To Insulate or Not to Insulate

December 5th, 2014

Insulating Your Roof

Insulation is a general term that has to do with putting material between two substances that prevents the loss of heat. Insulating a building is standard practice and keeps the heat inside. Various materials such as fiberglass and cellulose are commonly used in walls and attics.

But what about insulating your roof?IMG_0728

“Insulate a roof?’ you ask,

“You mean insulate an attic, right?”

No, how about insulating your roof?

I learned firsthand about insulating using snow as a young Scoutmaster in Utah.  If you’ve ever been a boy scout living in a cold, snowy region, you might have attended an event called the Klondike Derby. Scout groups make lightweight sleds and have a race to see who can get to the finish line the quickest. They also spend the night outside in the cold, winter air.

During the two years I served as a Scoutmaster, I learned a lesson about spending cold nights in the snow with 12 year old boys. The first year we packed down sleeping bags, extra blankets, put on layers of clothes and warm coats, assuming we would stay warm. We all slept close together in tents. The temperature dropped below 20 degrees. We froze and no one slept!

The next year, dreading this annual event, I took the advice of a man who had weathered many Klondike Derbies. His suggestionwas to build snow caves and sleep inside, leaving the tents packed away in our garages. My first thought was, “Who wants to sleep in snow?” Then I remembered learning about Eskimos’ igloos and some animals digging snow caves and decided maybe he was on to something.

Snow Is an Amazing Insulator

You have probably guessed the end of this story about our experiences IMG_0700sleeping outside in the snow. We dug out some snow caves and slept great! Why? Because snow is an amazing insulator. New snow has a high percentage of trapped air in the snow crystals and this prevents air from moving. Therefore, heat transfer is reduced. In fact, it is estimated that uncompacted snow is up to 95% air. The air temperature drops outside, but inside the snow cave this does not happen.

My experiences with the insulative properties of snow go way back to my young days as a scoutmaster and hopefully help you to understand that the answer to the question about snow insulating your roof is yes.
It’s a good idea to change your perspective about that snow on your roof each winter. Instead of bemoaning that annoying white stuff, embrace it’s properties!

Terry Anderson, President of TRA Snow and Sun, Inc. and inventor of the original Snow Bracket snow guard for tile roofs and other roofing accessories. He wants all readers to know that his troop won the Klondike Derby the second year!
(For more information about how much snow on a roof is too much, check our previous blog entitled The Roof is Falling! Collapsing roofs in Buffalo, NY.