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How to prevent and deal with ice on your roof

We may not control what Old Man Winter throws our way, but we can prepare to deal with the most treacherous element of the season: ice. While the slippery stuff can make sidewalks and driveways dangerous around our homes, the roof often is overlooked when it comes to ice coverage and potential damage.

Ice forms on roofs the same way it forms in other places: moisture and low temperatures combine to create a frozen coating. The trouble is, we often do not see the ice because of a home’s architecture or because it takes the form of “black ice,” which is practically invisible. Left unaddressed, ice can damage the roof and permanently weaken the structure.

How does ice happen?

Naturally, ice forms when water is exposed to temperatures below 32 degrees. While it may seem that we don’t have much control over such circumstances, there are several things we can do to reduce the initial formation.

Cold temperatures don’t only come from outside. Homes give off heat from roof surfaces, vents and chimneys as warm air inside rises and pushes outward. If ice is forming on the roof, the roof may already be compromised and not maintain heat as it should. Unless our region has extended frigid temps, a home’s warmth should keep the roof from forming ice.

In terms of water, moisture should not be lingering on your roof. Roofs are designed to shed water, most often through gutters and downspouts. Many factors can prevent roofs from routinely drying out, from clogged gutter systems and heavily shaded areas to dips or weak spots in the roofing materials. With that said, these issues are difficult to spot from the ground.

Preventing ice on the roof

Though winter has begun, you can still safely inspect your roof system to look for potential problems on the outside and inside. Look for weakened seals, possible rot, clogged gutters, debris and places air could be improperly escaping from your home. These could be minor issues in the summer months but significant problems in the winter.

If you’re not able to inspect your roof thoroughly, keep an eye out for telltale signs such as icicles hanging down or spots on the roof that always look shiny or icy. “Ice dams” form when the heat from the house melts rooftop ice that melts briefly, travels downward then refreezes because of frozen water in gutters. As a result, ice continues to build and can damage the gutter system. If you observe ice, there are some steps you can take.

  • Install heated cables along the roof’s edge to ensure ice doesn’t form.
  • Pull snow off using a metal rake.
  • Use ice melt made for your roofing material. You can fill old pantyhose with ice melt for slower release.
  • Add insulation in the attic if possible.

Roofing systems can be complicated and are often beyond the reach of the typical DIY-er. Consider bringing in a trusted contractor to assess the home and add an annual inspection as part of your regular home maintenance.

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