Construction and Renovation

Sump Pumps & Melting Snow - When should you worry about water?

The calendar gives us hope for spring in less than two weeks. The forecast has temps climbing into the 50's by Wednesday. All this has a lot of you asking me how fast all this snow is going to melt...

With winter conditions like we've had; record snow fall, no significant thaw and consistently cold days - this years melting is likely to all happen at once.

Melting snow means running water. Where will it go?

You may notice roads in your town developing potholes and puddles. Low land roadways are becoming waterlogged and soft. As they say here in NH, pothole season follows frost heave season which is followed by mud season. These low land roads are the first to thaw and are a good indicator that ground water is on the move. We worry about water from melting snow building up in a low area and flooding before cold weather returns causing it to refreeze. To alleviate this, make sure waterways and drainage ditches are clear. 

Take a look at your home's outer foundation. Houses attract solar energy and warm through the day. The warm house melts the snow around it like in the picture below.  

As the snow melts the water begins to run. With the ground still firm the water is likely to run across the surface to low areas. But as the house continues to thaw the ground around it, this water will travel underground. And if you have a septic tank near your foundation, which also gives off heat, there is likely to be a much larger area of soft ground for which water to travel through. The picture below shows melting snow above a septic tank. Snow provides a barrier to insulate the warm ground from the cold air. 

So when should you worry about water? The answer is now. 

Without exploring the earth around your home, there's really no telling where the ground water table is. But what we do know is that your basement is dry and your house is warm. As the ground softens it becomes permeable and that water is liking the look of your warm dry home.

Think of your basement like a ship on the ocean. The water table in the ground around your home fluctuates up and down throughout the seasons. Foundations are not water tight by nature which make them bad ships to begin with. As water levels rise, the ship sits lower in the water increasing the pressure on it's walls and floor. As water works to equalize, it will find it's way inside. One sailor may chase holes with sealant but a more proactive approach is to act before the water starts to run. Install a sump pump. A sump pump in a basement is just like a bilge pump on a ship. As water levels fluctuate, the pump will maintain healthy water levels within and around the ships walls. 

Sump pumps can be installed at any time. But as always, work is much easier in a dry basement and when materials are available. Once basements start to flood the sump pumps will be flying off the shelves. 

Here's a weekly checklist to keep an eye on your water levels

- Do you have a sump pump in place? Does it work? 

- Are there any areas around your home that are melting faster than others? Why?

- Do your roof gutters run into the ground around your foundation? 

- Do you have puddles in walkways and driveways? Did the puddles disappear overnight?

- Check your basement for water at least every other day.


As the season changes and the frost leaves the ground, ground water will be on everyone's minds. Be proactive and plan ahead. If you've had water trouble before, this year will likely be worse.