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Winter Survival Tips for Your Roof – Expert Edition

a house's roof covered in snow with icicles hanging off the gutters

Reading time: 4 minutes

From the rough weather to the frigid temperatures, winter can do a number on your roof. That's why we reached out to Novalis Roofing & Siding, which has served Northern New Jersey homeowners for more than 80 years. Owner Jonathan Novalis gave us expert insight to combat the major roofing problems of the season and important tips to keep your home's top in top-notch condition.

Problem #1: Ice dams

Melted snow refreezing causes ice dams.

What happens –

Jonathan Novalis: You can't stop ice dams from forming. You could have the perfect airtight attic with mountains of insulation and cold air pouring in through the soffit vents and still get ice dams on the roof if the weather conditions are just right. The gutter edge of the roof will always remain frozen once temperatures drop below 32 degrees. Even if you have a good amount of snow on the roof and the sun is out, you're going to get some solar melt through the middle of the day. This creates liquid that runs down the roof and re-freezes at the gutter, building the dam. This mostly occurs on the north-facing slopes of the roof.

How to save your home –

Ice dams can send water into your ceiling.

JN: There are some things both inside and outside the house homeowners can do to minimize ice dams and prevent damage inside the house.

Inside: You want to start with an airtight ceiling. Preventing the warm conditioned air from escaping the house and getting into the attic is key. Improve the insulation in the attic and make sure your bathroom vents are working properly and venting directly outside of the attic through the roof or side walls – not the soffits.

Outside: You need to start by having your roof and gutters cleaned in mid-December once most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. An ice and water shield is a self-sealing membrane that we started to use in this area [Northern New Jersey] after the harsh winters of the mid-90s. With most houses you need six feet of coverage up from the gutters for full protection. If you still have an older roof or a roof with funky roof lines, we can use electrical de-icing cables that can be installed in the gutters and along the roof that prevents the snow from building up. They need to be turned on before the snow starts to fall. They are a bit of a pain to lay up on the roof throughout the year and they don't look great, so it's not a perfect solution. 

Under extreme conditions –

Safety first! Consider hiring a professional.

JN: If you know you have an older roof without ice and water shield, a low slope roof section facing north, or funky roof sections that come together poorly, you can always hire a roofing professional to come out and shovel the snow off the roof. This is dangerous business, and we charge accordingly for the work. However, sometimes you have no better alternative, especially when the damage is occurring inside the house.

Problem #2: Condensation

What happens –

Beware of condensation on second-floor windows.

JN: Warm moist air gets into the attic through a leaky ceiling or bath vents that dump directly into the attic or even worse, bathrooms without bath vents at all. This warm moist air gets into the attic and condenses against the cold roof deck rotting away the plywood, creating ripe conditions for mold growth. Forced hot air heating systems all have humidifiers that need to be adjusted based on the exterior temperatures. 

As the temperature drops outside, you need to reduce the amount of moisture you are putting into the air inside the house. Be on the look-out for condensation on second floor windows when temperatures drop outside.

How to save your home –

Run your bathroom fan after a shower.

JN: Make sure each bathroom with a shower has a bathroom vent and the fan is used every time a shower is taken. The fan should run for a minimum of 10 minutes after the shower is over. We recommend a timer switch is connected to the fan, so you can set the run time and not have to worry about coming back to turn it off. Having the vents connected directly to vents on the exterior in the roof or on the siding is a must. You can also add a power fan to the attic that has both thermostatic and humidity control to prevent moisture build up.

Expert TIP: This issue comes up a lot in the home inspections. Some homeowners don't even realize that this situation is happening in their attic until the house gets sold or they're buying the house.

Damage control in the spring & fall

Clean your gutters after the seeds fall and after the leaves fall.

Springing ahead – 

JN: For our clients with slate roofs, we recommend a roof inspection to assess the damage that may have occurred during the winter. With most of our clients, we're planning for the spring gutter clean out service. The seeds start to drop in May and typically end in the first part of June. Based on what type of trees you have around your house, you may one spring cleaning in the middle of June or one cleaning in May and then a follow up at the end of June.

Preparing for the winter weather —

Gutter cleaning can be dangerous!

JN: It is a good idea to hire experienced roofing contractors to clean your gutters. While we're on your roof, we will be on the lookout for any issues that may have popped up. You do not want to risk going into a winter with a questionable roof because you never know in this area what kind of winter we are going to get. We have had winters with a foot of snow on the ground from Christmas through March, and then you get winters like this one. The bad winters can do major damage, and it may be difficult to do the repair work until springtime.

Keep your roof in tip-top shape with Rooftop Maintenance You Should Do Now (Before It's Too Late)

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