When Heavy Snow Threatens Your Roof

“Since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” warbles the old chestnut of a song. As cozy and picturesque as that sounds, the reality is that snow equals work: there are layers of clothing to don, bird feeders to fill, shoveling to do, and cars to warm up before heading to work.

There’s another worry, too, as the snowfall accumulates: a buildup of the white stuff on your roof.

When snow accumulates, there’s a chance that the roof will begin to leak or cave in due to the weight it must bear. Luckily, building codes generally dictate that roofs must be built to withstand the worst snowfalls common in your area of the country. However, as the storms continue to dump their loads, it’s only natural to assess the weight piling up atop your home. Although it’s a problem your insurance policy usually covers, roof collapse is a hassle you want to avoid.

How Heavy is the Snow on your Roof?


If the snow load your roof carries is greater than the weight it was designed to withstand, it is in danger of collapsing. The snow load is defined as the downward force on the roof by the accumulated snow and ice. Even if a snowfall isn’t large, drifts can lead to load problems in particular spots on the roof.

Knowing your roof’s limit is the first step. Disaster.org estimates that homes should be able to withstand 20 pounds of pressure per square foot. Your home should be able to cope with more fresh snow than packed snow, because fresh snow is lighter.

As snow lingers on your roof, it can absorb moisture and become denser. Generally, a roof should be able to handle up to four feet (1.2 meters) of fresh snow and two feet (.6 meter) of packed snow. Assess your roof’s load based on weather reports and a visual inspection.

Steeply pitched roofs are least susceptible to collapse because the accumulating snow slides off fairly easily. Flat roofs or those with only a slight slope bear close watching once the snow starts to collect. Also, keep an eye on the roofs of peaked porches or entryways.

Load Indicators for your Snow Covered Roof

Load indicators for your snow covered roof

In addition to eyeballing your roof, you should be alert to other signs that the snow load is getting heavy:

  • Sticky doors. Your doors and windows may be metres from the roof, but they can signal trouble on top. Doors that stick in their frames or pop open and windows that are difficult to open may be indications that there is too much weight resting on the frame of the house.
  • Leaks and creaks. If you notice water dripping from the ceiling or hear ominous creaking noises, they could be signs of imminent collapse.

Taking Action to Remove Snow from your Roof

remove snow from your roof

Removing snow from your roof can be dangerous; you may want to pay a professional to do it. It won’t necessarily be cheap since they use special ladders and wear proper weather gear to ensure their safety in stormy conditions, but they are generally more experienced and skilled than the average homeowner. Check with reliable roofing contractors for assistance; some landscaping firms also offer this service.

If, however, you prefer to remove the snow yourself, bear this tips in mind:

  • Stay low. Don’t climb onto a pitched roof in winter when the conditions are slippery and precarious. It is dangerous enough to work on a roof in dry weather. If you can reach a flat roof from an interior staircase, you can try to shovel the snow onto the ground, provided you do so with care. However, your being on a shaky roof may add just enough weight to bring it down.
  • No metal. Snow rakes should be plastic, not metal. You don’t want to come in contact with electrical wires with a metal implement.
  • No electricity. Don’t ever use electric tools, such as hair dryers, to defrost your roof. Small mishaps can lead to electrocution.
  • Motion sensitive. Use an up and down motion, heading toward the peak, to remove snow; a side-to-side motion may damage the shingles. Wear a helmet and goggles, and work with a partner to ensure that the work is done without mishap.

Preventing Snow Buildup on your Roof:

Before snow accumulation becomes an issue, explore the preventive measures you can take to ensure the buildup isn’t severe enough to produce a cave-in. You can have your roof wired with a heating system that goes on at the flick of a switch to melt snow, and there are gutter screens and covers to prevent build-up. A roofing contractor should be able to advise you about your options.

Remember, a snowy roof may look attractive in a holiday photo, but it won’t be as alluring if it caves in, hurting you or your family and causing expensive damage to your home.

when heavy snow threatens your roof

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