Ice and Water

Welcome to spring! Here are some tips on taking care of your home throughout the freeze-thaw cycle that is March (and April) in Minnesota.

An Icy Haiku

Homeowner Glenn sent us this question:

“Water dripping from gutter … then freezes over night… sidewalk slippery …”

Glenn’s quick message actually touches on a bunch of issues that many homeowners experience. Let’s look at them one by one.

1. Snow on the Roof, and what happens to it next.

If water’s dripping from your gutters, it could be that you have (or are about to have) ice dams. A neighboring organization in St. Paul, Community NHS, has put together a great slideshow on ice dams—what they are and how to prevent them. As you’ll see if you follow that link, ice dams can lead to problems much bigger than a slippery sidewalk. Long-term, the solution is often better insulation; short-term, it’s removing snow from the roof. Check out that link for more details.

2. Gutters and Downspouts

It’s also important to look at where the water runs once it leaves the roof. If your downspouts are clear, you may just need to redirect the downspouts to deposit the water in a spot where you don’t mind a little ice.

Some homeowners have also had success threading heat tape through the downspouts to keep them clear. That takes a lot of electricity, though, so use sparingly.

3. Your Sidewalk

As a last resort, if redirecting the downspout doesn’t work, you might look at changing the location of sections of the sidewalk away from the downspout/discharge area.

4. Ice Happens

Sometimes all the insulation, snow removal, and downspout modification in the world can’t keep ice from forming on your sidewalk. For those few weeks of unavoidable ice, use grit (plain sand or kitty litter) or a salt product (be careful with this around plants or lawns) to help keep walkers safe.

If you’re looking for the perfect ice melt product and you only need to treat a small area try calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). This material is one of the safest deicing products because it has very low corrosive potential, meaning less damage to vegetation, sidewalks etc. CMA is biodegradable, and its ice melt properties are comparable to most standard salt formulations, but its biggest limitation to use is cost—it is 20-30 times more expensive than traditional rock salt products.

5. Spring Happens!

If all else fails, wait for spring to do its work. All this cold and wet stuff is bound to be gone sooner or later, and you’ll have several months to get ready for next year’s ice and snow!

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