Roof snow removalThis year’s winter has definitely been a tough one. The north-eastern storms and the recent, fatal pileup on I-75 in Detroit have put a somber face on winter and the snow. Planning for and properly responding to snow and icy conditions is important, and one aspect of this is removing the snow on your roof if it begins to pile up.

Now, it is possible to over-emphasize the need to remove snow from your roof. As North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer Ken Hellevang explains, roofs, especially in areas that get a lot of snow, are built to hold a significant weight. Also, sloped roofs are at less of a risk than flat roofs.

There are a number of factors that combine to make your roof safe or not including the pitch of your roof, how close the rafters and trusses are to each other and how susceptible to wind your home is. If your home has a smooth, steep pitch, decently spaced rafters and the snow isn’t drifting from strong winds, it would take several feet of snow to become a problem for you. Of course, what kind of snow it is – light and fluffy or dense and wet – and how much ice has accumulated on the roof can make a difference too.

That being said, heavy snow can still be an issue, so it’s good to know how to safely deal with it.

Heavy layers of snow on your roof, besides posing a safety risk to you and your family, can cause severe damage to your home or garage. Two feet of snow adds about 38,000 pounds to the average roof – that’s an extra 19 tons weighing down on your roof.

One thing to keep in mind is that some insurance policies don’t cover roof damage from snow and ice, so you’ll want to double check your policy.

If you start to see the roof sagging, leaks, bowed pipes, cracks in the walls and ceilings, or doors that pop open or are difficult to open or close, you have to act fast. Also, if you hear creaking, cracking or popping sounds you need to get out of the building quickly.

While you need to remove the snow if it’s heavy enough to damage your roof, you can’t let that worry drive you to act hastily and hurt yourself in the process. Here are some tips to help you safely get the snow off your roof.

Use the right tool… and that would not be a snow blower – and people have actually tried this. It might seem like the quickest way, but it’s definitely not a good idea. Even a regular snow shovel isn’t the best choice because you can damage the shingles on your roof, which will cause serious long-term problems for you.

The proper tool for clearing snow off your roof is a snow or roof rake. This rake lets you stand on the ground and scrape the snow downward so there’s no danger of falling off. There are several different types of snow rakes for different types of roofs, and you still need to be careful not to damage the shingles.

Use a steady ladder. If you do have to climb up on the roof, use a reliable ladder and take extra care to make sure it is firmly planted – ideally you want someone holding/watching the ladder for you.

Don’t obsess. Your goal is not to make your roof snow-free but to relieve pressure from excessive weight.

To make sure you don’t damage the shingles, it’s best to leave a layer, up to an inch or so, of snow on the roof. Remember, your roof was built to withstand a certain amount of snow.

Take a break. If you’re feeling tired, out of breath or light headed, climb down and rest before you fall down.

This especially applies to clearing snow off flat roofs because they are much harder to work on.

Watch out for snow/ice build-up on the edge of the roof. It can block the gutters, redirecting water runoff under the shingles and into your house. The weight of the ice or snow can also rip your gutters right off the side of your home, causing a lot of damage.

Use the pantyhose method. This is more of a quick fix, but can still help a lot. You fill the leg of a pair of pantyhose with chloride ice melter and lay it vertically on the roof so it hangs over the gutter. It will melt the snow and ice and create a channel for the water to flow down into the gutters.

Here’s some of the information I’ve been able to collect on safely clearing snow off your roof, but if you have any comments, questions or suggestions please share them with us!


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