The last winter was epic in its generation of ice and snow storms. Ice and snow accumulations bring the potential for headaches beyond those associated with white-knuckle driving: it can also damage a home’s roof and gutters.
Damage from ice and snow can occur for two reasons. The first is that the sheer weight of snow can dislodge gutters from a building. Several inches of snow on a fairly flat roof can also carry enough weight to collapse the roof. A roof that is under stress can make the doors and windows of the house difficult to open, or the homeowner will hear popping or creaking noises.
The second, and more prevalent, cause of roof and gutter damage is the formation of ice dams. An ice dam is created when heat emanating from a home’s attic melts snow on the roof, which then refreezes after it trickles into the gutters. The ice buildup prevents melt water from flowing through the gutters and out the downspouts. Ice dams can cause melt water to back up and go under the roof’s shingles, that leads to leaks and water damage to the roof, fascia and soffit. An ice dam can also cause water to spill over the side of the gutter and soak into the ground next to the home’s foundation. In turn, this leads to foundation damage or water seeping into the basement or crawlspace.
Excessive snow on the roof is easily removed using a roof rake. This tool is available at most hardware stores. It is normally made of lightweight aluminum, has a telescoping handle and allows the homeowner to stand on the ground and pull snow off the roof. Removing excess snow is one way to prevent ice dams as well.
There are three more ways a homeowner can do to prevent ice dams. First the home should have good attic insulation. A well insulated attic prevents heat loss that leads to the formation of ice dams. Attic ventilation should also be considered, as a poorly ventilated attic is likely to trap ambient heat. Second, cleaning leaves and other debris out of guttering in the fall keeps the paths open for water to flow freely. Third, in areas where heavy snows are routine, adding heating cables to the roof prevents the buildup of snow and keeps water from refreezing in the gutters. Heating cables are only appropriate for roofs made of noncombustible tab shingles and inclined roofs, however.
Preventive measures may not be part of a homeowner’s routine in areas that are normally snow-free. Once the snow and ice are gone, be sure to inspect the roof and guttering for any damage it may have left behind.