Landlord Tips for Winter Roof Care

A landlord is responsible for making sure the property is safe and secure, no matter what time of year or what kind of weather. When it turns cold and snowy, you are probably more focused on your snow removal efforts on the ground rather than on the roof. However, in the right conditions, snow can remain on a well-insulated house’s roof for a long time—until it’s warm enough to melt or the wind blows it away. Accumulated snow and ice can do damage to a structure’s roof, unless you do something about it. Learning more about how to take care of your rental property’s roof in snowy, cold weather will ensure that you are heading off any snow or ice hazards before they happen.

Icicles and Ice Dams

Huge icicles and ice dams are two big problems when it comes to snowy weather and rental properties. They are generally a result of poor insulation in the attic and/or warm air leaking from the home to the attic. When the snow and ice are exposed to a warmer roof, it melts things faster than normal. This fast thaw moves down the slope of the roof and accumulates along the edges, where it refreezes again because it is now cooler. Now in case you think that icicles and ice dams aren’t that big of a deal, look at this list of water problems that structures can encounter as a result:

  • Water damage to roof and attic
  • Wet insulation that needs replaced
  • Water damage in interior walls
  • Water damage to ceilings
  • Water affecting the electric systems
  • Flooding in rooms, causing damage to carpet and padding
  • Cracked plaster or stucco
  • Blistering or peeling paint
  • Structural decay and rot
  • Mold and mildew
  • Injury to people and pets from falling ice

It’s time to pay attention to your rental property’s roof and see what you can do to reduce the potential for damage by harsh winter elements.

What’s Wrong With Icicles?

What's Wrong With Icicles?

Icicles dangling from the roof of your rental property may look pretty and pristine, and small icicles are normal. However, large icicles can be a danger to residents and a sign that your roof is in trouble. Icicles and the snow they are attached to can easily slide off like an avalanche. The force can dent gutters or even tear them off, pull out shingles and crash down on plants or people down below. It’s a good idea to stay on top of icicle and snow buildup on the roof before disaster strikes. One method is to install commercial snow guards.

These are metal pieces that fit onto the edge of the roof and allow for drainage while diverting large bunches of snow to a different area. For example, you could fit a snow guard on the roof over a doorway so that melting snow and subsequent icicles would form further away from the high-traffic area. Never knock down large icicles yourself. You could very easily pull off the gutter and therefore create even more problems for roof drainage for the rest of the winter. The gutter cannot be easily repaired until warmer weather, so your roof would be subject to improper drainage, causing an even bigger problem.

What Are Ice Dams?

Ice dams are ridges that form on the roof’s edge and stops melting ice and snow from reaching the gutters. When the water is backed up, or dammed, it works its way under the roof shingles. Too much water for too long can result in water making its way into the structure. This can cause everything from minor to significant water damage. Ice dams can form early in the winter and could stick around for months at a time if the weather stays cold. This means your rental property could suffer from water damage over and over again, even before it becomes noticeable to your tenant or yourself. The damage from ice dams could result in wet interior walls, wet ceilings, carpet damage, problems with electrical systems and even flooded basements.

Ice Dam Prevention

Ice Dam Prevention

The first step in preventing ice dams is to do a visual inspection of the roofline. If you are noticing a buildup of snow in certain places, or lots of icicles in a certain area but not others, you may be dealing with an ice dam on the roof.

For do-it-yourself landlords, there are several ways to prevent ice dams from forming on the roof of your rental property. Here are just a few ideas that you can try:

Gutter screens

These fit over the gutter and prevent debris and ice from building up in the gutter. When there is way too much buildup, the water cannot drain away properly. It backs up in the gutter and freezes, blocking future water from draining. With clean and clear gutters, the roof’s draining system is always ready to handle even the toughest winter storm.

Roof salt

This non-corrosive ice melt especially designed for roofing material is available at most big box retail stores and home improvement centers. Sold under a range of commercial names, these are also called roof socks or melt sleeves. The ice melt is poured into a long mesh tube, generally around two feet long, and sealed at both ends. The sock is placed perpendicular to the edge of the roof, so that in the event an ice dam tries to form, the ice melt will always provide a drainage channel through the ice. You can place these roof socks at strategic points on the roof to prevent buildup of ice and snow.

Roof rakes

These large, lightweight tools are useful for pulling snow down from the roof after a recent storm. While they don’t do well with melted ice, they can bring down lots of snow for as far as you can reach. With extra-long handles and wide reach, the roof rakes can be a good way to keep snow from building up on the roof of the rental. After all, the less snow there is, the less snow melt your roof and gutters will have to handle. These are most effective directly after a snowstorm, before any ice has had a chance to form.

Roof heating system

While this is the most expensive option, it is definitely the easiest to maintain and is the most effective. The idea is that you or a professional install small coils in loops or zig-zags along the edge of the roof. The coil is then either wired into the electric system or plugged into a nearby exterior outlet. When it snows, the tenant must turn the coils on and the gentle heat melts the snow and ice quickly. Cost for materials and installation will be more costly than some of the other options, and use can affect the electric bill, especially if the tenant leaves the system on after the storm is long over.

Ice Dam Treatment

If it is the middle of winter and you suspect or discover an ice dam on the roof of your rental property, it’s not a good idea to get up there and try to get rid of it yourself. Not only could you cause damage to your roof by trying to chip it away, you could hurt yourself by climbing around on an icy roof in the cold. Instead, call a professional to come inspect the suspicious area and handle the problem with professional equipment and know-how.

Check the Attic

The most significant thing you can do for your rental property to prevent icicles and ice dams is to get your attic and roof assessed by a professional. Because icicles and ice dams are created as a result of improper insulation and warm air in the attic, you need outside help to fix the problem. A professional will identify and fix any air leaks from the main living space to the attic. The most common sources are recessed lights, heating ducts, attic doors and wherever plumbing and electric systems enter and exit the attic space. Once these leaks are sealed, the attic will stay cooler year round. The professional will also assess your attic’s level of insulation and recommend whether more should be added to ensure proper temperatures. Finally, the attic’s ventilation will be checked to ensure that it is properly working and regulating the right temperatures for each season.

One More Warning

It bears repeating—NEVER climb up on the roof of your rental property when it has ice and snow on it. Even if you think there are clear patches to stand on, or that shoveling the snow off is a great idea, the roof is very dangerous.

Hundreds of people suffer from serious injury or death by climbing around on the roof in winter, so wait for a professional to assist you in checking out any suspicious spots on the roof or to take care of existing ice issues. Do you have any winter roof care tips that you’d like to share? Please share this article and let us know your good ideas in the comments section below.