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How to Keep Your Roof Safe This Winter

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You trust your roof to keep you safe from the elements all year long. And your roof usually delivers. It protects you from the spring rains, the beating summer sun, and the chilly autumn winds. But your roof does its hardest job in the winter, keeping you safe from the rain, the cold, and, in many places, the snow. If you’ve maintained your roof well throughout the year, it should have no trouble keeping you safe all winter long. But there are a few unique challenges your roof has to deal with in the winter. So while your roof is keeping you safe, you also need to know how to keep your roof safe this winter.

How to Keep Your Roof Safe This Winter [infographic]

Winter Sun and Cold

We often think of winter as a time of rain and snow. But that’s not all your roof has to deal with. On clear and cold winter days, your roof takes a one-two punch of bright sun and bitter cold.

The sun can affect your roof even when it’s not hot. Asphalt shingle roofs are particularly vulnerable. Whether or not it feels hot, the sun is constantly radiating ultraviolet light. UV rays from the sun, even during the winter, can slowly break down the asphalt in asphalt shingles. Asphalt shingles are covered with small, gravel-like granules to defend against deterioration from UV rays. The granules reflect the UV rays and protect the asphalt shingle beneath. But they only work when they’re there. Regular aging and wear to your roof can knock off some of the protective granules.

The other half of the one-two punch on clear winter days is the bitter cold. It might seem counterintuitive, but in the winter, cloudy days are usually warmer. The cloud cover holds in what little heat comes from the sun. But clear days can be biting cold, and that affects your roof. Asphalt shingles are made to withstand a wide range of temperatures. However, as the temperature drops, asphalt hardens and becomes more brittle. That leaves it susceptible to cracking or pieces breaking off. A fallen branch, a leaping squirrel, or even just a strong wind gust can snap or break apart a brittle asphalt shingle.

Winter Storms

Winter storms pose a significant risk to your roof. A roof that is in good condition should be able to stand up to wind, rain, and snow. But even the healthiest roof can be damaged by flying or falling debris from a winter storm. As storm winds blow, branches and other debris can be knocked onto the roof. If a tree near the roof becomes iced over, it could droop and scrape against the roof. Either way, branches and other debris that impact your roof can knock off those precious protective granules. Once the granules have been stripped away, your shingles are exposed to harmful UV rays that can quickly eat away at the asphalt.

Protecting Your Roof from UV Rays

To prevent rapid deterioration of the asphalt, you need to preserve the granules on your asphalt shingles. Over time, granules can wear away. Acute damage from falling debris can also knock loose large areas of protective granules. To keep your roof from succumbing to the sun, you need to ensure that the asphalt is not exposed.

After any storm, check your roof for debris. If you notice fallen branches or other mid to large-sized debris, it needs to be cleared away. In addition to the damage of the initial impact, debris that stays on your roof can cause residual damage. Branches, trash, or anything else that sits on your roof can be blown around on a windy day. The blowing debris scrapes against the shingles and can knock loose more granules.

After a storm, or any time debris lands on your roof, safety should be your top priority. Never climb up onto a roof that is wet or icy. Never place a ladder on icy or unstable ground. And if you don’t feel confident and comfortable climbing up to your roof, don’t do it. Instead, contact a reliable roofer like one of these TrustDALE certified roofers. They can inspect your roof at no charge, and tell you exactly what needs to be done to repair it.

Ice Dams

If you live in a cold climate where snow accumulates on your roof, you need to be aware of the danger of ice dams. An ice dam is a thick layer of ice that forms at the bottom edge of your roof. The layer of ice prevents water and melting snow from draining, leaving your roof exposed to severe water damage.

An ice dam can only form when a roof is covered in snow, and when the temperature of the upper part of the roof is higher than the lower edge. The temperature difference is usually the result of poor attic ventilation. When an attic is not adequately sealed off from the living space below and doesn’t have sufficient ventilation, warm air can collect in the attic. The warm air warms up the upper part of the roof. The warm roof melts the bottom layer of snow, sending water trickling down toward the exposed edge of the roof. When the water hits the cold, exposed edge of the roof, it refreezes. As more water trickles down and freezes, an ice barrier slowly builds up. When the barrier is large enough to keep water from passing, we call it an ice dam.

The danger of an ice dam comes from the water that builds up behind it. Nothing is more damaging to a roof than standing water. In the case of an ice dam, water can pool on the roof, unseen under a blanket of snow. The water can rot the roof or slowly seep through, causing leaks and other damage.

Protecting Your Roof from Ice Dams

The best way to keep ice dams from forming on your roof is to make sure that your attic is not collecting warm air. Before the weather turns cold and you start heating your home, check the insulation between your attic and living space. Your attic should be completely sealed off, with almost no air entering from the living space below.

In addition to attic insulation, check for adequate ventilation. A reliable TrustDALE certified roofer can inspect your roof and attic to make sure that the ventilation is up to code. There should be enough airflow to bring in cold air from outside and circulate out any warm air. Ideally, the temperature in your attic should be very near the temperature outdoors.

Some homeowners prefer to keep their attics climate-controlled. Some use their attic as living space or for temperature-sensitive storage. If you plan to heat your attic, make sure that there is plenty of insulation between the attic and the roof. The goal is zero heat transfer from the attic to the exterior of the roof.

What to Do In Case of an Ice Dam

If an ice dam has already formed, your options are limited. Some online information suggests chipping away at the ice dam. However, we recommend against that approach. If you are chipping away at a block of ice with a sharp metal object, you run a very real risk of damaging your roof in the process.

Instead, your best option is to melt the ice. The easiest way to do that is to use a cheap and common de-icing product like rock salt. These products are readily available at home improvement stores and even many supermarkets. If you live in a snowy area, you may even have some on hand. Sprinkle it over the ice dam and let it do its work. You may need to reapply a few times if the ice is thick.

Once the ice is melted, use a snow rake to remove the built-up snow from your roof. If there’s no snow, there’s no fuel for a new ice dam.

To prevent the ice dam from re-forming, call a reliable TrustDALE certified roofer to inspect your attic and repair the air leaks that are causing the roof to heat up.

Whatever the season, if you have any reason to fear damage to your roof, call a TrustDALE certified roofer. They can usually inspect your roof for free and recommend any necessary repairs.