people on house roof removing snow

How To Remove Snow From Your Roof

Holly Shuffett7-Minute Read
December 22, 2020

For many, the first snowfall of the season is an exciting occasion which serves as a preview for upcoming fun in the snow that will leave you with rosy cheeks and holiday cheer. After all, snow signifies the beginning of many beloved winter activities, from sledding to crafting snowmen to feverish snowball fights.

However, with falling temperatures comes snow removal responsibilities if you want to maintain a safe and smooth-running home. More specifically, you may have to learn how to remove snow from your roof. So, read on for a comprehensive guide on the effects of rooftop snow and to learn more about how you can safely approach this frosty chore.

Why It’s Important To Remove Snow From Your Roof

As a homeowner, you’ve worked hard to afford and maintain your home, so it’s only logical that you would want to protect it. You can do so by learning the effects that snow and ice can have on your home’s structure, and by understanding the importance of rooftop snow removal.

Unlike the gingerbread houses you may have decorated as a kid, it’s best that your real house has as little snow as possible. As snow builds on top of your roof the potential for the formation of ice dams increases.

What Is An Ice Dam?

Ice dams are caused by snow buildup on your roof, which subsequently melts due to the heat inside your home that rises and escapes through the roof. This wet snow then creates runoff which will travel across your rooftop and into your gutters, only to refreeze and potentially cause damage.

The larger the temperature disparity between your home and the temperatures outside, the more chance you have of running into an ice dam problem.

Why Are Ice Dams So Bad?

In addition to not being very nice to look at, what makes ice dams so daunting is the damage that they can cause to both your home’s exterior and depending on the severity, even your home’s interior.

Roofing shingles are already much more vulnerable in cold weather, as low temperatures can render them brittle, and chunks of ice stuck to or in between them can crack or damage your shingles even further. In a similar way, ice dams can also crack, bend or even tear your gutters from your home’s rooftop and exterior. 

Another threat that ice dams pose when left unresolved or are particularly severe, is the threat of rooftop leaks and water damage. Ice dams can cause water to back up – hence the name, “ice dam.” With large amounts water or wet snow collecting on top of your roof – especially if there are vulnerable spots from loose or damaged shingles, there is a real possibility that this water will drain into your home.

Even more concerning, is the possibility that the weight from this snow or water accumulation could cause your roof to cave in or collapse.

However, according to Eric Lui, a professor of structural engineering and mechanics at Syracuse University in New York, most rooftops built according to state code can withstand 25 to 35 pounds of snow per square foot. That would equate to about three feet of fresh snow piled on top of your roof before you should start seriously worrying.

So long as you understand the building codes in your hometown and have a good idea of how much snow could be too much, you’ll most likely be safe from rooftop collapse.

When To Remove Snow From Your Roof

Provided that you’ve made it this far in the article, chances are you live an area where winter equals snow and ice. Additionally, chances are that you already have to deal with clearing your walkways of snow, putting down salt, and many other chores that come with winterizing your home.

In order to minimize your workload, it’s important to know when you should actually clear your roof of snow and when it’s okay to sit back. So, before jumping to the conclusion that your roof is danger, you’ll want to consider these factors before seeking out snow removal solutions.

The Amount of Snow vs. Your Roof’s Weight-Bearing Capacity

As we touched on earlier, building codes vary from state to state, but for the most part, roofs that are constructed in cooperation with proper codes should be able to withstand on average, 30 pounds of snow per square foot. Consider researching your town’s building codes to see how much pressure roofs are required to withstand in your area, and you’ll have a better understanding of when snow buildup can start to become an issue.

The Pitch of Your Roof

It only makes sense that different roofs will harbor different amounts of snow – flatter roofs are much more susceptible to snow accumulation, while slanted roofs allow for more runoff. Assess the kind of rooftop on your home and take notice of any areas that might be vulnerable to snow buildup.

