, improper construction, or lack of maintenance come into the mix, that snow blanket can lead to roof collapse.

The rule of thumb is that 4 feet of fresh snow and 2 feet of packed snow can begin to put a serious strain on a roof.

While this isn’t a comprehensive list of the leading causes of snow damage to a home, these are the top situations to look out for and work to prevent. 

How Do You Prevent Snow Damage to Your Home?

The best way to deal with snow damage is to prevent it from occurring in the first place! This process should start before winter hits and continue as the season progresses. 

Steps to prevent snow damage to your home include:

  • Keep those gutters clean: Before winter hits and throughout the chilly season, keep a close eye on these systems to ensure they’re free of any blockages. This will allow any melted snow to flow right on through and reduce the opportunities for ice dams to develop.
  • Ensure gutter integrity: Speaking of gutters, make sure that they’re installed correctly and don’t have any structural issues that could get in the way of allowing water to flow properly. Check on the transportation system before winter and throughout those cold months to ensure everything is running smoothly. Also, keep an eye on downspouts so that any melted water isn’t pooling right at your foundation! This can lead to water intrusion into the home.
  • Assess trees and branches: Before any snow falls, make sure that all trees are far enough away from the home that they won’t cause any structural damage after snow or ice. Generally, the rule is a minimum of 15 feet for medium trees, but the full length depends on the tree's mature height. In this situation, operate under the idea that it's better to be safe than sorry. As for limbs, make sure that no branches are hanging over the house before the cold weather sets in. 
snow rake
  • Remove snow from the roof: If heavy accumulations of snow occur, actively work to remove them with something like a roof rake. This will help prevent both ice dams and too much stress on the roof itself. While you’re there, make sure to clear out gutters and downspouts as well to allow moisture to run right through and away from the home.
  • Check out the home’s grading: Ensure that the landscape grading slopes down and away from the home in all directions. This helps divert melted snow and ice away from the building so that it doesn’t pool near the foundation. 
  • Appraise the attic and roof: Before the snow falls and throughout those chilly months, make sure that your attic and roof are in tip-top condition. This will help prevent issues such as water intrusion and ice dams from forming. For those in high-precipitation areas, consider hiring a roofing inspector to come out and assess the structure, just to be on the safe side. Some things to look out for include:
    • Making sure there’s proper ventilation: Checking for ventilation includes assessing that there are enough vents and that they’re not blocked by things like insulation. An easy trick is to check during the daytime—turn off all the lights and look for sunlight coming in through both the top and bottom vents. As for whether or not there are enough vents, check with your local building codes for mandatory requirements.
    • Ensuring the insulation is top-notch: If insulation is not installed correctly throughout the entire space, it can lead to improper airflow in the attic, making it much warmer than the outside air. This can melt the snow on the roof, leading to ice dam formation.
    • Assessing for structural issues: Take a close look to ensure that there aren’t any broken shingles, cracked flashing, or holes in the roof that can allow for water intrusion.
    • Taking a look at the exhaust vent location: All exhaust vents from bathrooms and kitchens should vent outside of the home, not in the attic. This can lead to condensation and microbial growth and cause the attic to become too warm.
    • Installing an attic door cover: This will provide an insulated barrier between the attic and the rest of the home. Not only will this help your electricity bill, but it will also help prevent the attic from becoming too warm.
  • Shovel snow away from the home: Do not place it right beside your home’s foundation! This can lead to flooding around the foundation and moisture intrusion into the home. Instead, pile it away from the building so that it can properly drain away.
  • Invest in frost heave prevention: For those in areas prone to frost heave, consider investing in options such as using backfill materials such as gravel around the home’s foundation or installing prevention systems such as a hydronic heating system to prohibit ground movement.

Bonus Tip: Always be prepared for the unexpected when it comes to threats to your home. Sometimes, random events during a snowstorm can result in damage to your home even after you've done all you can to prevent any issues. Take a close look at your home insurance plan to better understand what you’re covered for and if there are any exclusions. This will help you determine if there are any gaps in coverage that need to be addressed or certain timelines that you have to abide by. 

It’s always better to be overprepared than underprepared!

Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to tick off every single box right at this moment. Maintaining a healthy home is an ongoing process, and it can require expensive upfront. The important thing is to do what you can, when you can. Every single step you take to keep your home safe, like preventing snow damage, is a huge leap in the right direction.

Keeping the Magic in Winter

safe home

Whether you live in an area that only gets snow a couple of times a year or battle that fluffy precipitation all season long, it’s important to ensure that your home is prepared. These indoor spaces play a huge role in our ongoing wellness, especially during the winter season when we’re spending time indoors. If these spaces are toxic hazard zones, that can seriously affect our health.

So! Make sure to add winter home maintenance tasks to your list this year to avoid issues such as snow damage. That can turn your winter wonderland experience into a home health nightmare. 

Health begins at home.™

Still Have Questions?

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