Tips to safely remove snow from rooftops

WASHINGTON —  With this historic amount of snow, many homeowners are worried about their roofs.

Experts say roofs are made to handle excess snow, but there is potential for structural damage, especially for homeowners with large, flat roofs.

One cubic foot of dry snow weighs about seven pounds versus wet snow, which weighs between 12 and 18 pounds, according to Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says removing snow from the rooftop is dangerous and should be left to the professionals. Any shifts in the snow load could potentially cause the roof to collapse.

However, if you do decide to do it yourself, here are some safety tips:

  • For a pitched roof: Use a non-metal snow rake (metal conducts electricity if you touch a power line) to remove snow, but don’t scrape off all of the snow because you can damage the shingles.
  • Don’t use heating guns or hair dryers to remove snow and ice.
  • Don’t use open-flame devices such as a blow torch to remove snow and ice.
  • Don’t use a ladder because ice builds up on the rungs and on your boots.
  • Try to keep gutters and drains free of ice and snow, and keep downspouts clean at ground level.
  • For flat roofs, shovel the snow away from the building.

According to FEMA, you can tell your roof is in trouble if you can hear popping or cracking noises, or notice the ceiling or roof sagging.  If that’s the case, you need to evacuate the home immediately and contact a local building authority to check for structural damage.

It’s also important to listen to your home as the snow stacks on top of it during the storm.

“If there are sounds of cracking, creeping, or any type of sound please exit the structure to a safe area, call 911 and we will assess what is going on,” Fairfax County Fire Chief Rich Bowers says.

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