Snow provides a picturesque setting of frosted tree branches and immaculate fields of white crystals. But the beauty of nature isn’t always best for the health of your roof. You don’t want heavy snow to cause your roof to cave in, so before you curl up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate, you need to safely remove snow from your roof.
Know what tools you need for the job and tips for removing heavy snow from your roof..
Materials You Need
First things first: You need the right equipment before you venture into the chilly outdoors. Here are some tools you’ll need to clear your roof of snow.
Heating cables, also called de-icing cables, prevent ice dams from forming on your roof by melting the snow. Before a snowstorm strikes, place heating cables on your roof or in your gutters to prevent ice dams.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of downsides to heating cables:
- They raise electric bills. Only turn them on when necessary. Unplug them as soon as outside temperatures start to rise.
- Not always effective. Heating cables melt some snow, but it might not be enough to prevent snow from forming on the roof.
Using a ladder in snowy conditions can be extremely dangerous. The frozen ground will be slick, wet, and icy, and the ladder may slide. Avoid using a ladder in the snow, if possible.
If you do use a ladder:
- Have a partner hold it for you.
- Watch out for ice buildup on the rungs.
- Take your time going up and down the ladder.
- Be mindful of your footwear, as your boots will be slick with melty snow.
A roof rake allows you to remove snow from your roof without the hassle of climbin a ladder. Roof rakes are aluminum poles with extendable handles that give you a reach of around 20 feet.
For raking your roof:
- Use the rake to knock snow off your roof.
- Start at the edges and move slowly upward.
- Clear away snow one foot at a time to avoid starting an avalanche off your roof.
If you can’t reach enough of your roof from the ground, get a ladder for leverage. Just make sure that the ladder is secure and have an assistant hold the ladder for you.
Roof Melt Pellets
Some companies sell melting pellets. You simply toss these roof melt pellets onto the edge of your roof, and they melt the snow off your roof.
Clearing snow with a rope works best for single-story homes. So if you have a two-story house, this method won’t work.
The rope method works best with two people.
- Tie something heavy to one end of the rope.
- Toss the rope over your roof.
- Your helper grabs the end of the rope you threw and walks it back to you.
- The rope should have dug in the snow. With a sawing motion, pull on both ends of the rope to dislodge the snow from your roof.
- Watch out! You don’t want falling snow to bury you, so pick a good place to stand.
To do the rope method yourself:
- Throw the rope’s midsection on top of your roof, keeping hold of both tips of the rope.
- Hold both ends of the rope.
- Use a sawing motion to pull snow off the roof.
Use a rope that is long enough to reach your roof. It also should give you extra room to stay out of the path of sliding and falling snow. Polyester rope is usually the best choice for snowy conditions, as it is resistant to moisture and abrasion.
Never use a metal shovel for clearing your roof. A metal shovel is sharp and can scratch or damage the roof, especially areas that are weak or worn. If you are planning to use a shovel for snow removal, make sure it is a plastic shovel.
To shovel your roof:
- Always stay at least a yard away from the edge of the roof.
- Only shovel snow from the middle of the roof.
- Retain a 3-foot barrier of snow at the edge of the roof.
- If you slip and fall, the 3-foot barrier of snow around the rim of your roof will act as a safety net to help prevent your fall.
The problem with shoveling snow off your roof is that it requires you to climb onto your slippery roof, which is very dangerous. Shoveling works best on flat roofs, but climbing up on flat roofs in the snow is still dangerous.
Snowblower or Leaf Blower
If you have a snowblower or leaf blower, you can blow off the snow. A snowblower may not blow away all the snow, but it’s a quick way to blast some of the snow off your roof from the ground.
Similar to roof rakes, snow rakes allow you to scoop down snow from your roof. A snow rake offers a reach of about 15 feet or so. Snow rakes can work on cars and sidewalks in addition to roofs.
Steamers use hot steam at high pressure to melt the snow off your roof, a fast and efficient snow removal method.
If you use steamers, be careful if you have solar panels. Steamers use water heated to about 290 degrees Fahrenheit. If solar panels are freezing, heated water could lead to an extreme temperature change that might cause them to crack.
Removing snow from your roof with a wire is similar to removing snow with a rope. A wire has the advantage of being stiffer and stronger than a rope. You’ll need a piece of wire long enough to cover a significant portion of your roof.
To remove snow with a wire:
- Keep hold of the ends of the wire.
- Throw the midsection of the wire on top of your roof.
- Move backward while holding onto both ends of the wire. This should knock snow off the roof.
Removing snow with wire works best if you have a pitched or lean-to roof.
How to Remove Snow on Different Style Roofs
How you tackle the issue of roof snow removal depends on the style of the roof. You likely won’t clear snow from a flat roof and a sloped roof in the same way.
If you can avoid it, you should never get up on your roof when it is covered in snow. The chances of slipping and falling go up exponentially when the roof is wet and slippery. Instead, use a roof rake, shovel, or other snow removal method to knock off as much snow as you can reach from the ground or from a ladder.
