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Winter Thaw: How to Care for Your Roof As The Season Changes

Posted by Art Valentz on February 9, 2018

Roof during the winter thaw

People often tend to look at buildings, their house, and other structures as purely static objects – that is as if they are not moving.  Yet when taking a closer look, at the molecular level, we know that they actually are moving.  Not a lot, but still a little.  Architectural materials are like living things in that they are made of molecules that are constantly bending, shifting, and flexing in response to seasonal temperature and loading changes.  Though they are only shifting small distances of often ¼” or less, these minute movements are enough to cause roofing materials to separate, delaminate, deform, and create weaknesses in surfaces.  As we know, certain materials have known lifespans, so these changes are typically inevitable and often unavoidable results of the inherent mechanical properties of materials.  But still there are small steps we can take to best care for our roofs and increase longevity through responsible caretaking.

One very important thing you can do is to perform a quick visual inspection of your roof every couple of months, to the extent that this is possible from an eye level vantage point.  Use binoculars and get creative.  You can be your own best consultant.  Take stock of anything unusual; gutter blockages, tree limbs, debris, deformation, bowing, snow load, and rain accumulation as appropriate.  Roofs and buildings cannot talk yet they tell you many things when you pay attention. 

During large rain and snow events, is your roof able to successfully divert rain and/or snow loads off the roof?  Is your roof experiencing unbalanced loading such that the roof surface appears uneven?  Again, noticing details is key.  Assuming that your roofing material is the correct slope and installation for your climate per code, is shade from surrounding trees creating differential sunlight across a given roof?  Are there additional devices such as gutters, “ice melt socks”, heat tape, and snow guards that would make a difference in trouble spots during a record winter, for example? 

During the spring, roofing materials will typically expand a little with the warming temperatures.  Materials like wood and composite products made of wood can actually expand and contract depending on the surrounding relative humidity, causing tightness in structural joints and potentially some bowing in larger, sheet materials.  Though not usually significant, it can make a difference in the performance of your roof over time.  Similarly materials that are more plastic in nature may become more brittle with exposure to UV rays, including the sealants that hold asphalt shingles in place.  As spring and summer progress, continue to do visual inspections of your roof to include inspections of the attic’s interior surfaces.  Checking regularly for peeling paint, stains, rot, mold, and moss and algae growth, which can indicate localized leaks and moisture infiltration can help spot developing problems.  Adequate ventilation of a roof through ridge, attic, and soffit vents can inhibit the growth of mold. 

On the exterior, check for any visible blockages in gutters and downspouts.  Doing some simple, periodic roof cleaning, by removing moss and any other plant growth and buildup can also extend the life of your roof.  Especially from the faces of the roof that receive less sun, regular roof cleaning will keep plywood substrates and surface materials from deteriorating.  Always ensure this work is done safely.  There are, of course, companies that will do any and all of these services for you.


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Topics: Rooftop Support Engineering, Roof Architecture

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