After the accumulated snowfall Michiganders had this weekend, there is a thick snow coat atop many roofs. If your roof has 6 inches or more of snow stacked upon it, a smart thing to do in this frigid weather is to remove the excess to prevent damage. The main reason you should keep your roof as snow-free as possible is that it’s crucial for preventing ice dams from forming on your roof.Ice dams can’t form without snow. If you’re able to prevent ice dams, you’re far more likely to prevent your roof from leaking and damaging the inside of your home.
It’s also a good idea to keep all that excess weight off your roof. As a rule of thumb, one square-foot of snow that’s one-inch in depth weighs about a pound. If your roof has 12 inches of snow on it, that could easily amount to thousands of pounds of stress on your roof. That’s not even counting the weight of any ice dams that may form as a result of leaving the snow on your roof; just one cubic foot of ice weighs 57 pounds, and a typical ice dam can weigh thousands of pounds. Minimizing the stress placed on your roof is a great way to minimize the risk of leaking and cave-ins, which occur more frequently than you might think.
How often should the snow be cleared off a roof?
A good rule of thumb is to clear your roof off after every 6 inches of snowfall. If you prevent too much snow from piling up on your roof, it’s much harder for ice dams to form and you can certainly stop worrying about any sort of roof cave-in.
Of course, it all depends: We have seen ice dams form with only a dusting of snow on the roof. We have e also seen roofs with mountains of snow remain free of ice dams.
Generally speaking, even though every roof is different, you’ll especially want to consider this “6-inch” rule of thumb if you have repeatedly had problems with ice dams in the past.
On the other hand, if you have never had an ice dam and your only concern is avoiding a roof collapse, then you might want to consider holding off on any roof snow removal until you have accumulated a foot or more of snow.
When deciding the right time to get roof snow removal, it’s also important to take into account how heavy the snow is. Wet, heavy snow can weigh 6 or more times as much as lighter dryer snow. One cubic foot of snow can typically range in weight from as little as 0.26lbs (light, dry snow) to as much as 1.66lbs. (heavy, wet snow). If you step outside and pick up the snow and it seems heavy and wet, that’s one factor that might indicate you should get your roof cleared sooner rather than later.
How often you need to get your roof cleared also depends partly on the weather forecast.
If 6 inches of snow falls on your roof but the nighttime and daytime low temperatures are forecast to stay above freezing for a couple of days, you probably don’t need to get the snow removed—because it will likely melt soon enough (or at least decrease significantly in weight) and never become an ice dam.
However, if 6 inches of snow falls one night and another 6 inches of snowfall is forecast for later in the week, or if the low temperatures remain below freezing, you may want to remove the snow ASAP.
Sometimes you need your roof snow removed by shoveling, other times by roof-raking. It depends largely on (a) how big your roof is and how tall your house is, (b) how much snow your roof received, and (c) whether the snow itself is powdery and light versus wet and heavy.
Roof-raking is generally best as an ongoing, winter-long task that you can perform as a way of keeping the snow off your roof.
If you live in a small one-story home, you can probably use a roof rake to reach most or all of your roof and keep it snow-free by routinely raking the snow off. If you live in a taller home, roof-raking is an excellent way to clear the overhangs. This can help relieve excess weight on the weakest part of your roof (the overhangs) as well as aid in ice dam prevention.
Of course, roof-raking has its limitations. Unless you live in a one-story home, it’s often hard to rake any higher than the overhangs, even if you buy extension rods for your rake. It’s also difficult to use a roof rake to clear the snow out of your roof valleys (because the rake is flat and the surface is angular). In addition, roof-raking often isn’t particularly effective at removing wet, heavy, or hardened snow from your roof.
Roof Snow Shoveling
As a snow-removal technique, shoveling picks up where roof-raking leaves off. Your roof probably needs to be shoveled (a) after a storm drops too much snow for you to remove with a rake, (b) if the snow is too heavy or hardened for your roof rake, or (c) if your roof is too large or tall for you to be able to rake it.
Shoveling is probably the better option for roof snow removal when there’s heavy lifting to be done, or when you want your roof completely cleared (so as to minimize the chances of a cave-in or the formation of ice dams).
The first thing to know about getting your roof shoveled is that it’s most likely NOT a good idea to try to do it yourself. You can easily injure (or worse) yourself trying to climb onto your slippery roof. We are not encouraging you in any way to climb up on your roof and shovel the snow yourself. Our advice is to stay off of your roof and/or ladders whenever possible and hire a professional to do it for you.
However, if you’re absolutely determined to shovel your roof yourself, here are a few pointers for how to do it safely and effectively:
- Use a shovel with a plastic edge, not a metal one. The plastic is less likely to damage your shingles.
- Don’t shovel your roof too frequently. Every time you run a shovel across your roof, you remove a few of the tiny granules from your shingles. Those tiny granules are what protect your shingles from UV light, and they also add fire-resistance to your roof. Wearing them down is like rubbing your hands together until you rub the first layer of skin off and you’re left with only 6 delicate layers of skin on your hands (ouch!). It doesn’t matter how delicate you are, or whether you use a shovel with a plastic edge (which you should): every time you shovel, you rub off some granules. It’s fine to shovel a few times every year, but don’t do it dozens of times a year. Moderation is best.
- Don’t leave pathways in the snow. Every time you step on snow, you hard-pack it onto your roof. Left alone, these footprint pathways can become ice, and can often form ice dams. Make sure that any snow removers or ice dam removers who get on your roof don’t leave behind a goat path of footprints; make sure they’re removed. Inexperienced ice dam removers make this mistake all the time.
- Don’t dump the snow onto your gas meter. Your gas meter has a little breather hole that, if covered up, will cause your gas to shut off and subsequently shut off the furnace that heats your home. Just don’t dump snow onto it.
Removing the snow from your roof is an important preventative step in ensuring no leaks or expensive damage in the long run. If the task seems too daunting to do it yourself, call a roof snow removal service, like ours, right away and schedule your roof snow removal in advance – for shortly after the second storm is forecast to arrive. This way, you’ll get both snowfalls removed from your roof with one phone call.