Ask the Arborist: How Do I Clear Snow Off My Roof?

Question: This doesn’t really have anything to do with trees, but I figured an arborist who climbs trees might know the answer.  My home is in one of the northern states that  gets a lot of snow during the winter.  I always wonder about the snow on the roof possibly damaging my house.

I know I should probably hire a professional roofer or someone to clear the snow off the roof for me, but I’m a self-admitted cheap son-of-a-gun. I figure I could do the work myself and save some money. But I’m always skittery about climbing into deep snow on my roof. Can you give me some tips on how to do this myself without falling off or falling though the new kitchen skylight?

Answer: Hi, Cheap So-and-So. The hazards of working on snow covered rooftops should be self evident. Slippery surfaces, hidden obstructions, working at height – add working in freezing temperatures to the mix and you have a very dangerous job. This is definitely a job for qualified, insured professionals who have the necessary fall restraint equipment to do so safely.

But if you have your heart (and wallet) set on doing this yourself, follow these guidelines to prevent falling through your snow covered kitchen skylight.

  • You may first want to consider doing as much of this work from the ground as possible.  Roof rakes are very handy at removing even the lower two feet of snow from your roof. This in itself is a significant decrease in snow load on the roof.  Just watch out for potential roof avalanches.
  • If you do get onto the roof, you must have proper fall protection equipment. Professional arborists are required by OSHA to use fall restraint equipment consisting of a support line securely attached to an anchor and support line rated with a 3000 lbs breaking strength as part of a rooftop fall restraint system.  If you don’t have access to this equipment, do not climb onto a snow covered roof without fall protection!
  • What’s under this lump of snow? Buried skylights pose a high risk to workers on a roof removing snow. Remove snow from skylights, conduit, soft spots, and other obstructions. Mark with flagging to identify potential hazards. Be extra vigilant when working near these hazards.
  • Make absolutely sure you know exactly where the edge of the roof is at all times. If it is covered in snow, it will be hard to determine. Do not step backward.
  • Do not lay shovels or other tools in the snow on the roof. They can become invisible trip hazards.
  • Keep your center of gravity low when working by kneeling or sitting, when possible. A lowered center of gravity lower helps provide better balance.
  • While you’re sitting, clear the bottoms of your footwear from time to time. Dense snow can pack in between the treads of your boots, making your footing treacherous. Sit down, hang onto something solid and clear your treads.
  • Do not work on a roof alone. Have another helper onsite in case of an emergency. Also, one person could work on the roof while the other person clears snow from below.
  • Protect the roof surface. Leave at least 2-inches of snow on the roof.  Removing snow completely from a roof surface can result in serious damage to the roof covering and possibly lead to leaks and additional damage.
  • Do not be fooled thinking if you do slide off the roof that the fluffy snow below will soften your landing. You cannot control where you fall, and you just as easily land on the non-fluffy porch steps as on the snow you piled up.

Working on a snow-covered roof poses significant dangers, including serious falls and exposure to extreme cold. Use these guidelines to ensure the proper controls are in place to minimize the risks of working on snow-covered roofs.


One thought on “Ask the Arborist: How Do I Clear Snow Off My Roof?

  • April 26, 2017 at 10:27 am
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    This had never been a problem for me until this last winter we had 3 feet of snow over two days that was going to be followed by a light rain storm over the weekend and a freeze on Monday. There was a lot of concern about older homes and the structural integrity being able to support all the weight. We ended up clearing off as many roofs in the neighborhood as we could. Wish we knew all this information at the time but we were in a crunch and needed to get the job done. We used teams of two one person belayed as the other worked on the roof. Luckily no injuries.

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