Now that the Snow is Melting, Start Digging!

By Steve Scheuring, Baird & Warner Oak Park

For those of us in the Midwest, one of the many forms of “a perfect storm” for basement flooding is setting up right now. No, we are not expected to get the fifth “100-year rain” in the past six years. Yet… rain is coming.

We have just come off days of sub-zero temps and we have at least a foot of snow on the ground. The temperature is rising, snow will be slowly melting and the rain is going to begin. What is the problem? Our gutter downspouts, sump pump tubing and sump pump bubblers are covered in snow. In addition, although the temperature is rising, the many inches of top soil are still frozen.

The snow on our roofs will begin to melt and melt fast. The rain water that falls will have no soil to soak into. The snow that melts will have nowhere to go. All this water will take the path of least resistance and history tells us that path is to your basement.

Aid the flow of water away from your home by digging out your gutter downspouts. Even if your downspouts run into the municipal sewer system, clear these areas where the downspout goes into the ground. If you have a really fancy system, it is possible your downspouts go into the ground, but the tubing leads to a “bubbler” somewhere out in your lawn. The bubbler looks like a large (usually green) oversized golf course sprinkler head. When water flows out to the bubbler, the top cap floats up and releases the water spreading it out over your lawn. These bubblers should be located and snow/ice cleared with as large a diameter you can.

For those of us with sump pumps, we need to dig out the ejector tubing if the tubing exits the house and dumps onto the property. It is possible that there is frozen water already in the tubing. By digging out now and clearing the snow and ice away from the tubing you might be able to facilitate thawing as the air temperatures rise TODAY. Many of you also have your sump dumping outside into tubing that terminates in a bubbler in your lawn. Clear these.

In any event, do NOT be a passive homeowner today and this weekend. During the deep freeze of the beginning of this week, you checked frequently that your furnace was running, the house was heated and you may have even occasionally checked for leaking or bursting pipes. I know many of you unfortunately found those leaks. Now we need to be a different kind of diligent.

Dig out your downspouts.

Do you have an outside exit from your basement? Is there a drain at the bottom of the exterior basement stairs? Dig out this stair well and keep an eye on that drain.

Ice damming is a freak and fact of nature. It is for the most part unavoidable but watch for the water stains on ceilings. I personally do NOT suggest heat wire in your gutter system. Sharp ice and squirrels can cut the wires that could eventually spark and cause a fire.

Shovel the slush out of your garage. If it melts, it can wet the base of the structure and lead to wood-rot.

As the ground table water rises, your sump well will fill with water. Test to make sure the sump pump is operational by briefly lifting float.

Sump system wells are an extreme drowning hazard if not properly covered. Make sure to replace covers securely!

Read more from Steve Scheuring at Your House Behind the Lens.