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How to Fix the Most Common Winter Roofing Problems

Roof Flashing, Ice Dams, and Attic Ventilation

© 2012 by Sarah Harris; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without written permission.

Rain gutter cleaning; photo couttesy Michelle Ryan

Although in some parts of the country the holiday season is celebrated with palm trees and trips to the beach, most of the United States is already quite chilly, and getting colder by the day.

December’s gifts and visits with family warm all of our hearts, but the new year brings several more months of winter, and a number of factors that can wreak havoc on your home.

There will always be issues with plumbing and heating systems breaking down, but the biggest issues you’ll face involve the roof.

Left too long without repair, most common roofing problems can turn into serious damage that will cost you quite a large amount of money to remedy. So keep your eyes peeled for the most common roofing problems you face in winter, and be prepared to fix them just as soon as possible.

Inspect Your Roof Flashing

First of all, you must be diligent in the discovery of any flashing leaks. A leaky roof is never a good thing, but in winter it can be incredibly serious.

Leaks can spring up all over the place, but if you have a sloped roof they occur most frequently along the flashing sections. Basically this is where a 90° angled galvanized metal strip is placed under the shingles to protect the edges and corners from damage.

At the edge of your roof, at the fascia boards, it also ensures that the rain water can’t develop rot.

Problems arise if the flashing hasn’t been installed correctly, or if certain sections come loose because of a serious storm. Fierce winds from a winter storm can pull the flashing away from the shingles, leaving the section underneath unprotected from water.

Your best bet is to seek out these problems before they become serious, so have your roof inspected twice a year, in the spring and again in the fall.

And if you do notice missing or damaged flashing, just have it replaced swiftly. As long as you don’t let a leak fester it won’t be expensive.

Avoid Ice Dams

Another serious winter roofing issue is an ice dam. Basically, if you allow ice and snow to collect along the ridges of your roof or inside the gutters it can freeze solid there.

A dam is created, and any further rain or snow will collect and pool on your roof. As the weather changes it will freeze and melt in alternating cycles, and eventually seep through the shingles, into the felt and finally inside the walls and ceilings themselves.

That’s when things get really costly, and regrettably there’s no way to guarantee this won’t happen.

Make sure that the roof is properly insulated and ventilated for starters, as that will help avoid ice dams. But use the clear days after a storm to get up there and inspect the roof. Take special care to look over the gutters, and chip away any ice dams that have developed.

Do it yourself or find a reliable handyman. You can find local reviews on the services you need at Angie’s List. Take the Tour!

Roof tile installation; photo courtesy Sarah Harris
The storms of winter will take their toll on any style of roof, and you can frequently find damaged roofing material after a significant weather event.

Keep an eye out for broken pieces or even whole shingles on the ground around your home, which could signal additional damage. Shingles can become notoriously brittle in cold weather.

If you have clay or cement roof tiles, you will want to check for missing or cracked tiles.

Ensure Adequate Attic Ventilation

You can repair shingles easily enough, but you might want to consider installing a ventilation system in your attic. That will help balance out temperature variations and keep condensation from building up and impacting the integrity of your roof.

During the wintertime, your household appliances, bathtubs, showers, and cooking vapors can cause quite a bit of moisture build-up.

Attics that are not ventilated sufficiently let this moisture build up and cling to the underside of your roof. Then the moisture will condense and drip, soaking your attic insulation and reducing its efficiency.

The most common ways to ventilate an attic are:

  • Ridge vents. These are becoming very popular. They are basically vented caps that run along the ridge of the roof. If you use them, don’t use any type of ventilation as it will cause air flow to “short-circuit”.

  • Whirlybird turbine. These work well but depend on wind to spin them and draw the air out. Some people cover them with trash bags in the winter but this is not recommended; you need ventilation all year long.

  • Roof vents with fans. There are two common varieties; each has its pros and cons. Solar-powered ones do not need an electrical connection, but they must have sunshine.

    Electric-powered ones run on-demand but require an electrical connection.

  • Louvers.

Check out for information on how to address any of these issues. Hopefully you’ve caught a small problem before it spreads, and everything can be handled in a quick and affordable manner.

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