Winter Roofing – What to Look Out For

snow accumulation on a residential roof in Lexington Kentucky

Fortunately, so far, snow and ice accumulation have been mild and/or not non-existent throughout most of Kentucky this year. As we all know, snowfall and ice storms are very common and unpredictable throughout the bluegrass and can happen seemingly out of nowhere. In order to protect the roof of your home against the possibility of heavy snow and ice, it is recommended that we anticipate the risks brought on by these conditions, and always be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

When it comes to preparing your roof, the first step is to consider where and how snow and ice buildup will occur, and how this will affect its overall integrity. Snow and ice accumulation is heavy and adds tremendous strain if left unremoved. Make note of all trouble areas and develop an action plan that will keep you ahead of mother nature.


As a standard, residential roofs should be able to support 20 pounds of snow per square foot before they begin to stress. Pitched roofs, like the ones on most homes and residential properties, are designed to channel snowmelt into an external gutter system. A roofing section with a gradual slope will accumulate snow more so than a roof with a steep slope, and therefore usually have more long-term snow buildup. The increased snow and ice build-up will cause gutters to not drain properly, causing them to overflow, spilling sometimes large amounts of water into soffits and even back into the home.

A clean and well-mounted gutter system is very important during the winter season, as it allows for quick drainage and effective runoff management. If your gutters are clogged with leaves they may become too heavy with ice and begin to pull away and become unsecured from your roof. This is a major hazard that could lead to serious injury or property damage if they are dislodged by heavy winds or other factors.


Flat and low-pitched roofs face a greater risk during the winter season, as heavy snow and ice accumulation can easily cause the entire structure to buckle. These types of roofs are mostly found on commercial buildings and apartment complexes, opening up many liability concerns should their integrity become compromised. Unlike residential properties, most commercial buildings possess rooftop heating and ventilation systems which may not perform as needed if snow buildup is uncontrolled. To ensure your commercial building remains safe and operational, you should pre-schedule snow removal after any winter storm and promptly before any more severe weather hits.


icicles hanging from a gutter of a house.

Both homeowners and commercial property managers should know how to differentiate between different types of snowfall, as each type of snow has different weight distributions and will affect your roof differently. Generally speaking, there are three categories to consider when evaluating rooftop accumulation:

  • Fresh snow: This snow is fluffy and powdery in consistency, and is most common during and/or immediately following a snowstorm. 10 – 12 inches of fresh snow is about equal to one inch of water, making any buildup over 4 feet a risk to your roof’s overall structure.
  • Packed snow: If left uncleared, fresh snow can quickly become denser as a result of low temperatures and moisture in the air. 3 – 5 inches of packed snow is about equal to one inch of water, making any buildup over 2 feet a risk to your roof’s overall structure.
  • Ice: Following periods of fluctuating temperature or near-freezing rain, both fresh and packed snow may turn into a heavy sheet of ice. 1 inch of ice is about equal to 1 inch of water, making any buildup over 4 inches a risk to your roof’s overall structure.

Once you understand the basic types of winter accumulation and their potential for damaging your roofing structure, you’ll be better equipped to monitor and prevent structural damage to your property. Rooftop snow removal is dangerous so we recommend playing it safe at all times. Whenever possible, you should seek professional assistance before climbing on your roof, however for DIYers, and those without access to a roofing professional, here are four helpful tips for managing snow and ice on your roof:


The best way to handle heavy snowfall is to take a proactive approach. Before the snow starts to fall, you should already be aware of your roof’s weaknesses and have a plan in place for monitoring these areas, as they will most likely be the areas that will experience issues first. This is one reason why roof inspections are a must, they will locate the trouble areas before the weather reveals them for you. Be sure to inspect water runoff areas, flashings, boots, and other seals, as well as to look for compromised gutters, shingles, and or warped or sagging rooflines as these problems will grow more severe as the season rolls on.


Even if your roof is structurally sound, it’s important to reevaluate its condition after every snowfall and thaw. Anything can happen during a heavy snowstorm, such as falling debris or dislodged shingle which can lead to more serious problems in the future. During your inspection, keep an eye out for these common warning signs:

  • Sagging and/or warping roof deck
  • Moderate to severe leaks in the attic or living areas
  • Cracked or split wood support beams
  • Water damage or stress cracks in your walls or ceiling
  • Doors that stick or are difficult to close
  • Bent or warped utility pipes

While these signs may not necessarily point to a significant issue, it’s very important not to ignore them until the root cause of the issue is identified. Don’t wait for the snow to melt before fixing the issue.


professional roofers removing snow from a commercial rooftop.

While pitched roofs can handle prolonged snowfall more effectively than flat roofs, the steeper slope makes clearing snow and ice a lot more difficult and dangerous. Even commercial property owners with flat roofing structures should take precautions when removing excess accumulation as the risk of slip and fall-related incidents become greatly increased. Homeowners should be particularly cautious as well and consider using a safety harness before attempting to scale pitched roofs. Consider these safety tips before you venture out into the cold:

  • Start at the edges first and then work your way up the roof
  • Use a snow rake and avoid climbing a ladder whenever possible
  • Remove the majority portion of the snow but don’t scrape it clean
  • Don’t use metal tools, as they can damage your roof
  • Clear icicles hanging over doorways and walkways
  • Wear protective headgear and goggles to avoid injury
  • Always have someone there to assist you with snow removal
  • Keep gutters and drains free of ice, snow, and other debris
  • Shovel snow away from the building when clearing flat roofs


If you believe your roof may be at risk, do not hesitate to call in a certified roofing contractor. Snow removal comes with substantial risks, both for your health and the well-being of your property. Roofing contractors are professionally trained to inspect and recognize the signs of roofing problems before they occur.  Taking a proactive approach to inspecting and maintaining your roof can save you lots of time and money in the future.

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