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How to handle leaking roofs and foundations

Drip… drip… drip…

That sound can spark terror for homeowners at any time, but is especially concerning with current weather conditions in Minnesota. If yours is one of the many homes that developed ice dams this year, you may be at risk of water intrusion with the current rain systems moving through the state.  And heavy rainfalls combined with frozen, snow-covered ground are increasing the chances of flooding.

What can you do to protect your house?  And what should you do if you find water where it shouldn’t be?

When water is leaking from the roof (ice dams)

Water infiltration from ice dams often shows up on the ceiling, in window openings, or in ceiling fixtures like lights and fans.


Create a channel in the ice dam to allow trapped water to drain.  You do not need to remove the entire ice dam for this to be effective.  One way is to use hot water from a garden hose attached to your utility sink.  Work from the bottom up so you are not adding more water to what is leaking inside.

Another method is to melt a channel with a nylon stocking filled with calcium chloride laid across the ice.  This video shows a great way to use string to control the placement of the sock (and later remove it) without using a ladder:


Try to collect water as it comes in, and if possible, identify the point of entry.

  • For water that originates in the attic, you can place containers there to collect it before it gets into your ceiling or walls.
  • If water is coming through a window frame, you can use the wicking properties of fabric to collect the water – tack a towel or blanket where you see the water appear, and gather the ends together to direct the water flow into a bucket.
  • Sometimes water may pool in a light fixture. Turn off light, remove the globes/covers that may trap water and bring it into contact with sockets, and place a bucket underneath.

Will insurance help?

Most homeowner policies will cover the cost of repairing damage caused by water infiltration due to ice dams. But very few will pay for ice dam removal or the insulation work that is needed to prevent it from happening again. Be sure to check your policy to know what is covered.

Read more about ice dam formation and prevention.


When there’s water in your basement:

Water can enter the basement through cracks in the foundation, window openings, seeping up from the floor, or backed up drain lines.


Make sure downspouts and extensions are connected. Shovel snow to clear a drainage pathway away from buildings (don’t send your water to your neighbor’s house!)  Clear any sidewalks around the foundation so that water can run away from the house. If you have a sump pump, make sure the discharge pipe is clear of snow and ice and clear a pathway for the water to run away from your house.  If the water is pooling outside of your house, it may be possible to use a submersible pump to redirect to a better drainage route. Sand bags can be used to redirect water keep a barrier between water flows and your foundation.


If you have a sump pump, make sure the pump is connected to power and working. Move any non-waterproof items away from water. Use a shop vac to remove water.  If there is standing water, do not enter it if you cannot turn off the electrical service.

What will my insurance cover?

A typical homeowner policy doesn’t cover damage from flooding.  In most cases you will need to have an additional flood insurance rider.  And even then, there are limits on what is covered.  The structure itself and the mechanical systems are usually included. The contents (furniture, your books, things you’ve stored in the utility room) won’t be covered under most policies.

Read more about basement flooding


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NeighborWorks Home Partners has affordable home improvement financing for homeowners in Saint Paul, Minneapolis, and throughout the Twin Cities. Contact us to find out what you may qualify for.

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NeighborWorks Home Partners is a full-service homeownership center that helps people become homeowners with first-time homebuyer counseling, homebuyer education, down payment assistance, foreclosure prevention help, and home improvement financing. We also rehabilitate vacant homes and develop vacant lots.


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Saint Paul, MN 55103

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