Question: In winter, the sidewalk that leads to my front door, as well as the porch in front of the front door, becomes incredibly icy. I asked my handyman to take a look and he said that the problem has to do with the fact that there’s only one downspout serving the whole front of the house, which is a design flaw. The downspout is on the right side of the garage.
Do you think that having one or two additional downspouts would solve the problem, and can you recommend a company that can do this? A friend suggested having heated wires in my eavestroughs to help melt the snow and ice. Would that solve the problem?
Thank you, Choo
Answer: Icy sidewalks, driveways, and other areas around a home can be a serious safety issue, but may be solved by relocation or adding downspouts, combined with regrading. Water management is important for several reasons and attention to the details may help prevent the icy conditions you are experiencing.
Ice buildup near your home is likely a function of a few items to do with water management. Since it appears you have an attached garage on the front of your home, which is a common design in newer developments, this may be one of the issues. Because the garage may have the driveway and sidewalk directly adjacent, it may be somewhat difficult to properly discharge the rainwater and snow melt from the roof away from these areas. Often, the builder will simply ignore the front corner of the garage when installing downspouts for roof drainage. This may be done in an attempt to prevent it discharging directly onto both surfaces, preventing ice buildup, but may also create a problem elsewhere.
Depending on the design of the roofs on your home and garage, installation of eavestrough downspouts should be attempted at each corner of the building. This should be done to evenly distribute the runoff, while preventing ponding in one or two areas, or poorly draining locations. Also, if there are various heights and angles to the different roofs, installing downspouts near all building corners will be ideal.
While the garage may be responsible for much of the water dumping on your sidewalk and causing the ice, the eavestrough system on the house may also play a part. Inspecting those troughs to see where they terminate may also provide a solution. Often, upper roof downspouts will be installed to terminate directly onto a lower roof, possibly your garage. If this is the case, much of that water will also find its way into the offending downspout, increasing the amount of water for ice formation. Using heating cables inside the troughs should be unnecessary, and may simply be a waste of money and energy.
The next item to address is grading of the soil adjacent to the foundation, home, and sidewalk/porch areas. Check the soil surrounding the house to see if it is level or higher than in the problem area, which can occur from erosion where the downspout terminates. If that is the situation in your home, regrading to raise the soil around the sidewalk and porch should help shed water away. This can be done by spreading topsoil and grass seed if the lower area is part of the front yard. If it is depressed adjacent to the house or garage foundation, where grass or vegetation may not be planted, installing a combination of soil, sand, or decorative stone may help improve the runoff from the nearby downspout.
Water management in two main areas, eavestroughs and grading, may help minimize the ice problems you are experiencing on your sidewalk and front porch area. This will likely include adding or relocating downspouts, but may also require some regular maintenance to the soil adjacent to your home and garage foundations, as well.
Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba (cahpi.mb.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.