It finally seems like the snow and ice are ready to be gone for good this winter in Toronto, and that means it’s time to check your home for any damage done by the elements. Even if you (and your insurance policy) were able to survive the major ice storm we endured this season without any major problems, your home might have some bumps and bruises that you won’t discover until all the snow has melted. Here are some places to look for damage, and what to do about it.
Ice dams are a major problem for many homeowners in Ontario. Ice dams form when water freezes over the eaves of a house, often hanging down in very long icicles that accumulate in layers over the winter. Water collects behind these dams, and without anywhere to go, it seeps in under the shingles of your roof. Over the long term, this water can also seep into your walls and cause things like buckling, staining, or rot.
There were 35 extreme cold alerts in Toronto this season, meaning that for over a month, the city was in a deep freeze. Although those days were not consecutive, many of the days surrounding the extreme cold weather alerts were below freezing. They just weren’t below -15C, which is when the City issues alerts. In short, the city was frozen for most of the winter, and even small ice accumulations had plenty of opportunity to grow. So, check your roof for damage to shingles.
If a new roof is in your future, make sure that you do everything possible to ventilate it appropriately. Warm roofs that hold heat are the primary cause of ice dams, because they help melt snow and keep water around longer in its liquid form. So, make sure your new roof is properly ventilated, and that the rest of the house is sealed. And if you really want to protect your roof, install an ice shield. While costly, ice shields provide the ultimate protection for roofs, especially those with a lot of gables or dormers where ice likes to accumulate.
Frost heave may sound like the feeling you have when you see yet another weather forecast predicting snow in March, but it’s actually a serious problem for foundations and roads. When water freezes from liquid to solid, it increases 9% in volume. When this happens, water from beneath the “frost front” (the depth of soil at which frost forms) is drawn upward to the surface, displacing soil.
In sandy or frost-retardant soil, this isn’t a major issue. But in soils that contain a lot of water, the ground can “heave” upward or to the side. That’s bad news for roads, and it’s not great for your foundation or your porch, either. When frozen soil adheres to a foundation wall and heaves, it’s called “adfreezing.” Adfreezing can cause damage to cement and foundation walls like cracking or displacement, and over time it can cause posts in a foundation to shift position. Keep in mind, this is the same force that cause boulders to slowly heave up within an open field. Now imagine it going to work on your house.
How do you avoid this damage? Make sure there’s good drainage around your property. Use sandy soil that is frost-retardant at the edges of your foundation. Also make sure to sink foundation posts extra-deep in the ground, where frost is less likely to penetrate. This is especially important for smaller buildings and outbuildings on your property — that cute little gardening shed or cabana doesn’t have the same deep foundation as a house with a basement, but you can still protect it from the elements.