For some people, the beauty of a fresh snowfall is one of the best parts of winter. But since melting snow is one of the top causes of roof leaks in winter, that beauty often comes with headaches.
In fact, for home and business owners, melting snow can be a real hassle. It creates dangerous driving conditions, slippery parking lots, and often means we’re in for a long day of shoveling the driveway. An accumulation of snow on your roof can also be a real headache, especially when it starts to melt. That’s because melting snow can cause damage to your home in a number of ways.
Smart business owners and homeowners know to prepare for the eventuality of snowfall to keep their property safe and free of damage all winter long.
Common Causes of Roof Leaks in Winter
Why do roofs leak? Simply put, because moisture finds a pathway through roofing materials. Of course, that answer doesn’t really help solve the problem. Perhaps a better question is “What causes roof leaks?” Essentially, for a roof leak to occur, two factors need to be present. First, there needs to be an accumulation of some kind of moisture—for example, heavy rains, standing water or accumulated snow. Second, there must be some avenue of intrusion for that moisture to follow.
One of the most commonly encountered roof leak scenarios we see in winter is the structural failure of the roof caused by accumulated snow or ice.
In the case of most recently constructed homes with undamaged roofs, weights of up to twenty pounds per square foot will probably not cause dangerous stress to the underlying roofing. That bearable load can go up in some parts of the United States, particularly where heavy snowfalls are regularly experienced each winter.
Dealing with Packed Snow
Where we start to see more trouble is with packed snow. Packed snow can present a significant threat to the integrity of your roof. For example, fresh snowfalls tend to be lighter and less dense. Around one foot of new snow is the equivalent of one inch of standing water, or five pounds per square foot. As a result, most structurally sound roofs can withstand around four feet of fresh snow without risking failure or degradation.
However, packed snow is much dense and heavier. Because of this, your roof can withstand only about two feet, since it only takes about three to five inches of packed snow to equal five pounds per square foot. That being said, even packed snow doesn’t present as much of a threat as ice. It only takes one inch of ice to equal five pounds per square foot, so you’d only need four inches of it to threaten water intrusion. Yikes.
Roof Leaks and Flood Damage
Even without heavy amounts of snow and ice creating water infiltration issues by exceeding weight limits, winter weather can present a heightened risk of roof leaks and subsequent water damage in your home. For example, if your roof shingles are loose or damaged, the continuing presence of melting winter precipitation may be sufficient to cause a leak and water infiltration.Finally, piled-up snow drifts around your home may also cause flood damage should they melt rapidly over a relatively short period of time. This is why it’s important to shovel snow away from the foundation and exterior walls of your home on a regular basis. It’s also a good idea to periodically walk the perimeter of your home and check your drainage, to ensure melting snow and ice flows away from the structure and not towards it.
Roof Angle and Snow Accumulation
The style and profile of your roof can also impact the risk of water intrusion from winter weather such as melting snow and ice. Gravity can assist you with a pitched or sloped roof. Melting snow and ice runs off these roofs more quickly than with flat roofs, especially if the slope degree is pronounced or especially steep.
Flat roofs present something of a mixed “good news”/”bad news” scenario. The good news is that substantial snowfalls can actually act as additional insulation for your home, making them more energy efficient at retaining warmth. However, that relatively flat slope will also make the roof more prone to water intrusion problems during periods of excessive rain, heavy snow, and ice build-up.
Without the benefit of gravity working in their favor to remove precipitation off the surface, flat-roofed homes may require more effective drainage systems to prevent leaks and other damage. Moreover, if your home or business has a flat roof, it’s imperative to make sure your gutters and scuppers are thoroughly cleaned out with a trowel and hose at least twice a year. Additionally, if you have a vented skylight, you should periodically check the edges to ensure that there’s no pooling there, where leaks are likely to happen.
When Is Snow Removal Necessary?
First things first: It is extremely dangerous to climb up on a roof, particularly one covered in snow and ice. The chance of slipping and falling is greatly increased in those conditions.
Second, note that adding your weight to the weight of the accumulated snow or ice can cause even more serious damage to your roof’s structural integrity. By climbing up there to remove the snow, you could quite possibly cause the very thing you’re seeking to avoid.
However, if your roof is flat or previously damaged, and you estimate there could be more accumulated snow or ice than your roof can withstand, removal may be your safest option.
Another way to estimate whether the amount of snow is threatening your roof’s structural integrity is to check your doors. If the interior doors—those leading to bathrooms and closets, primarily—begin to stick, that could be a sign that your home is bearing enough weight from above to affect the door frame.
If snow removal is called for, don’t attempt the job yourself. Call experienced snow removal professionals who can bring the right equipment and tools, and who have the training and skills to avoid further damage or risk to people and property.
