Homeowners, tenants and businesses should be aware of the danger posed by heavy snow loads on roofs, and the warning signs of structural weaknesses. In many instances, roof collapse and other risks posed by accumulated snow can be reduced by removing snow from roofs. Flat and low-pitched roofs — mostly found on industrial buildings but also used in certain home designs — are at the greatest risk of buckling under heavy snow and ice accumulations.
The combination of ice and height makes removing snow from your roof a dangerous chore. Consider hiring professionals for the job. If you choose to perform the task yourself, follow these tips from the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services (DFS), and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA):
Clear Snow From Your Roof Safely
- Use a snow rake (available at most hardware stores) to remove snow from pitched roofs.
- Start from the edge and work your way up the roof.
- Try to shave the snow down to 2 or 3 inches on the roof instead of scraping the roof clean, which will risk damage to your shingles or other roof covering.
- Keep all ladders, shovels, and roof rakes away from utility wires.
- Plastic shovels are usually best. Metal tools may cause damage to your roof.
- Shovel snow from flat roofs by throwing the snow over the side away from the building.
- Carefully remove large icicles if they're hanging over doorways and walkways.
- Wear protective headgear and goggles when performing any of these tasks.
- Have someone outside with you to assist.
- Keep gutters and drains clean and free of ice, snow, and other debris, and keep downspouts clean at ground level.
- Don’t stand on or place heavy equipment on the roof unless approved by a registered professional engineer.
- Don’t use a ladder, since ice tends to build up on both the rungs of the ladder and the soles of your boots. If using a ladder, be extra cautious during cold and icy weather.
- Don’t use blow torches, open flames, or electric heating devices like hair dryers or heat guns to remove snow and ice.
- Don’t try to remove ice or icicles from utility wires or meters. Call your utility company for assistance.
Warning Signs of Structural Roof Problems
- Sagging roofs
- Severe leaks
- Cracked or split wood members
- Bends or ripples in supports
- Cracks in walls or masonry
- Sheared-off screws from steel frames
- Sprinkler heads that have dropped down below ceiling tiles
- Doors that pop open
- Doors or windows that are difficult to open
- Bowed utility pipes or conduit attached at ceiling
- Creaking, cracking, or popping sounds
What to Do if You Have Structural Damage
- If you notice any signs of roof damage, or suspect a gas leak from falling ice or snow, leave the building immediately without touching light switches and call 9-1-1 from an outside location.
- For general questions, call your local building or fire department business line.
Other Safety Tips
- Clear snow away from furnace and dryer exhaust vents to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure you have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on every level of your home.
- Clear snow from fire hydrants near your home or business.
- Clear snow from storm drains near your home or business to prevent street flooding.
- Learn how to stay safe before, during and after a winter storm with our Winter Storm Safety Tips.