As fall draws to a close, you’ve likely finished all the chores Canadians typically complete to help prepare their homes for a comfortable winter. Your pool has been drained, your barbecue is covered and your gutters are clear. Once the winter weather arrives, however, how can you tell if there are roof problems brewing under a moderate layer of snow? We have the information you need below to ensure that your roof is winter-ready.

Clean your eavestroughs one last time before winter sets in.

Did you notice a lot of icicles hanging from your roof last year? They can be a sign that water isn’t draining properly because of clogged eavestroughs. Make sure that all the fall debris has been cleared out of your gutters before the cold freezes it in place.

Look for patches of melted snow in the middle of your roof.

This could be a sign that your attic isn’t insulated or ventilated properly, as escaping warm air is melting snow on parts of your roof. Snow will naturally melt around any roof vent, but when the melting is due to poor weatherproofing in your attic, you need to be concerned about ice damming, which can cause water damage to your home.

Ice damming occurs when ice melts on part of your roof only to refreeze in another area, forming icicles and pushing water underneath shingles. This can damage your roof and walls and even lead to water buildup in your basement. Regardless of whether you have water damage and flood insurance, you don’t want the hassle of having to get all that damage repaired.

To get a head start on combating ice dams, you can hire ventilation and energy-efficiency experts to check for warm air escaping from your roof and to help you find appropriate insulation and sealing solutions.

Do I need to clear the snow off my roof?

Generally, roofs in Canada are built to withstand the weight of heavy snowfalls. It can also be dangerous for you and the structural integrity of your roof to try to clear it without the help of a professional. Even if you’re not standing on your roof, it’s possible to damage your shingles without the right training and equipment. It’s best to call a professional if you’re worried that your roof has accumulated more snow that it can handle.

Should I use heating wires to melt snow and ice on my roof?

Heating wires or roof de-icing cables are sometimes used to melt snow and ice off areas of your roof that are prone to ice dams. They can help you stave off ice buildup for less than it will cost to repair underlying issues with your roof. However, roofing experts usually don’t consider them a permanent solution for protecting your roof from the elements, unless you’ve had your roof inspected and repaired and ice dams are still a problem.

Electric roof de-icers aren’t meant for flat or metal roofs. They also aren’t designed to be laid on top of snow and ice. They need to be installed in the fall before it’s cold enough for ice and snow to pile up. Even if your heating wires are doing their job properly, you still might need to have snow and ice manually removed from your roof depending on the weather conditions and how well your roof handles winter storms.

Roof heating cables should only be turned on when the temperature is between –9ºC and 2ºC, when snow and ice are beginning to melt: you can’t use them to de-ice a roof coated in ice during a deep freeze. This means that if you get heating coils installed, you’ll probably be using them during the beginning of the winter and early spring.

How do I de-ice my already-frozen roof?

If you wake up one sunny but freezing morning to find beautiful but alarming icy waterfalls spilling over the sides of your roof, de-icing might be in order to prevent major damage to your shingles and interior walls. It’s always safest to consult with a professional rather than risking a DIY project on a slippery roof. Keep the following tips and methods in mind for approaching roof ice and snow removal.

  • It’s okay to gently break off dangling icicles, but don’t use a sharp object to try to chip away at the ice coating your gutters and roof: there’s a high chance you’ll damage your shingles or the roof underneath them. You can use a blunt mallet to break up ice for removal, but this method is best left to professionals.
  • Snow rakes are a tried-and-true method of preventing ice buildup before it has the chance to form and of clearing snow and ice that’s been hanging out on your roof for a while. You should start to rake the snow a few feet above your eavestroughs.
  • De-icing chemicals are another option for thoroughly melting all that ice away, but you need to be careful when you choose your chemicals. De-icing products that contain sodium chloride can corrode your roof, so they should be avoided. Some roof-care companies recommend filling pantyhose with calcium chloride and laying it on top of ice dams to melt them without damaging your roof. Calcium chloride tablets are also available if they’re a good fit for your type of roof and ice problems. Keep in mind, though, that tablets will be more corrosive and harder to place evenly than the pantyhose method.

Have your roof inspected by a professional before the temperature hits freezing to help ensure that it’s up to the task of protecting your home all winter long. Make sure to check your roof for signs of ice buildup. Keeping a well-maintained roof in good shape this winter shouldn’t take too much work—so you’ll have more time to shovel your driveway, drive to work on slushy roads and hopefully also enjoy activities that take advantage of our cold Ontario climate.

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