Roof Maintenance Tips to Help Homeowners Prep for Winter

When it comes to winterizing your home, forgetting to prepare your roof for cold winter weather can be a costly oversight.

One of the most important steps when winterizing a home is making sure the roof is ready for harsh winter conditions. Performing routine roof maintenance tasks before winter sets in can help your home stay warm and comfortable as well as prevent expensive repairs caused by ice dams and leaking. Read on for nine key maintenance tasks to prepare your roof for winter.

Repair Damaged Shingles

Amanda Wynn, a roofer for Rampart Roofing, warns that missing, damaged and loose shingles can expose a home to roof leaks and water damage if not fixed before winter. If shingles are broken, water will seep underneath and eventually make its way into your home. If any shingles are loose, strong winter winds can blow them away.

If you only have a few damaged shingles and they’re easy to reach, you can probably replace them yourself. If there are multiple areas of your roof that are damaged and you’re uneasy about working on the roof, it’s best to hire a professional roofer to do the work.

Repair Damaged Flashing

Roof flashing is sometimes overlooked, but it’s a vitally important component of a well-maintained roof. “Roof flashing protects your home from water damage by diverting water from certain areas of the roof,” Wynn says.

Pay special attention around the chimney and to roof valleys and overhangs, says Joe Palumbo, president of Ice Dam Guys. “Make sure [they are] in good condition and won’t allow leaks,” he says. “Roof valleys and overhangs are two of the most common places for ice dams to form.”

If you are comfortable working on your roof and you take safety precautions, you can repair or replace flashing yourself. Otherwise, hire a roofing pro.

Replace Old Caulking

Richard D’Angelo, operations manager at JWE Remodeling & Roofing, recommends checking the caulk/sealant around vent pipes, chimneys and counter-flashing, which is sheet metal that is installed at the joint where walls meet roofing. Its function is to prevent water from entering that joint by channeling water away from it.

“In the winter when things get cold they will shrink, and caulking can become separated or cracked if it’s old and dry,” says D’Angelo. “New caulking will be able to expand and contract with the cold and warm weather, keeping critical junctures in your roof watertight and dry.”

New caulk is supple and retains its seal better once fully cured. Just be sure to remove old caulking beforehand. Scrape it with a screwdriver while being careful not to puncture or otherwise penetrate the flashing or roofing membrane below it. Re-caulking is an easy DIY project as long as you’re willing to get on the roof for it.

Get Your Roof Rake Ready

A roof rake is a helpful snow removal tool to prevent snow from piling up on your roof. Joe Palumbo suggests raking your roof after every six inches of snowfall. “If you prevent snow from piling up on the cold overhangs, you create a path for runoff (snow melted by the warm roof) to flow off of the roof harmlessly, rather than freeze and cause ice dams and leaking,” he says.

If you don’t already own one, Palumbo suggests buying a plastic roof rake or one with rollers so that you don’t rub the granules off the shingles. If your current roof rake doesn’t have rollers, or they just aren’t working like they use to, then consider replacing it.

Anyone can easily use a roof rake. Just watch out for icicles and inspect the roof for any loose shingles or flashing so you don’t accidentally hook onto them.

Trim the Trees

Trimming the trees around your roof is a must-do task that can help avoid roof damage when the winter snow, ice and winds arrive.

“While you may love those trees, you need to trim off the overhanging branches as they pose a threat to your roof,” says Constantine Anest, Owner of Ethos Roofing. “A single bad snowstorm could break off the branch over your home, which then may inflict serious damage to your roof.”

It’s probably best to hire someone who’s trained to do this task. And while you might be able to reach some branches, the ones near your roof are probably too high for the average DIYer.

Add a Heat Cable

This is especially helpful for areas where ice dams have been a problem in the past, such as gutters, downspouts or even directly on the roof, Miller says.

Adding heat cables in the gutter and downspouts is simple and can be easily done by most DIYers. Adding a heat cable on the roof can be a DIY project, but only if your home is one story.

Improve Attic Ventilation

The roof sits on top of the attic, and proper attic ventilation is essential to prevent ice dams on the roof. Todd Miller, president of Isaiah Industries, an international manufacturer of specialty residential metal roofing, has a simple way to check.

“Close up all ingress openings in the attic and hold a piece of light tissue paper up toward the exhaust vents,” he says. “If you do not see air movement, then you either have inadequate ventilation or your intake vents are blocked by insulation or perhaps have even been painted shut over the years.”

To improve attic ventilation, you can add more roof vents and remove insulation that might be blocking the vents. This is a DIY-able project that can be done by anyone with basic tools, plus a jigsaw and caulk gun.

Add or Upgrade Insulation

While you’re in the attic checking on ventilation, also look for missing or damaged insulation, which can cause problems leading to ice dams.

“Hot air from inside of the home travels to your attic space because there is not enough insulation to stop the heat transfer,” explains Daniel Young, founder of Kingdom Roofing Systems. “Once the hot air meets the bottom of the roof deck, the snow melts, then the temperature drops at night and the melted snow freezes and turns to ice.”

Adding/replacing insulation takes a higher skill level than most other DIY projects, but it’s definitely doable if you’re motivated.

Clean Gutters and Downspouts

While they’re not technically part of the roof, cleaning your gutters and downspouts is one of the most important maintenance tasks you need to do before winter arrives. Clear them prevents clogs which more often than not lead to destructive ice dams on your roof during the winter.

“If ice accumulates around gutters and eaves, it can form an ice dam that blocks roof drainage and leads to a freeze-thaw cycle that separates shingles from the roof deck and creates an entry point for moisture,” says Alex Pecora, director of roofing product management for CertainTeed.

Cleaning your gutters and downspouts is DIY-able as long as you take safety precautions and have a one-story house. For two-story or taller houses, it’s best to call a pro.

Mark Soto
Mark Soto works for a family-owned company, RoofingMKE, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has comprehensive knowledge of roof installation, repair and replacement and gutter installation. Mark comes from a family of DIYers and has worked with landscapers, plumbers, painters, and damage restoration specialists.