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Snow buildup a headache for homeowners

This week's winter storms are expected to pile even more snow onto rooftops and next to houses, giving homeowners a few things to think about as winter's march continues.

Clearing snow off the roof
David McCrackin, left, and his son Christopher McCrackin of J & J Repairs clear snow off the roof of a south Fargo home in this December 2009 file photo. Forum file photo

This week's winter storms are expected to pile even more snow onto rooftops and next to houses, giving homeowners a few things to think about as winter's march continues.

Here's a look at four frequent concerns:

Roof snow

Most house roofs in this region are designed to handle the snow load of a typical winter, so don't be too hasty to climb onto your roof with a shovel, says Ken Hellevang, agricultural engineer with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

Most roofs should be built to hold 30 to 40 pounds of snow per square foot, slightly less for agricultural buildings, he says.


Those standards may not have been in place when older homes were built, but if they've withstood the test of time, they probably can handle a normal winter's snow load, Hellevang says.

Ice dams

The bigger concern about roof snow is its potential to create an ice dam, which forms when heat escaping from the attic melts the snow and the water runs down and refreezes at the eaves and gutters.

The ice buildup causes snowmelt to back up and leak under the shingles into the attic spaces or eaves. The water may run down onto the ceiling and into wall cavities, leading to stains, structural damage and mold, says Carl Pedersen, energy educator for the NDSU Extension Service. The weight of the ice also can cause gutters and eaves to sag.

The best way to prevent ice dams is to ensure the attic is properly sealed and insulated with 18 inches of insulation, Pedersen says.

If the ice dam has already formed, removing snow from the lower portions of the roof - for safety's sake, he recommends using a roof rake instead of climbing onto the roof - will help melting snow to run off.

Professional services also are available to remove snow and ice from rooftops.

Gas meters


Ice and snow accumulation can plug a natural gas meter's regulator vent, leading to dangerous gas buildup inside the house.

To prevent this hazard, Xcel Energy advises homeowners to "very gently" remove snow or ice from the meter and any associated piping, as well as the roofline above the meter, because snow and ice on roofs and in trees can melt and drip onto meters.

Customers also should maintain a clear path to the meter to allow easy access in case of an emergency. Meters should be cleared by hand, and customers should be careful when shoveling around them, Xcel says.

Sewer vents

Blocked sewer vents can cause sewer gas to back up into the home, which can make people ill with headaches, nausea, dizziness or drowsiness. The gas also can be explosive in some cases, says Roxanne Johnson, Extension Service water quality associate.

Gases escaping from the vent contain water vapor, which can form a frost layer thick enough to clog the opening, Johnson says. Too much snow on the roof also can block the pipe.

The first sign that the vent is blocked may be the toilet gurgling or not flushing properly, Johnson says.

Because of this area's extreme cold, she recommends hiring a professional to install a heat register in the attic. Other options include installing a copper "T" down the sewer vent to hold the heat from the steam; attaching an insulating sleeve to the pipe on the roof; and wrapping the pipe in insulation in the attic.


Heat tape should be used only under mobile homes and not in the attic because it can create a fire hazard, Johnson says.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are both Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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