According to the Insurance Information Institute, winter storms cause billions of dollars in insured damages each year.
There is no denying that winter can be brutal — especially on your roof. Keeping your roof in the best shape should be a year-round activity, but when winter rolls around, you need to be especially vigilant to ensure that your roof does not suffer damage.
6 Things You Must Do for Your Roof Before and During Winter Every Year
Snow and extremely cold temperatures challenge your roof’s health. If you’re not careful, you could end up with expensive repairs on your hands. That means during winter, you need to safeguard your roof. These are the essential roof maintenance steps you need to take every year:
- Remove snow quickly.
- Check your flashing.
- Check your gutters.
- Brace against wind damage.
- Trim trees and remove debris.
- Inspect your attic.
Here’s a closer look at each.
Winter Roof Maintenance Tip #1: Remove Snow Quickly
When you see snow accumulating on your roof, it’s important to clear it off promptly. Snow can be heavy, and when it mixes with ice, the weight increases significantly, which can strain your roof.
If snow and ice are left to sit, they can lead to the formation of ice dams — ridges of ice that prevent melted snow from draining off the roof. These dams can cause water to back up under the roof shingles, where it can leak into your home and cause damage.
Typically, ice dams form and grow when it’s warm enough during the day for snow to melt and then cold enough at night for that water to refreeze. This cycle can push shingles apart and cause them to loosen, leading to leaks. To prevent this damage, it’s best to remove snow from your roof as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Pro Tip: It can be intimidating to go on your roof and start removing snow during the winter because it’s often very slippery. To protect yourself, it’s always best to call the professionals.
Winter Roof Maintenance Tip #2: Check Your Flashing
Before winter sets in, it’s wise to inspect the flashing on your roof, but if you haven’t gotten around to it yet, don’t worry — it’s not too late. Take advantage of days with lighter snowfall to examine your roof for any shingles that might be damaged or out of place. If you spot any issues, it’s important to address them right away.
Damaged flashing can lead to leaks, especially when snow and ice accumulate and start to melt. Keeping on top of these repairs can prevent water damage to your home.
Roof Flashing, Explained
Flashing on a roof is a material — usually aluminum or galvanized steel — that’s used to direct water away from critical areas of the roof where water has the potential to enter the home. This includes places like the joints where roof planes meet, around the chimney, vents, skylights and other structures that interrupt the roof’s smooth surface. The flashing acts as a seal between the roofing materials and the roof fixtures to prevent leaks. It’s essentially a weatherproofing tool that ensures water flows away from these vulnerable spots and into the gutters instead of seeping into the house.
Winter Roof Maintenance Tip #3: Check Your Gutters
Gutters are particularly vulnerable to the cold, so it’s crucial to keep an eye on them throughout the winter. Ice dams are prone to form in and around gutters, and a telltale sign of this problem is icicles hanging from them. If you notice icicles, it’s a clear indicator that there’s a buildup of ice that needs to be addressed without delay. The weight of the ice can weaken your gutters to the point where they may give way and collapse, leading to potentially expensive repairs. Not only could you end up having to replace the gutters, but the area of your home where the gutters were attached might also be damaged. If you spot ice forming in your gutters, act quickly to remove it and prevent any further issues.
A Word on Ice Dams and How They Form
Ice dams form on roofs when accumulated snow melts and then refreezes at the edge of the roof. Here’s how it happens: The top of your roof is usually warmer than the edges. When snow falls, it builds up and covers the roof. Heat from inside your home rises and warms the underside of the roof, causing the snow on top to melt. The melted snow trickles down the slope of the roof toward the edges. However, the edges of the roof are colder because they extend beyond the warm interior of the home. When the water reaches these colder edges, it refreezes and turns into ice.
Over time, as this cycle repeats, the ice accumulates and forms a barrier, or “dam,” at the edge of the roof. This dam can trap additional melting snow, which can seep under the roof shingles and eventually lead to leaks inside the home. It’s a process that typically occurs when the weather fluctuates between freezing and slightly warmer temperatures that cause snow to melt.
