Common Winter Roofing Issues and How to Deal With Them

Winter weather is rarely a friend to either residential homes or commercial buildings. Roofs are especially vulnerable to weather conditions like snow, ice, and high winds. As such, winter roofing is tricky business. Both installation and maintenance of roofs during the winter months has to take into account a variety of natural elements along with the propensity of bad weather to cause problems.

Winter roofing issues are common to the upper Midwest, the Northeast, and across the Great Plains of the United States. Therefore, it behooves property owners to keep an eye on their roofs from the moment the snow flies, until spring finally breaks. Identifying roofing problems in their earliest stages allows for faster repairs and mitigates the risk of further damage.

Winter Roofing Issues

Learning to recognize winter roofing issues is key to prevention. Unfortunately, a good number of property owners do not know the signs that would indicate a problem exists. Below is a comprehensive list of common roofing issues easily observed during the winter months, along with ways to prevent them.

1. Condensation

Condensation resulting from inadequate ventilation is one of the most common winter roofing issues that goes unrecognized by property owners. Condensation is caused by warm interior air meeting the cold underside of a roof exposed to winter temperatures. It can lead to a musty smell along with the growth of mold and mildew.

How to Prevent Roof Condensation:

The most effective way to prevent roof condensation is to properly vent the roof. Installing ventilation allows for maximum airflow. It fights condensation by reducing the amount of warm air that comes in contact with the cold roof.

2. Ice Dams

Ice dams are caused by temperature variations. An ice dam forms when top portions of the roof are warm enough to melt accumulated snow while lower portions of the roof remain below freezing. Water runs down the roof and eventually freezes, forming an ice dam where the edge of the roof meets the gutter system.

How to Prevent Ice Dams:

Preventing ice dams is a matter of ventilating the roof and increasing insulation in order to prevent upper portions of the roof from getting too warm. Insulation should not be packed tightly against the roof though, as this limits airflow and encourages condensation.

3. Icicles

Icicles form when water from melted snow runs down the roof and begins to drip from the gutters. During its descent, temperatures are just cold enough to freeze the water. Icicles form and, if the problem is not corrected, continue to grow in length.

How to Prevent Icicles on Gutters:

Icicles can be prevented by employing the same ventilation and insulating practices along with keeping gutters clear of leaves and other debris during the fall. Removing snow and ice from the edges of the roof using a snow rake with a long handle also helps.

4. Flashing Leaks

Roof flashing consists of all those aluminum pieces around chimneys, vents, pipes, and roof edges. Flashing is designed to bridge the gaps between roofing materials and exposed subsurfaces in order to keep moisture out. It is vulnerable to high winds and ice formation.

How to Prevent Flashing Leaks:

Flashing leaks are common in the winter due to the freeze-thaw process. Flashing is also vulnerable when age-related corrosion sets in. Preventing flashing leaks during the winter requires inspecting and making repairs before winter, ice and wind arrive.

5. Strong Winds and Severe Weather

Both strong winds and severe weather negatively affect roofing in the winter. Strong winds can pull up or peel back shingles; they can damage flashing; they can drive moisture into roof vents. Unfortunately, there’s not much property owners can do to prevent wind damage and the natural forces of mother nature. The best course of action is to anticipate severe weather so that you’re prepared to deal with its eventual arrival.

6. Tree Limbs

Roofing in winter weather is always subject to natural surroundings. For example, a lot covered with numerous tall trees is one on which tree limbs pose yet another risk to roofing materials. Tree limbs can scrape the gritty surface off asphalt shingles; they can pull shingles up and allow moisture underneath. Heavy tree limbs falling from a good distance can even pierce roofing materials.

How to Prevent Tree Limb Damage:

Preventing tree limb damage is as easy as trimming trees during the summer and autumn. Any limbs within 6 feet of the roof should be trimmed accordingly.

7. Squirrels and Rats

A less obvious winter roofing problem is found in squirrels and rats looking for a way in. Just a small gap in any area of the roof is an open invitation for these critters to make themselves at home. If a gap is present but not big enough for entry, squirrels and rats will have no problem gnawing away until they gain entry.

How to Keep Critters Out:

Keeping critters out of attic spaces requires inspecting the roof and sealing up all possible points of entry. This is something best done before winter weather arrives.

How to Fix Winter Roofing Issues

Unless you are experienced in winter roofing, it is best to call a professional roofing contractor to address the issues listed above. Roofing is dangerous throughout the year, but winter weather makes it even more so. A professional roofer has the knowledge and experience to safely address winter roof issues with minimal risk.