Post-Winter Thaw: Leak Inspection and Prevention

Article by Jacob Ratz

This has been an epic winter. Normally we would freeze over then thaw a bit to allow for some melting of ice and snow, thus enabling the ground and buildings to get into a “rhythm” of absorption and runoff. This “rhythm” would alleviate ice build-up on roofs, balconies and other areas. Not this year. We have had 72+ consecutive days of under 0C. All this freezing has built up and to make matters worse, last year we had above seasonal precipitation so the ground is at a higher level of saturation. The next question becomes: Where does all the water go once the thaw commences?

As you know, water will go where it will go. It will find a way. Having said that where should you look first? Each building, of course, has its own characteristics and nuances that dictate the maintenance/repair cycle. A good starting point would be a top down approach. As the snow and ice have built up all season and, once they thaw, the precipitation will run off where it can. Be sure all the flashing and waterproofing is intact and not damaged by ice and/or cold temperatures. Break up large snow drifts and piles to alleviate the force on the roof structure. For some buildings, it would be best to inspect the shingles and/or mastic to prevent any leaks from opening up. During inspection, carefully inspect all areas that have a large build-up of ice as these areas can cause leakage. ( Ed. Note. Once the process of warming begins, the ice melts during the day and at night freezes so expansion of the joints and/or cracks occur. The reoccurrence of this pattern over the first few weeks of thawing will cause problems.) Diligence and patience are paramount to keeping ahead of potential damage that could occur as a result of the thaw.

Buildings with sloped roofs have a different set of challenges to face. One of the hazards would be falling snow. Once we hit higher temperatures, the snow can slide off the roof in large quantities. There could be an ice build-up as well so you should designate areas of caution around the buildings for residents and visitors to avoid.

The next area to pay attention to would be on the ground around the perimeter of the building. Obviously, you know where all the catch basins are on the property. Have them cleaned and all obstacles removed one to three feet in each direction to allow the runoff to drain freely. Look for ice build-up at the area where the ground intersects with the building. Large build-up of ice in these areas can lead to small cracks that will expand into the concrete and carry water into the interior.

Once we start to warm up consistently, it would be prudent to inspect visually the caulking around the building as there are many reasons for failure of the caulking and certainly, this winter, there would be a need for concern.

In conclusion, these points are just a few thoughts at leak prevention but each building, as mentioned before, has its own personality. Adhere to a maintenance schedule that is unique to your building with the keys being diligence and consistency. Just because leaks may not be immediately evident, does not negate the potential for leaks. Finally, if a repair has to be done, call a professional that has experience and a solid track record to facilitate the repair. They will have insurance and a warranty for the work completed.

For More Information:

Jacob Ratz
Decora Building Restoration
Phone: 416.285.7788

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