Renovation & Design

MIKE HOLMES: Deal with ice, snow around home

Icicles are a sure sign of bad insulation, and dangerous. Taking care of snow and ice on roofs is a no-brainer.

CANADIAN weather can seem a bit unpredictable: one minute it's sunny and warm and the next thing you know we're hit with a snowstorm.

Don't let the occasional spring-like day fool you -- we are still in the middle of winter. And when you consider insurance claims for damages related to winter storms can run into the thousands of dollars, knowing how to deal with ice and snow around your house is just smart.

One of the first things I tell homeowners is to keep snow away from foundation walls. The moisture from snow melting can slowly seep in. Remember, concrete is porous, so when you shovel your driveway, walkways and sidewalks, shovel snow away from the perimeter of your home. And don't forget to make sure fire hydrants, gas meters and dryer vents aren't covered by snow.

Enough snow on the wrong roof could cause it to collapse, but the funny thing is you want your roof to have snow. If the snow doesn't melt, your attic insulation is doing its job, but if there's too much snow and ice the roof can collapse. Flat roofs are especially vulnerable. Some municipalities even ask homeowners to remove snow from flat rooftops, overhangs and gutters, especially if the area has been hit with a few snow and ice storms.

Some homeowners will use roof snow shovels to remove the snow. These shovels are designed reach the roof from the ground so you're not climbing up on the roof and risking a fall. But shovelling your roof from the ground also has its risks: One, you could damage your shingles, and two, the snow could come down on top of you.

If you need to remove snow or an ice dam from your roof and don't want to do it yourself, call a professional contractor who regularly deals with these kinds of problems.

Most people worry about injuries happening on their property -- and they should. You're responsible for taking the proper precautions because if someone gets hurt as a result of your negligence -- say from falling icicles or slips and falls -- you're in trouble. These injuries are so common there's even an insurance category called "slip and fall" cases.

And if you think you're off the hook because you're a renter, you're not. In some Canadian jurisdictions there's legislation that includes "duty of care." What that means is that the occupier of a home -- it doesn't matter if they're just renting -- needs to make sure the property is safe for anyone who has to enter it, such as the mailman or utility service representatives.

Snow and ice are slipping hazards as everyone knows, but shovelling might not be enough -- you also need to think ahead. If the temperature drops below freezing or you know a storm is headed your way, apply a de-icer on your driveway, walkway and sidewalk. Spread as much as your property's size requires. After the storm, apply more, along with some sand to add traction.

The most common de-icer is sodium chloride, what many people call road or rock salt. It's the most inexpensive, but there's also calcium chloride, urea, potassium chloride and magnesium chloride to consider. Calcium chloride and magnesium chloride melt ice faster than salt, but they cost more. And calcium chloride is corrosive; it destroys grass roots. Urea and potassium chloride can be found in fertilizer, so they're safe for your lawn -- the problem is that urea can be corrosive, and potassium chloride damages concrete, and that's not good.

I'm not a big fan of salt, and there are a number of reasons. One, it destroys your grass. Have you ever seen brown patches of grass at the end of driveways and along the sides? That's because melted snow with salt in it got into the soil. Two, it can make your pet sick. When I take my dog, Charlie, out for a walk, sometimes he gets salt on his paws. Then, when he's back inside, he starts licking them. The next day he's throwing up.

The third reason is that salt works best only when the ground temperature is above -9 C. Plus, salt is sensitive to temperature changes: The colder the ground temperature, the less effective it is.

And fourth, salt eats away at brick mortar. I've seen brick homes where every year the salt eats away more at the mortar, the voids climbing up from the ground with every passing winter.

I'd rather use sand or gravel over salt because they're safer natural alternatives, but no matter what de-icer you decide to go with, make sure you read the package and follow instructions.

If you think about the risks, taking care of ice and snow is a no-brainer. Save yourself the trouble and stop any potential injuries Old Man Winter might bring to your doorstep.

Catch Mike Holmes in Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit For more information on home renovations, visit


Browse Homes

Browse by Building Type