How to Protect Your House from Snow and Ice

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Q: My wife and I just bought our first house, in New Jersey. Neither of us has ever lived in a house before (we were both born and raised in Manhattan), and we’re feeling overwhelmed by all the snow we’ve been getting. Icicles are hanging off our gutters. Should we do something about them? And if so, what? Could our pipes freeze? We’ve shoveled our walk and steps, but what about the snowdrifts around the side of our foundation?

A: Homes in the Northeast should be designed to withstand winter weather. But problems do arise, especially if you neglect your home maintenance. If your house was inspected before you bought it, read the report to see if the inspector noticed any issues. Next, take a better look at those icicles.

“Icicles, while nice to look at, are no good,” said Kevin Busch, the vice president of operations for Mr. Handyman, in Ann Arbor, Mich., part of Neighborly, a home services franchiser. “They are usually an indication of what may be a relatively small problem but can get bigger.” At a minimum, the ice could damage your gutters. Go outside and look up at your gutters to make sure they’re intact. Once the snow melts, get them cleaned.

The bigger problem would be an ice dam — a layer of ice near the edge of your roof — which can damage your roof and shingles. Go into your attic and make sure that water isn’t getting in. If you think you have an ice dam, contact a roofing company for advice, as you may need to improve the insulation or ventilation in your attic.


Check the exterior of your house, including the trees around your property, to make sure no heavy branches are threatening your roof. Inspect your foundation for cracks, too, and seal any that you find. As the snow melts, look for signs of pooling water and redirect it away from your home.

Make sure that your dryer vent, and the exhaust pipes for your furnace and hot-water heater, are clear of snow. Clear snow from the ends of the gutter downspouts so that once the snow does begin to melt, the water can keep moving.

To protect your pipes, keep the house at a comfortable temperature, even at night or when you are away. Insulate pipes along the exterior walls, and on very cold nights, you might keep cabinet doors open so warm air can reach pipes along exterior walls, and run the water at a slow drip. Shut off the exterior spigots for your garden, if you haven’t already. Then sit back and try to enjoy the snowy winter in your new house, because the season will be over soon enough.

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