Low-sloping or flat roofs accommodate more snow and ice accumulation than sloped roofs, making them more prone to damage.
If flat roofs are accessible, it is possible to shovel them free of snow, although you’ll have to be careful not to damage the roof covering. Make sure not to get too close to the edge.
Otherwise, it might be best to hire a professional to clear your flat roof of snow instead.
Sloped roofs shed snow more easily than flat roofs. Because of the steep slopes, sloped roofs generally won’t need to be cleared of snow as much.
Single-story sloping roofs can be cleared of snow from the ground by using a roof rake.
Be wary and careful of climbing up on pitched roofs, as the steeper the roof, the more slippery and dangerous it is.
If your house has two or more stories, you shouldn’t attempt to remove the snow from your roof. The height of multiple stories is too dangerous. It’s best to call in a trained professional for the job.
Gutters and Downspouts
The surface of your roof isn’t the only thing that needs to be cleared – gutters and downspouts are a part of your roofing system, too. Like the rest of your roof, gutters and downspouts need to be free of snow and ice.
A lot of icicles appearing on the edge of your home may indicate that your gutter system is clogged and unable to function properly.
If needed, unclog your gutters of ice and any other debris so that the snowmelt can drain properly. Although if it isn’t necessary, you can leave your gutters alone and let the ice melt naturally on its own.
If you need to knock the ice out of your gutters, you could:
- Rinse them out with hot water. This will melt the ice and clear a path for melting ice water. However, the problem with pouring hot water into your gutter system is that it’s difficult to carry a bucket of hot water up a ladder and tip it into the gutter rails.
- Gently tap the gutters with a mallet. This will break up the ice stuck in the gutters.
- Heating cables. They can be placed in your gutters to prevent snow and ice from forming.
- Pantyhose filled with calcium chloride. Some homeowners fill pantyhose with calcium chloride and place it on the edge of their roof. However, this method is so slow to work that it is not very effective.
Using salt is advised against because when directly applied to your roof, salt melts the snow on your roof, but it also will discolor your roof and corrode your gutter system.
If you don’t want to have to worry about your gutters not working properly in a snowstorm, then check on your gutters year-round and make sure that they are clear of debris. Installing gutter guards is another way homeowners can prevent debris from clogging their gutter system during the year.
Tips for Snow Removal
Find an Assistant
For snow removal, you should have a partner. Some methods only work with two people, and you also want a person nearby in case there is an emergency or you need help. Ask a family member, friend, or neighbor for help clearing your roof.
Dress for the Snow
Always be prepared, especially in wintry conditions that pose health risks. Freezing temperatures can cause hypothermia, frostbite, and cardiac arrest.
Bundle up in whatever you need to stay warm or to protect yourself from falling snow and sharp ice:
- Protective headgear
Take intermittent breaks in-between the job as needed. You want to clear your roof of snow, but not at the expense of your health.
Watch for Weather
Before you start knocking snow from your roof, check the weather forecast. Storm clusters often form during the wintertime.
If your roof is sagging under the weight of several feet of snow and another storm is on the way, you should prioritize removing the snow from your roof before blizzards pile even more on top.
The more snow that accumulates on your roof, the more ice forms underneath. The slick ice underneath makes snow removal even more difficult and dangerous.
If warm weather is on the way, let the temperature increase to get rid of the snow for you.
Keep Your Roof in Good Condition
If you want your roof to prevail through heaps of snow, then keep your roof in good condition year-round. Stay on top of regular roof maintenance and watch out for signs of wear and tear in your roof.
Stay on the ground and don’t climb on your roof if you don’t have to. Climbing on a ladder in slippery, icy weather is dangerous. You could slip or fall, and it will be dangerous to add your weight to the already-heavy burden of snow on your roof.
Keep Away from Falling Snow
Be aware of your position and stay away enough from the edge of your roof and out of the way of falling snow.
Falling icicles are another hazard to watch out for, as they are sharp and dangerous. You may want to knock down sharp icicles first to protect yourself from falling ice.
Remove Objects in the Way
Before you start pulling down heaps of snow from your roof, move anything in the way of falling snow, such as plants, pots, or decorative pieces.
During a snowstorm, your car should be parked away from your roof even if you aren’t clearing snow off your roof. Eventually, the snow and icicles will melt. If big chunks of snow fall off your roof and onto your car, it could cause serious damage to your vehicle.
Don’t Scrape Your Roof
Trying to scrape snow off your roof could damage or scratch your roof. So leave behind a couple of inches of snow just to be on the safe side.
Additionally, a thin layer of snow insulates your home from cold air, keeping your house warmer and lowering your heating bill. Think of the snow as your home’s cozy blanket that keeps it warm.
Avoid Sharp Tools
Be careful what tools you select because sharp or abrasive tools can damage your roof. Sharp objects such as ice picks should never be used to remove snow unless you want to cause costly damage to your roof.
