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Winter outdoor house safety

Winter outdoor house safety is important since your house and property are continually exposed to the winter woes of wind, snow and ice in any and all combinations of winter weather.

The most important thing you can do for you and your family is to do any kind of preventative winter maintenance in the FALL! If you've missed the boat on that timeframe, the next best thing is getting them done in the spring in preparation for the next winter.

Winter outdoor house safety checklist

Here are the key things you need keep your eye on throughout the winter season, these are:

  • Icy walkways and driveways
  • Downspouts
  • Falling trees and broken boughs and branches
  • Ice dams and ice on roofs
  • Snow damage.

Icy walkways and driveways

Winter outdoor house safety includes clearing walkways and driveways. This is just a fact of life in a snowy climate whether you do this by hand shovelling or by machine-power. It doesn't matter which - it just has to be done.

In many towns and cities in North America, there are local by-laws requiring you to do so (clearing public sidewalks mostly) within 24 hours of a snowfall ending. However, for your own property, you decide when the snow clearing happens. 


My best winter outdoor house safety recommendation is to get clearing snow as soon you can after the snow stops falling. It just makes life a little easier if you get to it sooner versus later. The weather conditions may change (meaning worse) and then it will be harder to clear snow that might have turned to heavy, wet snow mixed with freezing rain on its way to hard, dense packed ice.

If you are hand-shovelling your walkways, beware of any breaks in the surface as you may jar or injure yourself by taking a big swing of the shovel and hit a jagged edge. For your spring 'to do ' list, see if you can fix this problem or improve on it so it is less troublesome for next winter. You'll be pleased you made the effort.


Part of your icy walkways might also be due to a downspout that allows water to flow across the path or driveway. If possible, redirect the downspout away from where either walking or car traffic occurs.

You can also get downspout deflectors that are long rectangular molded poly/plastic trays that you put at the base of the downspout to divert the water. These are inexpensive items to buy and are readily available from large hardware stores.

Snow and ice melting aids

A key winter oudoor house safety tool is using organic and non-organic melting agents to help clear snow and ice. There is a variety and combination of commercially availabe products to help you but it boils down to a very short list of what you can use and it includes:

  • Rock Salt = Makes snow and ice melt
  • Sand = Provides traction only
  • Ice melter combination (of sand and salt) = Makes snow and ice melt.

Our snow and ice melting strategy

Here's our winter outdoor house safety strategy for clearing snow and ice on our cement walkways and gravel driveway:

  • For thin ice, we use ice melter to melt it
  • For thicker more solid ice, we use salt to melt the build up on our gravel driveway as well as adding sand for foot traction on the sidewalks
  • For snow, we use ice melter in front of doorways and walkways. If we've cleared it early enough in the day, the weather usually helps to melt what's left naturally over time.

We try to use sand and ice melter the most as the salt runoff is damaging in our opinion so we minimize this as much as possible if at all viable given the weather conditions at the time.

Falling trees and broken boughs and branches

High winter winds and ice storm damage are definitely part of the wild winter landscape. The result can be seen in downed and split trees, broken boughs and branches and countless small bits of tree branches lying on the ground. Ice storms are particularly bad in this regard. Ice is heavy and easily breaks and damages trees and large shrubs.

Your goal is to:

  • Keep trees, large branches and shrubs in check
  • Maintain them at a safe distance from your house and vehicle.

This is a very important part of winter outdoor house safety. When a tree topples over, the damage is instant, which is all the more shocking I think because it tends to cause a severe amount of damage to roofs, walls, windows in a concentrated area of a house. It may also severe damage vehicles if they are unlucky enough to be parked nearby.

Trees on city property

You need to cut the boughs back or sometimes, a good part of the tree if it encroaches too much and poses a bigger threat. Now, if the tree is encroaching on any power or hydro lines, then a call to the appropriate local government department to alert them of the potential problem or danger. In many cases, if the trees are on (or close to) city property then it is their responsibility. Generally, a city maintenance tree crew will be along to assess the situation and take some remedial action if they deem it necessary.

Trees on your property

For trees on your own property, hiring a tree expert to assess the overall health of the tree is also a good idea. However, such expertise will cost you quite a lot. One day, the tree might be standing as tall as ever and then post high winds or an ice storm, it may topple over taking part of your house or vehicle with it or worse, your neighbours'. 

Snow damage

Lots of snow on a roof can become much to heavy for the structure to support it. Flat-roofed structures are at particular risk of caving in if the snow is allowed to accumulate on it with each successive snowfall without being cleared off in between.

Most residential homes have pitched roofs that encourage snow to slide off so this is less of an issue. However, if you have a flat roof garage or flat roof house extension, you'll need to be monitoring their condition throughout the winter not only for the weight but also for leaks in the roof itself.

What you can do 

If your roof is at risk, then a smart winter outdoor house safety strategy is raking the snow off before it has a chance to turn into ice. You can get roof rakes with pole extensions from large hardware retails stores. This task is critical to the continued health of your roof as well as being essential if you want your house to still be standing! 

Water will always, always find a way inside given the chance.

Ice dams

Ice dams are caused by snow melting on a warm roof then as the water runs down, it refreezes in a colder spot and ends up creating a thick blockage of ice. This situation usually occurs and builds up at the roof edge or builds up in a valley roof where two sides of the roof meet in a "V". All this happens over the course of a few days. The usual freeze-thaw sequence means snow falls first then it melts a little, then with a drop in temperature, the snow refreezes and turns to ice.

Take a walk around any neigbourhood in winter and you'll see icicles hanging off of an ice dam on the edge of a roof. On a sunny winter's day, with the contrast of white snow and blue sky, this type of scene looks quite pretty but it indicates that that house has insulation problems.

There are some solutions to prevent ice dams from forming ranging from inexpensive to very expensive.

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