Blizzards in the North East – How much snow can my roof handle?

istock-snow-on-roofWhat you need to know to make sure your roof and your home is ready to bear the weight of this major winter storm headed our way!

By Julie Fairweather (Open Post)

Q: Last winter the snow drifts were up to my hip in some places with snow drifts on the roof 5’ deep. With this upcoming snowstorm of up to 3’, makes me wonder…How much SNOW can my roof handle?

A: Homeowners in the Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and surrounding New England areas spend their winters watching the weather channel, wondering when they’re going to have to take out the snow blower. During the worst snow storms many of us are also wondering just how much snow our roofs can handle. What you don’t know is that the critical factor is not about the depth of the snow, it’s about the weight. Why you ask…because wet snow is much heavier than dry snow and 6” of wet snow weighs about as much as 38” of fluffy snow and if the storm brings in rain after the storm you can bet that it will bring more strain on the roof.

Q: Why do I need to get the snow removed from my roof?

Heavy snow will place stress on your roof and put you at risk for leaking and roof cave-ins. Unfortunately, when snow is mixed with freezing temperatures, ice dams are also a likely result. Ice dams can’t form without snow and if you’re able to prevent them you are more likely to prevent your roof from leaking and damaging the inside of your home.

Q: What can MY roof handle?

A: While your roof can be different than your neighbors every roof has a complex assembly of rafters and related structural trusses, deck and roofing material. Whether a roof can sustain a load without damage depends on:

    • Depth and density of the snow
    • Depth and spacing of the rafters and trusses (closer = stronger)
    • Surface slope and texture of the roof (ideal is smooth and steep so snow falls off)
    • Shape and location of the snow drift (a more sheltered area might result in an large uneven snow drift which might cause a roof to fail.

Q: What types of roofs are more prone to snow overload?

A: Older New England homes were built long before we had building codes thus have less framing that is required today. These types of roofs can be more prone….

  • Shallow roofs adjacent or below taller, steeper ones (i.e. roofs over porches) are especially vulnerable to a load of snow sliding down.
  • Roof sections located in a location that is exposed to the wind.
  • Roofs with wide spacing of rafters.
  • Homes (roofs) that underwent un-permitted renovations with improper removal of load-bearing walls.

Q: Is there an exact amount of snow I need to worry about?

A: There is not an exact amount of how much is too much, but know that you should look for signs of distress to gauge that answer for your home. You can determine the type of snow you’re getting simply by lifting a few shovels full of snow-is it wet or dry?

Q: How Do I know there’s a problem? What are the roof distress signs of an overloaded roof?

A: Roofs that are overloaded with snow tend to show the following signs of distress:

  • Rafters that are bent, bowed or cracked on a roof that is flat or slightly pitched
  • Do you hear any popping sounds?
  • Do you have previous damage from heavy snows, fire, termites or rot?
  • When doors on interior walls (leading to 2nd floor bedrooms, closets and attics) begin to stick and you have trouble closing the doors (structure of the house will distort the door frame).
  • Visible cracks in drywall or plaster around door frames

Q: I see these signs and the snow is excessive, now what?

A: Don’t reach for a ladder and a shovel. Safety first!

    • Check out your home and attic to see if you see any signs of distress from heavy snow.
    • Next, call a professional to come and remove the snow and ice with a roof rake with an extension pole. A roofing professional will take care not to damage any flashing or shingles.
    • In addition, most home roofs aren’t readily accessible, making the job dangerous for most to handle handle. Unless you are Norm Abram from This Old House, call us at Coastal Windows & Exteriors to handle your roof raking as it’s the smartest and safest option.

When you do hire a roofing professional to rake the snow off your roof, make sure they are licensed and insured and note that the goal is not to remove all visible snow and ice, but to ease the load on your roof.Please be wary of any roof snow removal companies whose rates are surprisingly low as they are most likely not insured and under-qualified. The last thing you want them doing is damaging your roof shingles.

At Coastal Windows & Exteriors we offer roof inspection and roof raking services in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and surrounding areas. Please call us today (978) 304-0495 if you need help removing the snow from your roof. Remember, this service will also help prevent ice dams, visit our website for more details:

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