Monitor Snow-topped Roofs

Use these safety measures to clear heavy snowfall on barn and house roofs to prevent collapse.

by Dani Yokhna
Snow on barn roof
Courtesy Stock.XCHNG/Bern Altman
Be diligent about keeping snow off your barn roof in order to prevent collapse.

As farms recover from last week’s record-breaking snowstorms, the extra snowpack brings concern of snow loads on house and barn roofs. Warming temperatures earlier this week complicated matters; melting snow can refreeze into a layer of ice that adds extra pressure to barn roofs and allows additional snow to build up on top.

To avoid structural damage to their buildings, farmers and homeowners alike should diligently monitor their roofs and clear off snow if it can be done safely. Guidance for what constitutes a safe load of snow on your roof is based on a number of factors, including the age of the roof, the amount of snow on the roof and the weight of that snow, so it’s not the same for every building.

Strange noises, cracking or visible movement of rafters are all be signs that your roof is headed for a collapse, says John Wood, director of the Vermont Division of Fire Safety; however, he cautions those signs won’t necessarily be there before a collapse.

To prevent a roof collapse, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and the Vermont Department of Public Safety recommend these steps to clearing off snow:

  • Only able-bodied adults should attempt to remove snow from roofs because the snow is heavy and roofs and other surfaces may be slippery. When attempting snow removal, wear protective headgear and eye protection.
  • Plan an escape route before you begin snow removal, and keep safety the first priority. 
  • If roof snow can be removed with the use of a snow rake (available at most hardware stores), do so. Use caution, as metal snow rakes conduct electricity if they come into contact with a power line. Also be careful not to let large amounts of snow fall on you.
  • Try to avoid working from ladders; slippery snow and ice can collect on boot soles and metal-ladder rungs. 
  • When clearing snow from a barn roof, ensure an even unloading from both sides at one time. Always remove snow from roofs in pairs, and use a safety line when clearing steep-pitched roofs. 
  • The center of the rafters and the center of the barn are the weak points. Keep some 4×4 or 6×6 poles on hand to place under every fourth rafter or along the center of the roof line. This will provide additional strength to the roof.

It’s also important to check and clear all heating vents. A snow-blocked heating vent can lead to carbon-monoxide buildup in the home. All homes should be equipped with smoke and carbon-monoxide alarms.

If there is a concern for personal safety while clearing a roof, a professional contractor should be called in to inspect the roof or to clear the roof of snow.

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