Shingle Bells: How to Winter-Proof your Roof

The winter of 2020 caused $1.1 billion in insured homeowner claims. A considerable portion of the claims went to roof damages.

As the literal cover of your home, the roof is what protects the structure from intense daylight, torrential rain, and heavy weather conditions. But winter is when it faces its most daunting task, when it has to endure snow, ice, and even the occasional hail.

How Winter Can Damage your Roof

Snow buildup

An accumulated pile of snow weighs 1.25 lbs per inch of depth. That’s roughly 20 lbs per cubic foot. The larger the surface area of your roof, the more snow buildup it attracts. An extended pileup of snow can greatly stress your roof’s load bearing capacity. 

Even if the roof holds up, the intense load can be transmitted to other parts of the house, manifesting in cracks in doors and windows, or ceilings and doorframes that bow or bend under the pressure.

 

Melting snow

A thaw caused by sudden break in the weather or rising heat from the household can cause the accumulated snow to melt. The water can seep through the cracks, or stay on the roof and freeze again to become ice.

 

Ice dams

Melting snow can also freeze again in gutters and eaves, forming ice dams. These act as a barrier against proper drainage, which can lead to strain on the eaves and even gutter collapse.

 

Thaw and freeze cycles

Extreme swings in temperature can cause roofing materials to expand and contract repeatedly. While most roofs are designed to withstand these cycles, severe temperature changes such as a snowstorm may exceed their design parameters and greatly shorten the roofing lifespan. 

 

Freezing rain

Driving rain during a winter storm can carry as much impact damage as severe wind. They can exacerbate existing cracks, and when they freeze they become ice that covers every roof surface, exposing the roof to expansion damage when it melts.

 

Falling objects

Falling twigs, branches and even entire trees can crash into the roof, carrying even more kinetic damage thanks to the snow that has piled up on them.

 

High winds

Blizzard winds reach at least 35 mph. While that may not sound like much, they can carry on for sustained periods, lasting several hours, and tear off loose shingles, flashing, and nearby ground objects. 

 

Hail

According to the Insurance Information Institute, hail damage accounts for between $8-14 billion in insurance claims annually. And if you think that hail is a rare occurrence, think again: the NOAA database logged over 4,600 major hail storms in 2020 alone. 

 

Your Roof Inspection Checklist

 

Shingles

Check for missing shingles. Any missing pieces should be replaced immediately.

Next, check for loose shingles. A loose piece could be repaired with a pry bar and galvanized roofing nails.  For asphalt shingles, you will need to use asphalt roofing cement.

Examine the rest for signs of damage. These can be indicated by:

  • Torn surfaces
  • Curling
  • Bruising or indentations

If a piece looks suspect, don’t hesitate to replace it. A damaged shingle can lead to a domino effect, impacting neighboring shingles and turning a single localized weak point into a wider damaged area.

 

Flashing

These are the parts that secure the connections around vents, chimneys, and gaps between roof sections. A loose or damaged flashing can allow water or ice to seep in and weaken the roof’s integrity, along with openings like chimneys.

There are 5 types of flashing:

  • Valley flashing – The most common type, these are metal strips that look like an inverted T. They are used in places where two roofing planes meet.
  • Continuous flashing – These can be seen in areas where the roof meets the wall or dormer.
  • Step flashing – These types are used on sloped roofs, and follow the overlap in asphalt shingles.
  • Vent pipe flashing – Also known as “rubber boots”, these cone-shaped rubber pieces protect the base of vent piping.
  • Drip edges – These look like an inverted L and stop rainwater from going back to the roof deck. They are commonly found in roof edges.

While flashing inspection is best done by a professional contractor, you can nonetheless look for obvious damage, such as misalignments, cracks, dents or missing pieces. For rubber flashing, look for torn or deformed rubber.

 

Chimney

Masonry chimneys

Inspect the crown for cracking and deterioration. A damaged crown can lead to water intrusion.

Look for missing or damaged bricks, which can weaken the whole chimney structure.

Check the mortar between the bricks for cracked or peeling areas.

Wood chimneys

Inspect the wood structure for signs of cracking or rotting, since they are more vulnerable to moisture intrusion.

If the chimney has cladding, check the siding to see if it needs to be caulked at the ends.

Metal top chimney chases

Check if the top slopes away from the chimney center, to prevent water pooling.

Look for denting, cracking, or misalignment.

To check its condition, dump a gallon or 2 of water and see if the water pools, drips or leaks into the fireplace.

As for prepping the fireplace itself, check out our Fireplace Preparation Guide for winter. 

 

Gutters

Remove fall debris

Start from downspout. Check for dirt, leaves and other debris that may have collected at the bottom.

Work your way up. Check the piping, then finally the gutters themselves.

Gutter clearing

Flush out the gutter with a garden hose. This helps soften and rinse out stubborn debris that may cling to the sidewalls.

At the same time, spot for water leaks. If you notice a tiny crack or hole, it can be repaired with a tube of caulk.

Tightening

Over time, gutters may get loose or sag away from the side support, due to the elements, and weight of snow, leaves and debris that collect each season.

Most gutters are connected to the fascia board with a spike every 2 feet. Use a hammer to gently tap the spikes back to the board, to tighten the gutter support.

 

When to seek professional service

Not all gutter issues can be repaired by DIY solutions. If you spot any of these problems, get a contractor to do it for you:

  • Large cracks or holes that may not be repaired by caulking
  • Cracked or rotted fascia boards, which will need to be replaced to ensure gutter support
  • Gutters that are more than 20 years old
  • Unreachable gutter spots
  • Gutter guard installation. You can get an idea of the different types and installation cost here. 

 

Skylights

Skylights can last for 18-20 years with proper maintenance. However, even minor damage in one can lead to costly repairs, since it can impact the attic or interior foundations.

Check the glass panes for signs of damage such cracks. Even deep scratches can be exacerbated by falling snow and driving rain.

Look at the integrity of the caulking and roofing cement surrounding the skylight.

For wooden skylight frames, examine the wood for signs of cracking or rotting. Mold growth is an indication of moisture intrusion.

After inspection, pour water on the skylight and around it, to see if the water penetrates.

 

For more cold weather preparation tips, check out our 20-Point Winter Prep Checklist for your home.

Mickey Luongo

Mickey is the resident heating and air conditioning expert with over 15 years of experience in the industry.

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