How to safely remove snow from your roof

Posted on Jan. 18, 2016 by CPO in smartmoves

It may look pretty, but a blanket of snow on the roof of your home can lead to big problems. Weight is the main reason you don't want too much snow on your roof. There's a risk of structural damage if the snow piles up too high. And if you try to get rid of the snow yourself, safety is essential.

Wet snow weighs about 6 times as much as dry snow. Pay attention to weather reports and storm warnings to make sure you don't get caught off guard. After snow falls, see how it feels when you're shovelling your sidewalk or driveway – you'll know in a hurry if it's the wet, heavy kind.

Another serious hazard to your roof is damage caused by ice dams. When heat rises through your roof, or outside temperatures rise and fall, moisture from melting snow can re-freeze, causing ice to build up around your eaves and under your shingles. Not only is ice heavier than snow, it also expands as it freezes, This pushes shingles out of place, opens up cracks and potentially leads to leaks.

How to tell if there's a problem

There are several warning signs that the weight of snow on your roof is too much for your house to handle. If doors on the upper floor of your home start to rub or stick, the weight of the snow could be distorting the frame. You may also see cracks, bulging and warping on interior walls and ceilings, or even hear unusual cracking and creaking sounds.

You’ll be able to see an ice dam by visually inspecting your roof from the outside. The most common telltale sign is icicles hanging from below the eaves.

What to do about it

The easiest, safest way to remove excess snow is with a roof rake. This tool, which typically comes with a long, extendable handle, looks like an oversized version of the device used to rake up the chips from a casino's roulette table. Standing on solid ground, reach up to your roof and use the rake to pull the snow down, one long strip at a time. Make sure to position yourself a safe distance away from where the falling snow will land – you'll be pulling down a heavy load each time.

It's important not to pull too hard or dig too deep with the blade of the rake – you don't want to damage the shingles. Rather than trying to remove every last flake, aim to leave 10 or 15 centimetres of snow behind. The goal is to get rid of excess weight without affecting the integrity of the roof's waterproof barrier.

When and how to shovel your roof

Unfortunately, roof rakes don't work for every homeowner. If your home has multiple stories or a flat roof, it may be necessary to get up there and shovel some snow off. This task is typically best left to professionals, but can be handled by well-prepared, safety-conscious DIY enthusiasts.

If you do shovel your own roof, never tackle the job by yourself. Make sure to have at least one partner with you in case of an emergency. Before you climb, be certain your ladder is securely planted, and that each rung is free of slippery snow and ice. Once you're on the roof you should always use a safety harness attached to a secure anchor, such as the chimney, to prevent falls.

Roof shovelling tips and techniques

Always work with a plastic shovel to avoid damaging the shingles. Start by clearing snow drifts away from chimneys and parapets, or any roof equipment. Never pile up snow on your roof – you'll only exacerbate the weight problems down below. As much as possible, don't leave footprints behind after you finish – these hard-packed areas are likely to turn into ice. Finally, make sure the area below the roof is kept clear of people. Mark out the space where snow will land with a barrier or caution sign if possible.

Have you dealt with excess snow on the roof of your home? Tell us about it.

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