Here in Wyoming, it’s never too early to start planning for winter. Snowy rooftops are a common sight as early as October and our customers often ask us what snow means for the health of their roof.
While snow can put a strain on your roof if the load is too heavy, a snow-covered roof isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The real danger comes when snow starts to melt, which can lead to potentially serious ice dams. Here’s what you need to know about snow on your roof, ice dams, and how to prevent them.
Is Snow On Your Roof Good or Bad?
Snow on your roof isn’t always a bad thing. If you live in a part of the country where frequent, heavy snowfall is the norm, then your roof should be built to take the weight. A typical roof is meant to hold up to 20 pounds of snow per square foot, which usually means about two feet of heavy, wet snow or four feet of light, fluffy snow.
Basically, if you see snow on your roof, it means your roof is doing its job. What you don’t want to see is snow melting off your roof on days when the outdoor temperature is below freezing. This means heat is escaping your house through the roof, which can spell trouble.
What Are Ice Dams?
An ice dam is a solid ridge of ice which forms along the edges of your roof, just above the gutters. They form when heat escaping through your roof causes snow to melt, and the runoff then re-freezes on the lower, colder part of the roof. Ice dams are a sign you need more attic insulation, and they can potentially pose a serious risk to your home.
Depending on the severity, ice dams can lead to all kinds of damage. Water freezing on your roof can work its way underneath the shingles, loosen them, and cause them to crack. The weight of ice dams can also tear your gutters off, which is bad for your house and dangerous to anyone who might be walking below.
The most common and serious problem caused by ice dams is leakage. When an ice dam forms, it prevents additional snow melt from draining off your roof properly. This water backs up behind the ice dam, where it will either freeze and enlarge the dam, or begin to penetrate the roof. Ice dams are a leading cause of winter roof leaks, and in many cases the damage is so severe the entire roof may need to be replaced.
How to Prevent Roof Ice Dams
Fixing an ice dam once it forms isn’t easy, and the best option is to prevent them from forming to begin with. Preventing ice dams is simple in principle—keep your entire roof a uniform temperature—but can be difficult in practice. Improving ventilation can help, as can sealing any potential air leaks which might be warming the underside of the roof.
In most homes, however, the root cause of ice dams is poor attic insulation, and the best thing you can do to prevent them is to add insulation. Insulating your attic floor keeps heat inside where it belongs. It stops the cycle of thawing and freezing that can create ice dams. The question, for many homeowners, is how do you know if you have enough insulation?
You may have no idea how much insulation you have in your attic, or how effective it is. This is especially the case if you live in an older home. Insulation does break down over time, and older insulation is far less efficient than the insulation we use today. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t really think much about it until an ice dam forms, and by then it may be too late.
Have Your Insulation Inspected
The first and most important step you should take is to have your attic insulation inspected. An insulation professional with a trained eye can let you know what the R-value of your current insulation is, and whether you have the recommended amount of insulation for your climate. They can let you know if your old insulation has outlived its effectiveness, and make recommendations for fixing the problem.
Don’t wait until damaging ice dams form before you have your attic inspected! Late summer and early fall are the perfect times to make sure your home is ready to get through the cold, snowy winter months ahead.
Here at Wyoming Roofing, we’ve been helping all our friends and neighbors keep their homes safe in Sheridan, WY and the surrounding areas for years. Contact us today to learn more about how insulation can protect your home from dangerous ice dams.