Winter Tips to Keep Your Property Safe From Melting Snow and Ice
Even though it’s never a good idea to attempt snow removal from your roof yourself, there are other steps you can take to help protect your home and property from damage due to melting snow and ice.
- First, grab your shovel! You’ll want to remove snow from any walkways, patios, decks, driveways, or other areas that slope back toward your house. In addition, snow that’s piled up around your home’s foundation, windows, and doors can leak right into your house, so you’ll want to clear snow from these areas as well.
- Next, give your sump pump a check. Testing your pump and discharge pipe can help you avoid a more significant disaster later in the season. Think flood damage cleanup in the basement.
- Check your gutters. If it’s been a while since you last cleaned them out, visually assessing them can help you determine if the melting snow and ice have a clear path away from your home. This will in turn help mitigate the risk of water damage. For added protection, attach your downspouts with slope leaders that will take melting snow at least ten feet from your home.
- If you can do so safely, clear drainage areas like catch basins and storm drains, which can easily become clogged with snow.
- Think ahead and stay prepared. If possible, raise your washer and dryer, water heater, furnace, and other appliances off the floor to keep them protected in the event of flooding.
Tips for DIY Snow Removal
Remember, put safety first at all times! Climbing ladders to clear your gutters and roof is especially risky in winter. Do what you can to prevent water damage from snowmelt, but always call on a professional to handle any aspects of home protection that could be dangerous.
However, if you must attempt snow removal from your roof (for instance, if professional assistance won’t be available or can’t reach your property), then follow these tips to stay safe:
- First, use the right tools. A snow rake is the best option for pitched roofs. You can pick one up at most home and garden or hardware stores. Metal tools can both damage your roof and conduct electricity if you accidentally touch a power line. Choose tools made out of nonconductive materials if possible.
- Next, don’t try to scrape the roof completely clean. This can actually further damage your roofing shingles or other materials. Instead, simply aim for reducing the load down to a few inches of accumulated snow. In addition, if you have a flat roof in Terre Haute, try to direct the removed snow far enough away from the building that it won’t increase the risk of flooding when it fully melts.
- Avoid adding your weight to the roof. Use extensible tools only. Ladders are risky since dripping snow turns quickly to icy patches that can make the rungs slippery.
It’s always better to let the professionals remove heavy loads of snow or ice from your roof. However, if you do need to take the job on yourself, use the proper equipment, exercise caution and take your time. Shoveling snow can be quite physically taxing and has even been known to induce heart attacks in people who are older or less physically fit.
How to Prevent Roof Leaks All Year Long
You can also take steps to protect your roof from winter weather leaks throughout the year.
For example, make it a habit to physically inspect your attic’s insulation before the winter season. Thin or bare spots allow for the hot air, rising from the rest of your home, to pool up just beneath the roof and melt the bottom layer of snow or ice. When the melting water then refreezes as temperatures drop, this can create an ice dam which then causes roof leaks and further home damage.
You should also take advantage of pleasant autumn weather to get a close-up view of the condition of your roof shingles (or other materials). The best defense to winter roof leaks is making sure your roof gives your home a watertight shield. Visually inspecting your shingles in the fall gives you time to replace or repair loose, damaged or missing shingles.
Finally, inspect the branches of trees near your home. Specifically, look for any loose, elongated or hanging branches that might endanger your roof. Even a little bit of accumulated ice can weaken a branch enough to cause it to snap, and if it falls into your roof or gutters, this can heighten the risk of leaks or other moisture infiltration.
What to Do About Roof Leaks in Terre Haute
So, what happens if you do experience a roof leak due to melting snow? First of all, don’t panic! Help is available. However, it’s important to first attempt to mitigate further damage by capturing dripping water in buckets or pans.p> Don’t assume that you only have one leak, either. Conduct a visual inspection of your home’s ceiling to look for other spots where water may be coming through the roof. Discolored ceiling tiles and damp spots on flooring can indicate these additional problem areas.
Once you’ve provided collection buckets for each leak you find, you can then call the professionals. Point out each problem spot in a walkthrough of your house.
In the Terre Haute and greater Wabash area, Rogers Home Improvement can help home and business owners identify and repair roof leaks, as well as assist with water damage mitigation. Our team of professionals will come as soon as possible to assess both your roof and the interior of your home’s structure, identify any existing damage, and create a plan to stop and repair any leaks. With over 25 years of experience in repairing roof leaks in Terre Haute, in all kinds of weather, our professionals can repair your roof quickly and professionally, leaving your home watertight once more.
Worried about how melting winter snow could damage your home this season? Get in touch with our team of home improvement and water damage restoration experts in Terre Haute.