If you live in an area where heavy snowfall is a common winter occurrence, you may have already busted out your trusty snow shovel for the first time this season. While it's important (and often legally required) for you to keep your driveway and sidewalks clear of snow, it's easy to forget the snow and ice that accumulates on your roof. It may come as a surprise how quickly this snow can build up to the point when it poses a danger to your home. If you have a home inspection coming up in the dead of winter, you'll want to review the best advice for removing snow from your roof.

To shovel or not to shovel

If you live in certain parts of the U.S., you may not even need to worry about snow accumulation on your roof. According to Houselogic, homes built in snow-prone climates are required by law to withstand the amounts of snowfall they typically experience. However, it's not exactly the amount of snow that matters, but the weight. Wet snow is much heavier than drier snow, so the type of precipitation can make a big difference. A few quick shovels of snow from your roof should be enough to tell you what kind of snow you are dealing with. In any case, as long as your house is up to code, there is likely not much to worry about.

Roof cave-ins from snow accumulation are very rare, but when they do happen, there are often several signs of impending danger. If interior doors begin sticking, it's a sign that the weight of the snow is putting excessive pressure on the frame of the home. This effect will be most noticeable on interior doors leading to rooms on the second floor, as well as closets or attics in the center of the house. Cracks in the drywall or plaster around these doors are another obvious sign of stress. Again, most homes will not have these problems, but the chances are higher if renovations were completed without meeting building codes. Houselogic notes that the removal of load-bearing walls are the most common culprits of snow-related cave-ins.

When (and how) to remove

As noted on DisasterSafety.org, homes with roof damage or decay can also be susceptible to danger related to snowfall. Regardless of the location of your home, residential roofs should be able to withstand 20 pounds per square foot of extra weight before it becomes hazardous. The age of the snowfall can also make a difference in weight. Generally, 10-12 inches of new snow is equivalent to about 5 pounds per square foot of weight. That means it would take as much as 4 feet of snow before the average roof became stressed. It would take just two feet of old snow, though, to achieve the same effect. Areas that receive frequent, heavy snow accumulations may be at risk.

If you think snow may be piling up to dangerous levels, you need to be careful. Most roofs are difficult to access in normal weather, and the addition of snow or ice can make this even more risky. You may be able to use a snow rake with a long arm to remove some of the excess accumulation, but in most cases, consider calling a snow removal contractor. A professional will be able to safely remove the snow from your roof before it reaches dangerous levels. While this may come at a high cost, if you really do have too much snow on your roof, it will likely turn out much cheaper than dealing with permanent damage, or worse.