The Impact of Winter on Your Roof: How to Keep Your Roof Safe and Sound

Winter’s icy grip exposes roofs to some unique structural threats that require special maintenance and protection measures. From heavy snow loads to ice dams and freeze/thaw contractions, Old Man Winter can wreak havoc on roofing materials. But with diligent care and preparation before the cold hits, you can help your roof stand strong in the face of winter’s worst. Take a look at some of the most common winter roofing issues and practical tips that will help you defend your roof.

The Accumulated Weight of Snow and Ice

preparing roof for winter
Is your roof ready for the weather that’s coming?

As beautiful as a fresh blanket of fluffy snow appears, it also comes with the potential for immense weight and pressure on home roofs. Factors like snow moisture content, drifting, and sliding ranges cause actual snow loads to vary dramatically. But under a heavy snow season, roofs may have to handle 30 pounds per square foot or more. Such tremendous cumulative loads can overload a roof’s structural capacity, causing collapse or permanent deformities. Preparing for winter involves inspecting roof framing from the attic to confirm adequacy for expected snow loads in your geographic region. Structural upgrades like additional rafters may be warranted on older roofs.

During winter, be diligent about clearing snow off vulnerable areas prone to drifting and sliding accumulations, like valleys, dormers, and lower roof sections. Use a plastic snow rake with an extendable handle to pull snow loads off the roof safely from the ground. Clear snow in narrow horizontal bands starting from roof edges, working systematically across the entire structure. Avoid piling snow loads at the structure’s base. Carefully monitor snow depth after major storms, repeating the removal process before loads grow excessive. Quick responses help prevent overburdening small areas.

The Destructive Threat of Ice Dams

One winter phenomenon feared by homeowners is ice dam formation, which can cause water infiltration and decay even on the best-built roofs. Ice dams form at unheated roof overhangs when accumulated snow melts on sun-warmed sections further up the roof plane. The meltwater runs downslope under the snow blanket and refreezes at consistently cold eave areas, causing a long dam of ice parallel to and several feet up from the gutter line.  More melting snow builds up behind this icy barrier, backs up, and can penetrate under shingles. The results are dark stains on interior ceilings, moisture-caused decays of sheathing and rafters, insulation damage, and eventual expensive repairs.

Preventing ice dams begins with proper insulation and ventilation in attic spaces to minimize melting on the roof surface. Ensure insulation meets your climate zone specification and properly air seal any gaps. Baffles along eaves maintain airflow over the attic floor right to the roof edge. Proper attic ventilation removes warm household air before it can warm shingles. As extra protection against ice dams, install a self-adhering waterproof membrane beneath shingles along eaves and valleys. Avoid attempting to melt or chip ice dams manually – this often damages shingles. If dams emerge despite preventions, remove snow/ice gently near roof edges to encourage drainage.

Roof Leaks and Seepage Problems

Beyond ice dam formation, winter conditions initiate other leakage routes as well. Freeze/thaw cycles open tiny fissures along worn roof flashing, seals, and joints. Prolonged winter rains or excessive melting leads to saturation and water incursion through vulnerable areas. Long periods under snow loads deform shingles over time, hampering proper overlap and seal integrity. Plus, decaying organisms thrive in damp winter conditions, compromising wood structure strength. Any breaches or weaknesses in the roof system become more problematic when winter moisture is added to the mix.

Addressing leaks promptly before further deterioration occurs is imperative. Often evidence is subtle at first – slight dampness on ceilings or around chimneys. Use moisture meters in suspect areas to check for saturation. Thermal imaging cameras can help pinpoint exact leak sites as well. Then, call in roofing specialists to identify causes and implement repairs before major damage happens. Blocked gutters strain other roof components, so keep them clear. And if major portions need replacement, don’t delay for drier spring weather if temporary tarps can protect while work proceeds. Letting problems linger always magnifies costs and necessary repairs over time.

Beware Thermal Expansion Issues

solar panels on roof
It’s worth taking the time to prepare your roof for the seasonal changes ahead.

Even solid, watertight roofs experience strains from winter’s temperature swings. Asphalt shingles and other roofing materials expand and contract with temperature changes. On sunny winter days, roof structures heat and grow subtly wider, then shrink back as temperatures plummet after dark. These thermal movements normally occur gradually without incident. But rapid temperature shifts — common during winter —heighten strains. Solar heat quickly warms dark shingles against very cold ambient conditions, causing stressed expansion and contraction. Over time such stresses fracture rigid materials.

Prepping roofs for thermal swings involves inspecting for present cracks or checks in shingles, flashing seals, and roof joints. Bind cracked elements with mastic to prevent worsening. Attach loose gutters and trim firmly to allow movement without separation. Use plastic nails allowing nail heads to slide within oversized holes without cracking brittle shingles during expansion. In snowy areas, consider lighter-hued shingles that absorb less warmth from sunlight. When additions or major repairs are needed, choose flexible membranes or materials with elastic properties like rubberized asphalt shingles. Such products withstand winter-induced expansions better long term.


By understanding winter’s impacts on roofs and taking sound preventative measures, homeowners can sidestep much seasonal damage. Adjust maintenance schedules to address cold-weather vulnerabilities before they cause harm. With diligent monitoring and prompt response to any emerging problems before they compound roof issues, you can rest easy knowing your roof stays protected regardless of winter’s wrath.

If you’re not sure that your roof is winter-ready, or if you know you need help with it, the roofing experts at Lednor Home Solutions are ready to help. With the skill and experience of working on many roofs just like yours, they’ll understand what your roof needs to get ready for winter. Contact Lednor Home Solutions to schedule a free estimate.

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