Top 5 Winter Roof Maintenance Tips

We observe in the roofing industry, that the most overlooked action by many home and building owners is an established routine of roof maintenance.

It is very understandable. The roof is out of sight and out of mind for most people. Only when a problem manifests itself; does one tend to focus any attention on the subject. Yet when it comes to automobiles, powered equipment, furnaces, etc., it seems most people understand they need to maintain such items.

The winter typically provides harsh and varied weather conditions which put stress on all roof assemblies. With this in mind; it is particularly important to insure various maintenance items are performed.

Doing so, will serve to increase the life-cycle of the roofing system and help to avoid costly damage and premature repairs. The top five actions to prepare for winter or deal with winter conditions include:

1. Cleaning out the gutters /eavestroughs, and re-secure any loose spikes and furrels, or brackets.  Consider adding supports to the gutters which helps them resist buckling under the weight of heavy snow or ice. When cleaning the gutters, make sure all downpipes and related elbow connections are completely cleared out. Use a licensed and properly insured professional that has WSIB coverage. Remember that many handy services, while possibly less expensive; likely do not carry the proper coverage for working at heights. Always get proof of appropriate coverage.

If considering such work yourself, evaluate the risk of fall potential, and one’s comfort level when working higher up. Always practice ladder safety, and use a stable, undamaged ladder capable of supporting one’s weight. Never overreach when working on an extension ladder, and always tie off the ladder.

Related Content: Knowing when it is Time to Replace Your Eavestroughs

2. Inspect for and repair as required; any missing or damaged shingles, metal flashing details or animal damage caused by squirrels or raccoons. Contact a wildlife professional experienced in the removal of critters. During colder months, animals can nest in attics, soffits and chimney flues, which can result in damage to wood surfaces, roof decking, attic insulation, attic wiring, and roof ventilators.

Once critters are removed, a qualified roofing professional can properly restore any damaged decking, fascia, etc. and the associated damaged roofing materials. Such items as steel mesh installed under roof vents, and metal drip edge flashings, can be incorporated to help resist future occurrences.

3. Arrange for snow and ice removal. Southern Ontario typically experiences seventy freeze/thaw cycles during an average winter.

Even when the temperature is well below zero degrees; snow melts on roof slopes, and can dam up at roof eaves areas, gutters, valleys, and basin design slope details. Commercial and residential flat roofs can experience an excessive accumulation of snow which becomes heavier as a result of temperature fluctuation.

Flat roofs that have older water-proofing systems can be vulnerable to split open when water freezes onto the surface of the roof. Appliances such as skylights, and perimeter metal details can exhibit “winter leaks”, because accumulated snow, ice or melt water, can back up at critical flashing details.

The excessive weight of snow and ice is also a very real consideration for flat roof owners. Older buildings may not be designed to meet today’s load standards. Buildings constructed with steel decks over large spans of supporting girts, can be vulnerable to deflection.

As a result, it is prudent to shovel off such roofs from time to time in order to minimize weight and lessen the volume of eventual melt water. It is important to be careful not to damage the membrane itself when removing snow and ice. This is a job best handled by roofing professionals.

At a minimum, it is important to keep flat roof drains clear and open. Opening a channel toward the roof drains helps melting snow and ice direct more quickly off the roof. During the fall season, roof drains and their associated drain pipes should be checked for blockage, cleared as necessary, and inspected for deficient drain pipe connections below the roof grade. Drain pipes which run through the interior of a building should be checked by a competent plumbing or drain contractor.

4. Caulking typically found at metal flashings associated with wall, or chimney surfaces should be inspected for voids or being dried out. All exterior sealants have a life span based on their composition. There are different sealants designed for metal to wood or concrete surfaces, metal to glass, etc. Removing old deficient caulking and tooling a neat, fresh bead of caulk is inexpensive insurance against the most common type of roof leaks.

On flat roofs, areas requiring caulking can include pitch pans, pitch cones, duct to curb penetrations, joints of ductwork, skylights, and metal wall flashings.

Often mistaken for roof leaks, items such as caulking or seal failure surrounding windows, solariums, skylights, vents, and pipe protrusions; are areas which should be inspected at least annually and in advance of winter.

5. Check the attic if it is visible and accessible. Most homes having a conventional sloping roof will have an attic hatch that permits one to look into the attic, with the aid of a good flashlight. View the underside of the roof decking to spot daylight, evidence of mould (areas of black marks), or wetness, and wood rot on the underside of plywood sheeting or roof boards..

While looking in the attic, check exterior perimeters near the eaves areas, to find evidence of daylight or baffles. This signals whether there is sufficient intake of air into the attic; which can help reduce the incident of ice damming. While in the attic, check for sufficient levels of insulation, and top off if needed by selecting an experienced insulation contractor.

A properly insulated and ventilated attic will be more resistant to perils of ice damming.

To learn more about winter roof maintenance, repairs, and roof replacement, visit