The Woes of Winter Maintenance

By Lauren Rosales-Shepard, Content Writer

For years you’ve heard that real estate is one of the best investments you can make. It’s considered something of a safe bet; unlike the literal dollar, real estate doesn’t lose value to inflation over time. Plus, real estate investing is a tax savvy way to diversify your portfolio, as there are many write-offs available to you, as well as other benefits. And don’t forget the largely passive income boost! Where do I sign up?

But, when you wake up on Saturday morning, you are dismayed to discover that it has snowed. A lot. It’s 20 degrees outside and windy–so, it “feels like” 6. You have never wanted to do anything less than abandon your fuzzy robe and find your thick, unfashionably practical winter gloves to proceed outside into the arctic abyss, armed (only) with a shovel. For a moment, you sit on the edge of your bed and wonder, “What would happen if I just didn’t do it?”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that nobody wants to shovel their sidewalks. Nor do they desire to climb a slick ladder up to their roof, or spray tacky-looking foam from an aerosol ‘round the pipes leading from the washing machine to a mysterious outdoor location. Yet, as homeowners, these are tasks that we can’t pass off to obliging landlords–and, yes, we really do need to do them. As partners to our homeowners who want them to always win, we've looked into the WHY of winter maintenance, and collected a few tips along the way!

Spray Foam, Pipes, and Crevices

Let’s tackle the unattractive foam first. Spray foam is composed of polyurethane and a catalyst, the latter of which causes the foam to rapidly expand when it is sprayed on an area. That expansion is what makes it ideal for filling cracks, gaps, and crevices, as well as encompassing pipes as an additional warming layer. You can find the sprayable foam at any hardware store; in fact, there tends to be such a surplus of varieties that you will need to double-check that you’ve chosen the right one for your particular project. A couple of things to remember: firstly, clean the area before you spray, because dust and other contaminants could interfere with the chemical process that expedites the foaming; secondly, you really do need to generously and enthusiastically shake the can for a full minute before starting to spray, in order to get that chemical process going!

True, it’s not the most scenic addition. But, consider the benefits! Insulated pipes are less likely to freeze, or to produce condensation that can cause other problems. When you prevent cold air from entering the house through cracks, you not only keep your space warmer, but you can save money on your energy bills. A spray foamed seal is as much as 24 times less permeable to outside air–now, translate that into dollars per month! If you’ve been noticing a winter surge in your energy bills, you may want to explore this option.

Ice Dams and Roof Maintenance

Spraying foam from an aerosol can is unquestionably easier than trying to perform roof maintenance in the dead of winter. However, it might be necessary to do it if your area experiences heavy snowfall or an ice storm.

First thing’s first: always remember to clean out your gutters before fall morphs into winter. If you don’t, the crispy leaves, abandoned acorns, and other autumnal detritus will be perfectly positioned to cause water backups when snow or freezing rain fall, leading to leaks, ice dams, and other damage to the roof and siding. Although your roof may still need urgent attention in the winter, taking this action preemptively will ensure it is much less likely! If you live in a region that regularly receives heavy snowfall, you might also consider installing heated cables (again, before winter hits!) that you can simply switch on to melt snow and ice after each storm.

But, let’s say that you either forgot to take preventative measures, or you just have bad luck. You’ve noticed that icicles, though rather picturesque, have unfortunately begun to form along the gutter edge. Those gutters don’t seem to be draining, either. These are signs of an ice dam, and you will need to take action quickly! However, don’t take to your ladder with a hammer, chisel, or mallet and start using brute force against the ice; you are fairly likely to do even more damage to your shingles. Instead, you can employ a long-handled roof rake from the safety of the ground. The rake can remove snow build-up, and the friction from a wheeled rake in particular can alter the temperature enough for the ice to melt. (Protip: using a roof rake after a heavy snowfall is also a good idea in general).

A less conventional method to dealing with ice dams involves–of all things–pantyhose! If you fill one leg of pantyhose with calcium chloride ice melter and then lay it onto the roof so that it crosses the ice dam and hangs over the gutter, the melter will get to work and conveniently carve a channel from which water can flow off the roof. Voila!


Very few people enjoy the manual labor of shoveling their driveway and the sidewalks in front of their house. Here’s the thing: it really needs to be done.

To start, let’s look at this from a legal standpoint. Each state (and sometimes city) has different laws about the need to shovel your sidewalk, as well as requirements regarding how quickly. In Omaha, Nebraska, homeowners (or tenants, as the case may be) have 24 hours to clear snow, or they will face a hefty fine. Just how hefty? One man faced a $1,600 fine. At the very least, most of us are legally obligated, by city ordinance, to shovel sidewalks swiftly.

However, if you live in one of the states that does not have a law in place (Alabama, for example), if someone is injured in an accident that occurs on your property as a direct result of snow or ice that has been neglected, you could certainly find yourself being sued. It’s also basic, neighborly etiquette.

When it comes to your driveway, you are unlikely to sue yourself if you slip and fall. However, it is still prudent to remove the possibility, for the sake of avoiding bruises or even more serious injuries. In addition, if the snow melts and then freezes into ice, it may start to crack your driveway. Then water will seep into those cracks over time, freezing and expanding, and the driveway will need expensive repair. Plus, if you continue to park and repark your car in a snowy driveway, the constant moisture might begin to rust the underbelly of your vehicle.

So, you should definitely shovel the sidewalk and the driveway. That said, it is important to do so carefully. If you aren’t usually an active person, suddenly undertaking this level of manual labor might be tough on your muscles, joints, and even your heart. The cold also increases the chance of experiencing a blood clot. It’s a good idea to stretch before shoveling, and to take it slowly. Don’t forget to push the snow more than lifting it; if you do need to lift some at times, be sure to do so with your legs and not your back! It may also be best to shovel in shifts, rather than all at once.

Ultimately, it is worth it to postpone the crime novel and the second pot of coffee to take care of post-snow maintenance on and around your house. Be careful, and stay warm!

The content on this page provides general consumer information. It is not legal or financial advice. Unison has provided these links for your convenience, but does not endorse and is not responsible for the content, links, privacy policy, or security policy of the other websites.

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