snow roof cabin woods
Photo by Greg Rakozy
Some are designed to handle it, but many roofs are ill equipped to support the extra weight.

In light of the massive snowstorm that pounded the southeast last week, it is always a good idea to tend to your roof during the winter months. This is especially true if your house isn’t normally subjected to lots of snow.

Normally, it’s difficult for snow to collapse a roof. But it happens all the time. Here are a few tips to avoid the damage and cost of repairs.

Your Roof

Your roof is designed to shed water. It’s not necessarily designed to be a water-repellent system. It’s deigned to be a water-resistant system.

Your house roof can hold a large amount of weight. However, it’s the carports, the sheds, the barns, and the temporary buildings that can succumb to snow weight.

A good rule of thumb: If your roof is 20 years or older, get it checked by an expert annually. In addition to the structure, make sure they look for leaks.

Snow on Your Roof

Different regions typically produce different types of snow. Western regions often produce lighter, fluffy snow. It’s that powder skiers and snowboarders rave about. Whereas Eastern regions often accumulate heavier snow.

Fluffy, fresh snow can weigh as little as three pounds per square foot compared with 20 pounds for wet, heavy snow. Ice weighs more: 57 pounds a square foot. Considering the average-size roof in the United States is in the range of 2,000 square feet, the weight of snow and ice can add up to dangerous sums.

Before embarking on a potentially risky mission of removing snow from your roof, determine whether it’s necessary.

To prevent a roof collapse and remain safe in the process, take these four steps:

Step 1

Figure how much weight your roof can support. Most roofs can withstand 20 pounds per square foot of snow. Homes built before 1975 may not be structurally sound enough to handle the amount and types of snow being dumped across the U.S. this winter.

Step 2

Calculate the weight of the snow on your roof. Ten inches of fresh snow equates to about five pounds per square foot. This means your roof likely can support four feet of fresh snow. Packed snow, however, 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. It gets worse when you add ice to the equation. An inch of ice is equal to the weight of a foot of fresh snow.

Step 3

Remove excess snow and ice. That means clearing amounts above 20 pounds per square foot. A snow rake with a long extension arm is recommended. Alternatively, hire a professional contractor to remove the snow and ice for you.

Step 4

Look for signs of a stressed roof. Sagging ceiling tiles, sprinkler lines, popping or creaking noises, jammed doors and windows, cracked walls or a leaking roof are all signs of an over-stressed roof.

Damaged Roof?

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.

Know your snow and don’t take chances removing it if it’s unnecessary. A final point to remember: It isn’t wise to remove all the snow on your roof as it can cause damage to tiles and start leaks. At least 2 inches of snow should remain on your roof. For example, no one’s roof in New England should be snow-free this month.

Combat Leaks

Make sure your valleys are clear. Make sure there isn’t any dirt or debris build-up, like leaves.

The problem is when snow melt builds up from that debris and those leaves and water eventually gets into your home. That’s why you also want to make sure you clear your gutters and down spouts regularly.

If you have snow build up in the gutter, ice will form and create a dam. This will prevent water from easily exiting the roof.

If you think your roof may collapse with snow falling, first try and call an expert to come out. If you have no other option, they make snow rakes that may help you reach up there to clear away some snow.

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