Dealing with the Worst: Advice on Repairing Winter Damage for Homeowners


A rough winter can do a lot of damage to your house, both outside and inside. Homeowners who failed to winterize may face extensive home repairs. Hiring professional contractors to deal with them can be very costly.

Obviously, the more you can do yourself, the better. As with any task you’re considering taking on yourself, it’s important to consider a number of factors very carefully. Do you have the expertise and tools necessary to do the work properly?

Are you willing to take on a task that can take weeks to complete (which means giving up a lot of free time)? Will doing it yourself cost you more than hiring a professional? You should also bear in mind the potential cost of bringing in someone to repair any excess damage you might do trying to fix something that’s out of your depth. Carefully assess any needed repairs. If possible, ask a home inspector to help you make an accurate assessment before diving into it. If you’re already reaching for your wallet, take heart: winter damage is often easier to deal with than you might think.

Roof damage

Damage to your roof and the consequent leaks and water spots on the ceiling are among the most common winter-related problems. Ice dams, which wreak havoc with shingles and the material below, can generally be melted with calcium chloride. Once you’ve dealt with the problem, remember that a properly ventilated and insulated attic is the best way to prevent ice dams from forming. You can assess the level of roof damage by looking for dark water spots inside. Dented, curled, and warped shingles outside are likely indications of damage that will need your attention … or the expertise of a professional roofer.

Basement flooding

Water from melted snow that gets between the ground and your basement wall may be pulled inside your basement and cause flooding. This is a likely problem if your gutter system isn’t draining properly and if you fail to keep accumulated snow away from your foundation. If this happens, clean and dry the basement right away to prevent mold and bacteria from forming. If possible, shut off any electricity without entering the flooded area. If you’ve experienced this problem, you’ll probably need to call in a plumber to have the water pumped out (and to check your sump pump). It’s also advisable to have a foundation expert check out your basement and exterior for cracks and other signs of structural damage.

Frost heaving

Trapped water can also do a lot of damage to your driveway and sidewalks. It expands when frozen, causing cracking and bulges in the pavement. This is a difficult fix. In most cases, the best you can do is repave. Think of it as an excuse to put in a new walkway or driveway. If you’re not experienced at paving and working with cement on this scale, this is probably a good one to let the pros handle.

Burst pipes

In especially frigid temperatures, water inside improperly insulated pipes may freeze, expand and cause your pipes to burst. That means water everywhere and damage to your floor and walls. Shut off your main water valve until you’re able to address the problem or get someone out. If you have soldering equipment (and hopefully, some experience), this is something you can do yourself. Otherwise, you’re probably looking at a visit from a fully qualified, certified plumber.

The cost of failing to winterize your home can be considerable. Be sure to make an objective and accurate assessment of the problem before determining whether it’s a DIY job or something for a professional to handle. Above all, remember to winterize your home next winter to prevent a repeat and the cost of repairing substantial damage.

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