How to take care of your roof in inclement weather

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published January 22, 2014

If you thought scraping ice off your car in 6-degree weather was terrible, imagine discovering your attic full of water or even your roof completely collapsed.

This is a reality that occurs to many people and their homes due to drastic winter weather. Recent weather patterns have left individuals to wrap themselves in three-layered outfits to stay warm, waiting for their cars to heat up before swerving around potholes on busy roads.

And, often, roofs and resulting damage may become an afterthought.

When the combination of snow and below-freezing temperatures occurs, roofs are prone to a condition called ice damming. Basically, a buildup occurs on the eave of the roof with snow and ice, and with icicles hanging down, it looks like an accumulation. It becomes a problem because leaks can form from sunlight melting snow closer to the roof’s surface and causing it to flow downward.

The edge of a roof is colder than the interior of the roof, and it refreezes at the edge over time — several days or weeks — becoming an ice dam.

“In cold weather areas, (ice dams are) always a concern, so in terms of preventing roof collapse, we talk about most areas having roofs that are designed to hold 20 pounds per square foot (which is in line with the average in metro Detroit),” said Remington Brown, a senior engineering manager at the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS). “In terms of fresh snow, you have about 4 feet of snow, and if it’s older snow, then it drops to about 2 feet (to equal 20 pounds per square foot). If you have more than four feet of snow, you need to take action.”

Brown mentioned that heat sources, like lights and mechanical equipment in an attic, will cause snow to melt at a faster rate and form dams more quickly.

The IBHS offers weather guidance for home and business owners for a more proactive approach, but damage can occur even if suggestions are heeded. It is important for homeowners to understand the different methods that can lead to keeping their roofs and homes in pristine shape.

The way 2014 started weatherwise, local companies have seen an influx in calls for issues that include roof damage and, subsequently, home damage.

Nick Ferrazza owns N-E Home Improvement in Roseville. He said that ice damming has been a popular complaint.

“You get the snow towards the peak thawing out, and it turns toward the bottom edge,” Ferrazza said. “Gutters fill up, and it turns into a block of ice, and eventually, it’ll end up leaking into the house.”

He said that the way roofs are built nowadays as opposed to more than a decade ago, they are more prepared to handle elements like snow and ice. He also said that raking snow off the roof is an action he takes for his own house, further preventing snow to build up, thaw and turn into ice that infiltrates gutters and may leak into someone’s house.

“The way newer roofs are installed and with city codes, you are supposed to have six inches of shingles anyhow,” Ferrazza said. “You are better off with a newer roof because 15-20 years ago, they were installed differently. Twenty years ago, a roof didn’t have an ice shield — just a felt underlayment. The ice shield sticks right to your roof and is like a solid sheet of membrane across your lower edge.

“Calcium chloride can be used on the edge of the roof, or magnesium chloride. Rock salt is not good, because it could mess up the shingles. Calcium chloride speeds up the (thawing) process.”

Chuck Swicegood, the owner of CAS Home Improvement in Redford Township, said that levels of roof damage come in spurts. The goal is to not let snow build up.

“The key to it is getting the first 3 feet of snow off the perimeter of the roof,” Swicegood said. “We did see quite a bit of it, especially with the warm-up. Ice builds up off the edge, and it has nowhere to go except in the house.”

Sometimes, the problem is too big for the average homeowner, so Swicegood recommends turning to someone more knowledgeable to protect the house’s interior and exterior.

“Typically, the problems you get with homeowners is with older roofs, so a modern up-to-date roofing system is great,” Swicegood said. “When we get heavy snowfalls, it is good to have a professional clean off snow. People typically wait until you have water coming in and combat ice damming.

“An aluminum pole that scrapes off the first 3 feet of snow (is helpful). I always recommend to hire a professional because it’s a dangerous procedure.”