When it comes to snow and ice, most of us tend to look down — we don't want to slip on a slick sidewalk, we want to keep our driveways and walkways free of snow, and we're cautious about driving when the roads are icy. But it's just as important to look up when snow is a risk — protecting your roof in the winter is just as important as keeping your driveway and sidewalks clear. Many of the roof-protecting recommendations below are best done before storm season even begins, but can be helpful at any point. Even taking precautions a few days before a predicted storm can prevent damage.
1. Keep gutters clear. Make sure your gutters, downspouts, and drains are clear of leaves and other debris before storm season begins. Blocked gutters can cause water to back up and freeze, potentially damaging the roof. Have professionals clear your gutters after most of the leaves have fallen from the trees, or consider installing gutter screens that will prevent blockage.
2. Trim overhanging tree branches. Storms that are accompanied by gusting winds or cause heavy snow or ice to coat trees can result in fallen branches that can damage your home. Before the season starts, trim any low or overhanging branches that look as if they'd be at risk of falling on your house (or cars and power lines). Always be sure to check with local ordinances first to ensure you're allowed to remove branches from trees near your property.
3. Prevent ice dams. Ice dams form when the heat inside your home causes ice or snow in the middle of your roof to melt and run down to the edges. When the water refreezes there, it creates a blockage that can cause roof leaks, which can damage interior ceilings and walls. To prevent ice dams, keep your attic cool — ideally not more than 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. Good insulation on the attic floor can prevent heat from escaping the house as it rises. Other good preventive steps include sealing vent pipes, exhaust fans, and light fixtures that may transport warm air upward.
4. Remove heavy ice and snow. Most roofs are designed to withstand "normal" amounts of ice and snow in the area where they stand. For instance, roofs in the northern part of the country tend to be sturdier and more steeply sloped, so that less snow or ice accumulates. Most sturdy roofs should be able to support about 20 pounds per square foot of snow before they become stressed. If the amount of snow or ice on the roof becomes worrisome, homeowners can purchase special roof rakes with long handles to remove snow on the roof from the ground. If you're unable to do this from the ground, it's a smart idea to hire a professional and avoid the dangers of both climbing onto an icy roof and damaging roof structures.
WINTER STORM SAFETY: ROOF PROTECTION, BY BETH WEINHOUSE