What to Know about Snow and Your Roof

For children, “snow day” means a day home from school spent sledding and making snow angels. For the adults, it’s not quite so fun. There are sidewalks to be shoveled and windshields to be scraped. After heavy snow, while the kids are having a snowball fight, you may need to fight the snow that has accumulated on your roof.

It’s challenging for the average homeowner to know when that glistening blanket of snow on the roof goes from pretty to harmful to the roof, or even dangerous to those walking below. Let’s look at what heavy snow can do to your roof, and what you can do to fight back.

When to Worry

  1. When it Piles Up – Generally, less than six-inches of snow is reasonably safe to ignore. After that, it can become problematic.
  2. When Your Roof is Sloped – Steeply pitched roofs shed snow more easily than their flatter counterparts, so if your roof is relatively flat, you may need to start removal sooner than if it is steep.
  3. When it Keeps Coming – Also consider the forecast. If you only have a few inches of snow but more is likely in the coming days, it can make sense to remove some of the accumulation now.

Dam Problems

Ice dams occur when accumulated snow melts during the day, runs to the roof’s edge, then refreezes overnight. The result is a prominent ridge of ice that sits on the end of the roof. These dams can allow water to work under your shingles, damaging the roof, attic insulation, and even your ceilings and walls.

The weight of a dam can also tear off your gutters. Worse still, if the ice dam melts enough that it comes loose, it could fall and seriously injure anyone unfortunate enough to be standing at the wrong place when it releases.

Weighty Issues

The other main problem with severe snow accumulation is the weight. Two feet of wet snow may weigh 12 to 18 pounds per square foot. Across the entire surface of your roof, that adds up to a tremendous strain on the underlying structure. While snowy climates like Utah or Wisconsin generally have homes built to withstand snow, you can only ask so much of your roof before it collapses.

What to Do About All That Snow
A long rake is the best way to safely tackle snow removal from the ground. Special snow roof rakes are available. They have extra-long handles and a wide, solid surface on the end that catches snow and pulls it forward and off the roof.

While you are bundled up, you will also want to remove icicles as they can create a ledge where water accumulates, making snow dams more likely. Remember that icicles can be sharp and heavier than they look, so proceed with caution. Also, be careful when pulling or breaking them off so as not to damage the gutters or other roof components.

Some people throw salt or other de-icing products onto the roof to melt snow, but this isn’t advisable. It may melt the snow, but the harsh, salty conditions created can cause damage to your roof, leaving you worse off than you were with the snow.

What Not to Do

Don’t leave the ground.
If you cannot remove enough snow while keeping yourself safely on the ground, it’s time to call a professional. The risks of injury or even death are too significant to make climbing on your roof in snowy conditions a wise choice.

Don’t scrape your roof.
Leaving an inch or two of snow prevents your snow rake from scraping the shingles, potentially compromising them. It’s also best not to use your metal garden rake to remove every hint of snow. Doing so is likely to damage your shingles.

Don’t stand directly below the roofline.
A face full of snow is unpleasant but can be the least of your worries if you stand directly below the eaves when snow comes down. Even if you are standing next to the area you are clearing instead of directly below, additional snow or ice dams could give way at any time. Always allow some distance between you and the edge of the roof.

Don’t push snow to weaker sections.
Even if it is just temporary as you work the snow off the edge, dragging more snow onto an area with significant accumulation can add extra stress to the roof and support structures. That could cause damage requiring roofing services far more costly and invasive than snow removal.

Safety First

It’s important to remember that snow removal can be a dangerous task.

Slipping on the ice at ground level can cause serious injury. Falling from your roof can be even more dangerous and potentially deadly. Never attempt to climb on your roof or a ladder to remove snow. The risks simply aren’t worth it.

Roof snow removal is also exceptionally physically challenging. Anyone with heart conditions, back issues, or other health concerns that limit physical exertion should not attempt it.

Call for Help

When in doubt, call a roof professional with knowledge of snowy conditions. Roofing contractors in Utah have far more experience with snow removal than any homeowner. They can assess your home’s snow removal needs and will have the tools and training needed to climb on the roof to do the job safely. They can also evaluate your roof to see if there are issues that may be causing excess snow to accumulate or ice dams to form.

When snow is falling, it can be tempting to snuggle under a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate. But don’t ignore the snow building up on your roof. If you don’t want to leave your cozy chair, thankfully you don’t have to. But whether you bring in a roofing contractor to do the job or you carefully do it yourself, make sure you take care of your roof so it can continue to ensure that all that snow stays outside where it belongs.

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