Winter Roof Maintenance Tip #4: Brace Against Wind Damage
The impact of snow and ice on your home during winter is well-known, but it’s also important to be aware of potential wind damage. If there’s a forecast for a strong storm, or if one has just passed, make sure to inspect your roof for wind damage. Don’t assume that it has escaped unscathed. Look specifically for any shingles that might be cracked, bent or missing altogether.
Ignoring such damage can lead to two significant problems. First, your roof is likely to start leaking, which can cause water damage inside your home. Second, the damaged area can become a breeding ground for mold, mildew and bacteria, which affects your home’s air quality and can lead to more extensive and costly repairs. To avoid these issues, it’s best to address any wind damage to your roof promptly.
Why Leaks Following Wind Damage Can Be Dangerous
Water from a leaking roof can cause a lot of problems inside your home. When water seeps in, it can damage ceilings, walls and floors, leading to unsightly stains and the warping of wood and plaster. If the leak is persistent, the dampness can actually weaken your home’s structural integrity, causing more serious damage that can be expensive to repair. Moreover, moisture from leaks creates a perfect environment for mold and mildew to grow. These fungi can spread quickly, potentially causing health issues — especially for people with allergies or respiratory problems. Additionally, water can short-circuit electrical wiring, which poses a fire hazard. Therefore, it’s crucial to fix roof leaks quickly to prevent these risks and maintain a safe, healthy and comfortable home.
Winter Roof Maintenance Tip #5: Trim Trees and Remove Debris
Before winter sets in, trim tree branches that hang over your roof. Clearing your roof and its immediate vicinity of debris is also crucial. Make sure to clean the areas around flashing, downspouts and gutters.
That way, you’ll prevent moisture from accumulating and causing rot or mildew. A simple sweep with a broom can be effective, provided there’s no snow and your roof is dry — but during winter, wet and slippery conditions on the roof can make clearing your roof very dangerous. That’s when you most likely need to hire a professional for help.
Pro Tip: Trim your trees and clean your roof in the fall to prevent weather-related damage and ensure your home is ready for winter.
Winter Roof Maintenance Tip #6: Inspect Your Attic
Ensure your attic is well-ventilated before winter to avoid dampness and the formation of ice dams. Check for sufficient airflow to prevent moisture buildup. Regularly inspect your attic and roof for any signs of damage, especially before and during the winter months, to prevent leaks and protect your home.
Why is Roof Ventilation So Important?
Roof ventilation is crucial because it helps to regulate the temperature and moisture levels in your attic. When a roof is properly vented, it allows outside air to flow in and out, which prevents the buildup of heat and moisture. This airflow helps to keep your home more comfortable, reduces the risk of ice dam formation in the winter, and extends the life of your roofing materials.
How to Tell if Your Roof is Properly Vented
To tell if your roof is properly vented, look for vents at the base of the roof (soffit vents) and near the roof’s peak (ridge vents). These should be clear of obstructions like debris or nests. Inside the attic, you should feel some airflow and the temperature shouldn’t be excessively higher than it is on the outside. In winter, if you see thick ridges of ice on the eaves or icicles forming, it may indicate poor ventilation. Additionally, if you notice moisture or mold in your attic, it’s a sign that your ventilation may need improvement.
Final Tips on Roof Maintenance During Winter
Roof maintenance during winter is essential. When freezing weather conditions begin, it can take a toll on your roof.
The best thing you can do is to be proactive. Start doing roof inspections long before winter arrives.
However, if you did not get a chance to perform your inspections before winter, you can still prevent damage to your roof by being observant. This means that whenever you see ice dams forming on your roof, you should investigate them immediately. Don’t forget to remove these ice dams from your gutters if they start forming. If a storm is about to pass or has passed through your area, perform an emergency inspection.
If you would like to have your roof repaired, please contact us.