We’ve seen a few reliable sources calling for a snowier than average winter here in the Mid-Atlantic. While it’s impossible to predict at this stage, it’s probably a good idea to be prepared. We often get questions from clients and neighbors about whether it’s necessary to remove snow after a big storm. The good news is that building codes require that houses support a significant amount of snow (much more than we get in Northern Virginia most winters). In most cases, trying to remove the snow from your roof is actually more dangerous than leaving it there. However, extreme and/or repeated snowstorms do cause roof collapses, so it doesn’t hurt to be informed.
How Much Snow Can My Roof Handle?
The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, a non-profit that runs the DisasterSafety.org website, confirms that most roofs can support 20 pounds per square foot of snow. Since 10 to 12 inches of new snow equal five pounds in weight, your roof should be able to support up to 4 feet of fresh snow. But older packed snow is denser, with just 3 to 5 inches accounting for 5 pounds, and one inch of ice is the equivalent of 1 foot of snow. According to IBHS, problems can arise during repeat snow events, or snow followed by rain. Complications can also come up when snow drifts or slides on the roof, creating an unbalanced load. And remember, simple roofs with steep slopes shed snow more easily while flat roofs or low slope roofs are more likely to accumulate snow.
When Should I Remove Snow from My Roof?
If extreme or repeated snowstorms lead you to believe your snow load exceeds 20 pounds per square foot, it may be time to clear the roof. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, here are some other warning signs to look for both inside and outside your house that may indicate an excessive snow load:
- Sagging ceiling tiles or boards
- Popping, cracking and creaking noises (more than usual)
- Sagging decking (the wood or plywood material underneath your shingles)
- Bowing truss bottom (the structural element in your attic that supports the roof)
- Doors or windows that can no longer be closed
- Cracks in walls or masonry
- Severe roof leaks
If you decide that it’s time to remove snow, it’s best to call a licensed professional for safety reasons. You may damage your roof or injure yourself if you attempt to DIY.
What Damage Should I Look Out For After Winter Storms?
Even without severe, crippling amounts of snow, your roof can sustain damage from a winter storm. Here are some things to look out for:
- Missing fascia and soffits (the important structural elements that connect the roof with the rest of your house)
- Dents in the roof
- Missing or broken shingles
- Moisture in the attic or water damage around the siding
- Ice dams are one of the biggest problems we see during an average winter. They occur when snow melts and refreezes at the eaves of the house.
How Can I Protect My Roof This Winter?
Keeping your roof well maintained is the best way to prevent damage from winter storms and heavy snow. Pre-season inspections are a great idea if you have any doubts or concerns about your roof’s condition. Some elements to look at before winter storms hit include:
- Check for loose or damaged shingles
- Check gutters and downspouts
- Inspect openings around vents
- Inspect flashing, the metal material around chimneys, vents and roof valleys that pulls water away from key features on the roof
- Check soffit and ridge vents at the top and edges of the roof
What Should I Do If My Roof Gets Damaged from Winter Weather?
If you do get winter storm damage, it’s important to get an inspection right away. You may be eligible for an insurance claim, and tackling any problems quickly can help you avoid problems like leaks and higher energy bills related to roof damage. You’ll need to replace missing shingles and rusted or damaged flashing. You can usually reattach loosened gutters if there’s not significant damage, but if they’re broken or badly bent, they’ll need to be replaced.
At DryHome, preventing and repairing winter storm damage is one of our areas of expertise. We know what to look out for before winter storms hit and how to fix things if damage happens. We wish all of our neighbors cozy holidays and a structurally sound new year. Stay warm–and dry!