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If you live in an area that gets blessed by snow every winter, you’re probably pretty used to it. But no matter how experienced you are with snow, there’s one aspect of snow removal that most people aren’t prepared for: Your roof. If you’ve ever shoveled snow, you know it can be really heavy; it’s easy to heft a load of heavy, wet snow and then glance at your roof and imagine it quivering under the load. The obvious solution is to take that shovel in your hands and head up onto your roof to clear it off—but that can be very dangerous. So how can you safely clear snow off your roof so you can sleep peacefully and not worry about a collapse?

When to worry about snow on the roof

First things first—do you actually need to worry about snow on your roof? Sure, snow is heavy stuff—three feet of fresh snow or one foot of packed snow weighs approximately 30 pounds—but you have to remember that most building codes anticipate snow load, and your roof has likely been engineered to handle snow loads in excess of what your roof will experience. After all, if you’ve ever walked on your roof without causing structural damage, your roof has survived your own weight, which is most likely way more than a load of snow will ever weigh.

Of course, depending on the quality and age of your roof, excessive snow load might be a concern. There are some signs to look for that your roof is straining under the weight of snow:

  • Water spots on your ceiling. Packed snow on your roof can lead to ice dams, which can force melt that would normally drip off your roof to back up and seep into your house.
  • Cracks in the walls. If the roof sags under the snow load, you’ll probably see new cracks in your drywall underneath it.
  • Sticking doors. If the beams that carry the load of your roof are starting to warp from excessive snow load, you may notice doors that normally don’t stick or jam suddenly do, because the structure of your house is straining under the weight.

All that being said, if you decide you do need to deal with the snow on your roof, how can you do so without killing or injuring yourself?

How to shovel your roof safely

If you’re concerned about the snow load on your roof, here’s how to do something about it without hurting yourself:

  • Plan ahead. The best way to survive shoveling your roof is to never actually have to shovel your roof. Adding de-icing cable to your gutters or the edges of your roof system can help prevent ice dams and encourage the snow on your roof to melt and slide off on its own. If you know you’re going to be replacing your roof in the near future, consider pricing out a heated roof system that will allow you to melt the snow off with the press of a button.
  • Get a snow rake. If you have a pitched roof, climbing up there is never a good idea, and it’s an absolutely terrible one in icy conditions. Instead, buy a snow rake. These are extendable tools that you use from the safety of the ground. Scrape the snow from your roof starting with the edges. Don’t try to scrape down to the roof surface, because you can damage your roof doing that. Just get the bulk of that weight off—and be careful not to send a ton of snow hurtling down on top of yourself. This applies to shoveling flat roofs—don’t scrape all the way down, just get most of it off.
  • Use the buddy system. Don’t head onto your roof alone in the snow. The surface is slippery and you’re far off the ground, so find someone who can go up there with you. If you can, get yourself a roof safety harness and learn how to use it. If you lose your footing while schlepping all that snow off your roof, you’ll be very glad you did.
  • Hire a pro. You can hire contractors to clear the snow from your roof—many even offer annual contracts, so every time there’s heavy snow they’ll send a team out to clear off your roof. This costs an average of about $300, though there’s lots of variation depending on where you live and how much roof we’re talking about.

The odds are that your roof can handle all that snow perfectly fine. But if you’re worried about it, shoveling the snow from your roof could be a good idea—as long as you plan ahead and put safety first.

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