Avoid Salt and Harsh Chemicals
Harsh chemicals are a bane to your roof. Don’t use harsh chemicals since they can cause roof leaks or result in costly roof damage.
Don’t use salt either. Salt is a corrosive substance that will damage and discolor your roof.
Don’t Bring the Heat
Do not use electric heating tools to clear your roof. Tools such as hair dryers, heat guns, or open flame devices are a bad idea for removing snow from a roof. They can cause flooding, fires, or snow avalanches off your roof if the snow melts too quickly.
Be Mindful of Weak Areas
Some areas of your roof may be weaker and more vulnerable than others. Never pile more snow onto the weaker areas of a roof.
Watch Out for Power Lines
If your home is located next to power lines, watch out if you are using a long-handled tool like a roof rake. Metal is a good conductor of electricity, so it will shock you if you accidentally touch your pole to a power line. Be cautious if power lines are stretching overhead nearby.
Use a Safety Harness
Safety equipment such as harnesses, ropes, and lifelines are available for homeowners to secure themselves when up on a roof. These catch you if you slip or fall on your roof.
If you climb on your roof and walk around, be mindful of snow footprints. Wherever you step, it packs the snow tightly together. This packed snow can turn into ice. Once they turn into ice, this can result in ice dams forming.
Cart Away Snow
After you knock snow off your roof, it will leave piles of snow around the perimeter of your home. When all that snow melts, it could cause flooding, so you may want to blow it away with a snowblower or use a wheelbarrow to cart all the extra snow away.
When in Doubt, Hire It Out
If you are unsure or uncomfortable about DIY snow removal or if you have back problems or heart conditions, then hire a professional roofer for the job. Don’t take unnecessary risks. Roofs are dangerous, and the slippery, icy conditions make them more dangerous.
Is It OK to Leave Snow on a Roof?
While there’s no need to worry about light dustings or a moderate amount of snow, too much snowfall poses the danger of causing a cave-in or leaks.
How much snow your roof can support depends on factors such as the type of roofing material, the age of your roof, whether your roof has multiple layers or has been reroofed, and how good of a condition your roof is in.
Generally, if your roof has more than a foot of snow on top, it needs to be removed. Most buildings can sustain 20 pounds per square foot. Some may be able to sustain up to 40 pounds. You can calculate the approximate weight of the snow on your roof.
Some signs that mean you need to clear your roof ASAP are:
- Interior doors or windows are difficult to open and close. If the doors inside your home are getting stuck or difficult to open and close, it means that the snow’s weight is warping the roof downward.
- Major roof leaks or water on the ceiling.
- Sagging ceiling.
You should evacuate your house right away if you see any of these signs:
- Cracks forming in the drywall and plaster around doors and windows. It means the weight of snow is heavy and needs to be removed right away.
- Creaking roof. If you start hearing creaking, cracking, or popping sounds, it means your roof is about to break.
- Bowing roof. If your roof starts to sag, the weight of the snow or ice is too much for the roof to handle.
The thickness and type of snow play a big role in determining how harmful the snow is to your roof. Wet snow is the worst kind of snow for roofs, as wet snow weighs about seven times more than dry snow.
Ice dams occur when the snow on a roof melts and trickles down only to refreeze at the edge of the roof. Once ice dams form, they prevent melting snow from draining off the roof, blocking the drainage system and trapping a lot of ice and snow on your roof.
Lots of icicles on the edge of your roof are often a sign of an ice dam.
Some common causes of ice dams:
- Inadequate attic insulation. If your attic’s insulation is old, damaged, or improperly installed, it could cause ice dams. If your home has experienced a lot of ice dams, it may be a sign that your attic insulation needs to be replaced.
- Poor ventilation. Ice dams form when the roof heats up in the middle but is cold around the edges. The goal of ventilation is to keep the roof surface at the same temperature throughout, which prevents ice dams.
- Clogged gutters. Keep your gutters unclogged, especially if there is an incoming snowstorm. Leaves, sticks, bird nests, and other kinds of debris can get stuck in the gutters or downspouts, and clogged gutters are prone to develop ice dams.
- Rooftop snow removal. Keeping your roof free of snow reduces the likelihood of your roof forming an ice dam.
FAQ About Removing Snow from Your Roof
A mixture of water and vinegar can remove snow and ice. Vinegar is acidic, so if it is not properly diluted, vinegar can damage a roof.
Snow and ice melt at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius.
Slate roofs and metal roofs are the best types of roofs for snow. However, asphalt shingles hold up well in snowy conditions and are a cheaper and more affordable option.
Want to Hire a Professional?
From roof rakes to snowblowers, there are several different ways you can knock the snow down from your roof.
However, getting the snow off of your roof is a difficult, dangerous task. If snow removal is a job that you’d rather leave in the hands of a professional, we can help. Find a snow removal company to clear your roof.
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