Winter roof maintenance and snowfall are linked. Here’s how to care for your roof, your energy efficiency, and more about how snow actually helps you stay warm.
Winter is here in the northern hemisphere, and if you live in a temperate zone, you will probably get some snow. Snow is fun and pretty, but when it piles up on your roof, it’s a hazard. Take some precautions with each storm, and you and your house will be safe.
Snow on the roof can be a good thing
Did you ever notice how quiet it is when it snows? Sounds are muffled, because of the air pockets the flakes make. Those same air pockets act as insulation. When there is a layer of snow on your roof, it’s like having an extra layer of insulation in the attic. Think of it as a big blanket keeping your house warm.
Snow will tell you if you are losing heat. Warm air rises, and it will escape through the roof and melt the snow where you have air leakage. There may be small snowless areas around plumbing vents and above recessed lighting. Insulation batts in the attic may have shifted over time, allowing heat into the attic and out the roof.
After a light snowstorm with no wind, go outside and look at your roof. If you have good insulation in your attic, and if it’s cold enough outside, the snow should stay for a few days. If it melts in spots, you need to beef up your insulation and seal up air leaks.
Lay batts perpendicular to the rafters to cover any gaps. Better yet, have it blown in to a depth of several inches. A professional will be able to tell you how much to add for best coverage and R-value.
Caulk around light fixtures and plumbing vents. You cannot insulate or caulk up close to a chimney or woodstove, so expect minimal heat loss there.
A friend of mine lives in Boston where there was unusually high snowfall last winter. She sent me a photo of her dog doing its business near the top of a parking meter. That’s how deep the snow was. Blame the plows for some of that, but you get the idea.
When that kind of snow sits on your roof, you need to remove it, especially if it’s wet and heavy. Building codes are written for roofs to withstand the maximum weight of local snowfall. If you have an older home, and your roof cannot handle excessive snow, it could cave in.
Cave-in warning signs are sagging ceiling joists, major leaks, cracked walls, interior doors sticking or popping open, and loud cracking and popping noises. If you have any of them, get everyone out of the house, and call the fire department, building officials, or 911.
Avoid disaster by removing snow whenever you get more than 6″ of accumulation. If you have a one-story home, but a snow rake, and remove the excess. Snow rakes are stiff rubber blades with telescoping handles, or handle extensions, so you can reach as far as possible. Do not get on a ladder. You could slip and injure yourself. Do not get on the roof and add to the weight of the snow.
Leave a few inches of snow for insulation and to protect the roofing from the raking. Your mission is to remove the excess.
If you have a two-story house, hire a professional snow remover. They have the right tools, and are insured in the event of an accident. They will cut a path through the snow to place a ladder, then hitch it to the wall of the house to prevent it from slipping on the ice. They will make sure there is room below for the falling snow to pile up so as not to cause obstructions and property damage.
Snow and ice cause a lot of problems. Leave the large winter jobs to the professionals. Work with a roofer you have a relationship with, and be willing to pay for it. Scammers come around after big storms with low bids, no experience, the wrong tools, and no insurance. That smells like trouble. Work with a reputable, bonded, insured, and experienced roofer for snow removal.
If you need work done on the house, hire a licensed contractor. Get insulation work and repairs done properly. You don’t want to worry about the snow. You should be able to sit back and appreciate its beauty for the next few months!