5 potential problems to watch out for during the thaw

Ice dams in your gutters? Snow in your attic? Flooding? Giant, slushy puddles that freeze into treacherous slick patches on driveways and sidewalks?

Yes, yes, yes and yes.

These are all potential problems suburban homeowners could face when the thaw begins today after nine consecutive days of snow that ended Sunday with more than 18 inches on the ground.

Today's predicted high of 43 degrees sounds great after recent single-digit lows. But the melting snow and ice, coupled with rain tonight and Thursday, is bound to create new problems. Even a few preventive measures could stave off injury and save thousands of dollars in home damage, experts say.

Be on the lookout for:

1. Flooding

Expected warmth and oodles of rain could turn those massive snow piles currently dotting the suburban landscape into raging rivers.

Be sure to check your sump pump and its battery backup, experts agreed.

"It's a good idea to have maintenance rodding done on your sewer line because with the rain, sewage backup can also be a concern," said Colleen Riggsbee, co-owner of Elk Grove Village Sewer and Plumbing. "Also, make sure window wells are clear of debris that might cause water to back up and flood into a basement."

Homeowners should also check to be sure that aren't any snow piles in the way of a yard's natural drainage pitch that would cause accumulated rain and thawed snow to pool and back up into the house.

2. Ice dams

As snow melts, ice builds up in your gutters, creating a dam. If the dam gets too big or heavy, it can pull down gutters or block them and cause water to leak into the house. That means, all of a sudden, water might start dripping out of an indoor light fixture, or mold and mildew might start growing in the walls.

"It can cause so much damage. It's a nightmare," said Georgia Hagan, of Gutter Medics in Naperville, a company that's been swamped with business this week as people seek ice dam removal. Their system includes removing snow from roofs three to five feet up from the gutter line, cutting channels in the ice so water drips down and over it, and strategically placing ice melting agents.

While people might try to do it themselves, Hagan says it's easy to get hurt or damage homes by doing things like trying to chop ice with hammers or melt it with power washers.

Roofing contractors add that people should be careful not to scrape away actual roofing materials. Several inches of snow on a roof should not harm anything on most houses.

3. Snow in the attic

The light, fluffy, blowing snow that fell last week might have gotten sucked into roof vents or attic fans, leaving piles of snow in the attic.

Officials from the Chicago Roofing Contractors Association warn that a thaw could trigger leaking if snow has penetrated the attic.

They recommend going into the attic and looking under vents, if you can do so safely. If there's snow, scoop it up and put it in a plastic garbage bag to haul it out. Redistribute the disturbed insulation. Or, consider hiring professional roofing contractors to do the work, if you're unsure of how to remedy the problem.

4. Icicles

  Experts disagree on whether you should remove icicles, with some saying doing so could damage gutters or siding. But with a thaw and rain coming this week, they might not be the biggest issue your home will have. Brian Hill/

Icicles can damage siding and window sills, plus create slippery sheets of ice below. However, experts have mixed feelings about removing them.

If they're not hanging in a place where they can fall on a person or animal below them, icicles can be left to melt naturally. Knocking them down could bring a piece of gutter or siding along with it, some experts say. Others say it's fine to knock large icicles down carefully, from a safe distance, with a long broomstick handle and not a hammer.

But also beware of what might be hanging overhead.

As the sun melts ice on tall buildings, small pieces - and sometimes large daggers - crash down to the ground below. In Chicago, it's common to see building owners put out "Caution: Falling Ice" signs, but the ice falls so randomly (and can be blown by wind), there's no real way to protect yourself except to be alert and quick on your feet.

In 1994, a man was killed by a falling icicle on Michigan Avenue. If you are hit and injured by an icicle, the land owner or building management company is generally not responsible unless it's considered an "unnatural accumulation" of ice, legal experts explained.

5. Black ice

It can lead to unexpected dangerous patches on sidewalks, driveways and roads, and the freeze-melt-freeze-melt cycle also is rough on shingles, which sometimes curl up because of it.

The places most vulnerable have poor drainage and ventilation. Throw ice-melting salt down when the weather is warm to minimize ice when the temperatures dip below freezing.-----

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