Updated: Apr 16, 2018
1. Lighten the load on the roof Head outside and walk the perimeter of your house, looking at the roofline. Are your gutters and eaves decked in icicles? Your roof may be forming an ice dam, where ice freezes into hard ridges that prevent snow melt from draining off your roof. Without anywhere to go, water will find its way into your home. Extreme snowstorms can also stress the roof through the weight of the snow. This is especially true as old snow compacts under fresh snow in subsequent storms.
If you live in a single-story home, you can help prevent ice dams and reduce stress on your roof by removing snow with a roof rake. If your house is more than one floor, or if you suspect an ice dam has already formed, contact a professional rather than trying to handle it yourself.
2. Clear your walkways In many cases, property owners may be liable for healthcare costs or other damages if anyone - including neighbors, postal carriers, and solicitors - slips or falls on their properties wintry walkways. In order to prevent injuries to your family and others, make sure to buy a snow shovel and stock up on ice melt before the start of winter, and clear your walkways promptly after a storm.
If you know a snowstorm is coming, applying ice melt ahead of time can make the removal process easier since it lowers the freezing point of water. When it's time to clear the walkways, shovel away the bulk of the snow first. Then, spread a layer of ice melt and wait for chemistry to kick in. As residual ice and packed snow start to melt, remove it with a shovel or broom, and apply a final layer of ice melt to prevent it from refreezing. Adding a layer of sand can provide traction, too.
Pro Tip: Commercial ice melt tends to be gentler on plants and landscaping than salt, and there are pet-safe formulations as well. But if you're caught by surprise - or if the winter is so brutal that there's no ice melt to be found - rock salt also works well in a pinch.
3. Clear snow and ice from furnace vents Because most ways of heating a home can produce deadly carbon monoxide gas, cases of carbon monoxide poisoning tend to spike in winter. This is especially true following heavy snow and ice events because the vents that carry carbon monoxide out of the home can become blocked by snow or freeze over. Gently remove snow from furnace vents, keeping the openings clear so that gases can vent properly. Remove snow from around your gas, electric, and water meters as well.
4. Check your trees Heavy snow and ice can bend and break tree branches, causing damage to homes and to the trees themselves. It's best to have an arborist inspect your trees before winter and remove any potentially dangerous branches. But even if you've taken this step, a very heavy snow or ice storm can cause branches to threaten your home or property.
You can carefully remove snow from sagging tree limbs with a broom or a long pole. Work gently - the cold may have made the branches brittle - and be sure to stand out of the way of the falling snow.
If your trees are coated in heavy ice, your best bet is to wait for the ice to melt. Trying to chip the ice away will damage the trees. If branches are heavily iced and leaning dangerously over your home, consult an arborist for advice.
5. Give your neighbors a call Once you've checked your own home for problems, consider contacting your neighbors to make sure they're OK.A power outage or a failed heating system can be particularly dangerous for seniors or people with disabilities. Find out if your neighbors need help clearing their walkways, and if they have enough supplies to last until the snow melts.
With these steps, you can be sure to keep your family and your neighbors safe until the snow is finally gone.