This post is primarily a public-service announcement for people who have skylights in their home. Skylights:

  • Make your home far more vulnerable to leaks than you might expect.
  • Are a hazard for ice dam removal & roof snow removal professionals.

There is no reason to avoid getting a skylight just because you live in a cold climate, however. Instead, you just need to take steps to ensure that they don’t become a liability when there are several tons of ice & snow on top of your home.

Verify Proper Skylight Installation

Many skylights simply are not installed well enough to withstand ice dam season. Typically, we see one of three problems:

  • Missing flashing.
  • Improperly installed flashing.
  • Low-quality caulk.

Flashing is a metal collar that is placed around various structures on your roof. It’s meant to divert water away from the areas vulnerable to leakage. You should see a continuous, 8-inch piece of metal surrounding your skylight. (See this website for a fantastic photograph of what it should look like). If it’s not installed properly water will tend to run back towards the gap between the skylight and the shingles. It will enter your home from there. Obviously if it’s missing the problem will be even worse.

The skylight should also be caulked. Over time caulk does turn brittle and crack (especially the cheap stuff). It will need to be checked and possibly refreshed.

Do not assume that you are not having any of these issues just because you do not get roof leaks when it rains. Remember, any ice dam removal session is going to send hundreds of gallons of water (melted ice) cascading over your roof. This could overwhelm your skylight’s defenses in a way that most rain storms simply will not.

You will need to check your skylights during the warmer months so these problems can be addressed. Once there is snow on your roof it’s too late.

Disclose the Presence of Skylights

Any ice dam removal professional needs to be made aware that skylights are present. Glass is especially slick when the roof is covered in ice and snow. An ice dam professional could step on the skylight, slip, and fall simply because he can’t see it under the snow covering. He’ll place his foot thinking he understands the surface below. Your failure to disclose the presence of skylights could cause a tragic accident.

It could also cause a major roof leak that will require massive repairs should the skylight break. Just imagine the mess of water, ice, and glass that could end up in your carpets should you fail to remember this simple tip!

Monitor Skylights During Ice Dam Removal

Skylights are very vulnerable to roof leaks during the ice dam removal process. Most ice dam professionals will ask you to remain home and vigilant while the process is taking place. That way, you can stop them if water starts to drip through the skylights. Usually, this will only happen if the flashing and caulk are in bad shape, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The ice dam removal professional has no way of knowing the skylight is getting overwhelmed unless you tell him!  Remember, your skylight is most likely packed with snow and ice, so your technician can’t actually see whether the flashing has been installed properly. He can’t see whether or not the caulking is any good, either.

Once he has been made aware of the problem he can adjust his steaming technique to divert ice and water away from the skylight. It will take longer than simply allowing the water to cascade over the light, but it will protect your home.

If you absolutely cannot be home, you might give the ice dam removal professional your blessing to use these techniques anyway. Make it clear you understand that it will cost a little more but that it’s worth it to you to avoid the risk of skylight leaks. Most true professionals will understand exactly what you are getting at and will be happy to accommodate you.