For homeowners in the Delaware Valley, the season’s first few snows are just beginning to fall. Now is the time to learn how to prevent snow and weather damage from affecting the integrity of your roof, and save yourself from costly repairs and replacements down the road. The main dangers to look out for are loss of shingles from high winds, heavy debris and ice causing damage to gutters, and damage from the weight of excess snow. Ice damming and icicles also pose safety and infrastructure risks to your home.
While Conditions Are Still Dry:
- Be sure to trim surrounding trees and foliage to ensure that fallen branches due to ice and snow don’t damage your home.
- Clean fallen leaves out of your gutters and downspouts. Once the snow and ice build up around them, they will become very difficult to remove, and they will block melted snow from draining properly on warm days, causing icicles and ice damming.
- Check the roof for existing damage, and contact a licensed professional to make any necessary repairs or assess your home for roof replacement. Especially pay attention to missing or damaged shingles or tiles, as these are gaps in your home’s protection from the elements.
- Ensure that your attic is properly insulated to protect against ice dams. Ice dams occur when warm air escapes from the apex of your roof and melts snow near the top, which runs down to your gutters and refreezes. This causes a dangerous build-up of snow and ice and increases the weight load that your roof must bear.
- Check your roof flashing to ensure that it is working properly and prepared to prevent water penetration when the wet and snowy weather comes.
Before an Expected Snow Fall:
- Figure out how much snow weight your roof can actually support. Most roofs can withstand as much as 20 pounds per square foot of snow, and the average-sized roof in the United States is in the range of 2,000 square feet.
- Calculate how much the snowfall will weigh on your roof. Keep in mind that fresh and fluffy snow can weigh as little as three pounds per square foot compared with 21 pounds for wet, heavy snow, according to FEMA. Eastern climates like ours tend to accumulate more of the wet, heavier snow than they do in the Midwest. Ten inches of fresh snow equates to about five pounds per square foot, which means your roof likely can support four feet of fresh snow. Packed snow weighs more: two feet or more of old snow is enough to exceed weight limits. Old snow and new snow combined can easily exceed load capacity. Just two feet of each could collapse a roof. And don’t forget to add ice to the equation: an inch of ice is equal to the weight of a foot of fresh snow.
- Remove any old snow that may exceed 20 pounds per square foot. You should use a snow rake with a long extendable handle for this job, or contract with a professional.
After a Heavy Snowfall:
- Look for signs of a stressed roof, such as sagging ceiling tiles or sprinkler lines. Listen for popping or creaking noises coming from the roof. Jammed doors and windows, cracked walls, or a leaking roof are all signs of an overstressed roof. According to USA Today, If your roof is damaged and looks like it’s in danger of collapse, do not risk staying inside or attempt to clean it. Evacuate the premises and contact a structural engineer to assess the problem.
- Before attempting to remove snow from your roof, which can be a dangerous job, assess whether or not the new-fallen snow represents an overload, based on the weight and structural integrity of your roof.
- If you choose to remove snow from your roof, take care not to damage roof shingles or tiles when you do so. Don’t just attack it with a regular rake or shovel, but use a snow rake specifically designed for the job.
- Snow poses a safety and structure risk to roofs and homes. To assess your risk and find out if your roof is ready for the winter, contact a qualified roofing specialist to inspect your roof.