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illustration what happens after a snowmelt in michigan

What Happens After a Snowmelt in Michigan?

The snow in Michigan can be quite beautiful. But when it melts it brings the danger of foundation damage and even flooding. Here’s how to protect your home.

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The one thing you can count on in Michigan is snow. In an average year, Detroit experiences 43 inches, Lansing sees 51 inches, Grand Rapids gets 75 inches, and Gaylord gets an amazing 141 inches. 

That first white covering is always welcome since it covers up the leaves we didn’t quite get to in the fall. It also reminds us we live in a land of four seasons, each with its own activities. In winter, those activities range from sitting by the fireplace to ripping through the woods on a snowmobile. 

Of course, about a month in, when that beautiful first snow has been covered by a considerable amount of additional snow, it gets pretty old. Thoughts can turn to spring and the coming thaw and snowmelt. Let’s talk about what happens, how it can impact your home, and what to do about it.

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Rooftop Snow Buildup

Our gutters and downspouts are designed to handle rain, moving it off the roof, onto the ground, and away from the foundation. In the winter, the snow drops on the roof and stays there. Then it builds up over time with further snowfall. 

That snow buildup contains a great deal of water and weight. Most roofs are built to hold 20 pounds of snow per square foot. It’s wise to remove some of that snow to reduce the load on the roof and to help with the future snowmelt.

Rooftop Ice Buildup

With daytime warming as well as any heat escaping from the attic, there is some snowmelt and water runoff. That water collects in the gutters, followed by moving through the downspouts. However, during nighttime freezes, it forms ice that can build up in the gutters and block the downspouts preventing any further flow of water.

That, in turn, builds up more ice on the edge of the roof, quite possibly forming icicles. They may be picturesque, but they are a warning sign that a mountain of water is building up on your roof, ready to flood your lawn and foundation.

How Much Water?

The general rule is that 13 inches of snow is the equivalent of one inch of rain. If we spread that out over a 2,800-square-foot roof, we have 1,743 gallons of water. If the snow is dry, that may only work out to around 1,000 gallons. However, with heavy, wet snow, it could amount to more than 5,000 gallons. All taken over the course of a winter, there is a great deal of water that builds up on your roof in the form of snow and ice.

Lawn Snow Buildup

Of course, the snow collects all over your lawn including drifting around your home. That’s followed by clearing sidewalks and driveways, stacking up the snow on your lawn in the process.

This snow experiences melting and freezing as the temperature varies during the day and through the winter months. That water saturates the soil and, with proper landscape grading, starts to flow off the lawn. It also builds up an underground flow of water moving toward your foundation.

The Clay Bowl Effect Around the Foundation

The underground water is flowing toward your basement or crawl space due to the clay bowl effect. This effect is a result of the original foundation construction with soil removal, concrete pouring, and backfilling that same soil around the finished foundation. The backfill soil is loose and much more porous than the surrounding undisturbed soil. 

This essentially sets up a bowl to collect water and move it toward the basement or crawl space. This means water is pressing up again the walls, building hydrostatic pressure that can cause cracking followed by entering through those cracks.

Snowmelt Runoff

During further warming, as spring starts to tease us, the snow and ice start to melt and rush off the roof. If the gutters are frozen or the downspouts blocked, that water runs right over the top. It then falls directly on your foundation all around the home.

That also greatly builds up the hydrostatic pressure on the foundation. This is when leaks and even flooding can happen in your basement or crawl space.

Snowmelt Preparation for Your Home 

You can tell that snowmelt is nothing to sneeze at. The best approach is the prevention of problems through preparation. Here are our tips to guide your efforts.

  • Fix Basement Cracks. Water finds the tiniest of openings entering them and, if that’s accompanied by freezing, can expand the cracks. For this reason, it makes good sense to fix any cracks well before winter weather or spring thaws.
  • Add Attic and Foundation Insulation. Any heat escaping through the attic or even the foundation can start snowmelt building up water that can find its way to the foundation. Add sufficient insulation to not only prevent this but to also save on utility bills.
  • Remove Snow From Your Rooftop and Foundation. Snow buildup brings a great deal of added weight to your roof, as well as water. Use a roof rake to remove that snow without climbing up on the slippery roof. Snow should also be removed from around the foundation to a distance of four to six feet. Also, don’t stack up snow removed from the sidewalks or driveway around your home.
  • Keep Gutters and Downspouts Clear. As you prepare for winter, make sure the gutters are clear of leaves and that the downspouts are free of any obstructions. It’s also wise to install extensions, either above ground or in-ground, that move the water well away from the foundation.
  • Grade Landscape Slope Away from the Foundation. Once the water is off the roof and onto the ground, it needs to continue to flow away from the foundation. This is best facilitated by a gradual slope away from the foundation.
  • Cover Basement Window Wells. Window wells can collect a great deal of snow and allow snowmelt ready access to the basement. Install covers and caulk the windows to address this challenge.
  • Install Interior Drainage Systems. Install an interior drainage system and a sump pump that can collect any leaks, remove them, and prevent serious water damage and flooding. 
  • Ensure Sump Pump Maintenance and Backup. If you already have a sump pump system, make sure the drain lines are open and that you have a backup arrangement in place. Failure of the sump pump can lead to extensive flooding. Also, watch for freezing of the drain lines.

As you prepare for snowmelt, it’s always a good idea to call on the professionals. Schedule a free foundation inspection to identify ways to improve your home’s drainage and waterproofing provided by the local foundation repair experts at FSM.

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