Climate and Weather Forecasts

If you live in an area that gets snow, but not enough to interfere with the roads or grant the kids any snow days, then you’re probably in the clear. But if you’re from a particularly snowy area where a foot or more of snow is the norm, it’s probably a good idea to keep an eye on the weather and how much snow is on your roof. If you have a lot of snow on your roof and there are forecasts predicting even more, you may want to clear the old snow in order to prepare for more.

How To Remove Snow From Your Roof

When it comes to clearing our driveways, sidewalks or walkways, though taxing, the solution is pretty straightforward: shovel the snow away. And although an unsalted driveway can be dangerous, shoveling snow off of your rooftop is even more so. But when it comes to rooftop snow removal, there are really only two options: shoveling or using a snow rake.

Snow Raking

Snow raking is a much safer alternative for snow removal than shoveling, and involves using the long, adjustable tool to pull snow off of your roof from safely on the ground. Due to the types of snow rakes available in your area, and the structure of your home and roof, you might be lucky enough to remove snow solely using your rake.

But in some cases – like if you have a taller or larger house, or if the snow itself is packed, hard or icy – a snow rake won’t be able to properly get the job done. Although many snow rakes come with extensions, balancing the weight of the tool and trying to reach the top of a larger or taller home could be more trouble than it’s worth. Additionally, snow rakes are typically futile against heavy, wet snow. If this is the case, you’ll want to simply try and clear as much snow as you can from the ground, before finishing the job with shoveling or hiring a snow removal service.

Shoveling

Although clearing snow from a slippery rooftop serves as funny fodder for Hollywood hijinks, risking serious injury is no fun in real life. That’s why many experts advise against shoveling your roof on your own – especially if you lack the necessary safety gear.

It’s important to understand that DIY roof removal through shoveling can result in serious injury to your person, a chance which increases significantly if you’re not a professional. The safest option would really be to enlist the help of a professional snow removal service – but if you’re absolutely determined to shovel your roof by yourself, here are some safety tips from roofing experts:

  • Metal-edged shovels can damage your shingles, so opt for plast-edged shovels instead
  • Overall, don’t shovel unless necessary – both for safety reasons, and because you don’t want to erode away your roof’s shingles
  • Don’t leave footprints in the snow on your roof – this can lead to the creation of ice dams

Hire A Professional Snow-Removal Service

In the event of heavy snow – or if you’ve already noticed some ice dams forming – the best and safest option would be to hire professional snow removal services. Snow removal services can charge anywhere between $95 and $175 per hour, depending on weather conditions, the condition of your roof, and whether or not there are ice dams present.

Though pricey, it’s good to keep in mind that you’re paying for labor, safety equipment, tools and skilled experience of a professional service. If you happen upon a rate significantly cheaper than other local services, chances are there’s a reason – we don’t recommend taking the risk of hiring inexperienced workers or use a service that has cheaper equipment, as these factors could leave even more damage to your roof or home.

How To Remove Snow From Solar Panels

If you live in a home with rooftop solar panels, it’s usually best to simply wait out the snow as it will typically melt off. With the investment of solar panels, you won’t want to risk a DIY snow removal job and potentially causing damage to the panels or to yourself.

However, if you really need to remove the snow yourself, the best method of doing so would be to hose it off of your solar panels – but avoid doing so in freezing temperatures. Some homeowners can also use a snow rake to brush off their solar panels but proceed with extreme caution so as to not damage the fixture.

The Bottom Line

Although wintertime comes with seasonal chores, they don’t have to be a headache. Understanding your home’s roof and structure can help you understand when – if at all – you should be removing snow.

Prepare for the snowy seasons ahead by understanding the pitch of your roof, the tools available to you, and research local snow removal services. Every home is different, but there’s a snow removal service that can keep yours running smoothly.

If you’re interested in reading more about proactively prepping for winter, check out our article on how to winterize your home.

Table of Contents

    Holly Shuffett

    Holly Shuffett is a freelance writer for Rock Companies where she usually covers lifestyle and personal finance topics. Holly is also an Oakland University senior pursuing public relations and journalism, and she is interested in learning more about the entertainment and travel industries. In her free time, Holly serves as the secretary for Dance Marathon at OU, is a member of PRSSA, and tutors part time for Dictionary.com.