More than Snow Removal Best Practices for Effective Winter Roof Maintenance

Building Services ManagementIn areas with climates that cause severe or even moderate winter weather, winter roof maintenance should be a high priority for facility managers and building owners.

Fresh snow can weigh as much as 20 pounds per cubic foot, while wet snow or ice can weigh as much as 60 pounds per cubic foot.

Snow and ice accumulation places a significant strain on roof structures, and roofs that are not kept in good condition can leak or buckle under the pressure, causing much larger problems for building occupants. Preventive and regular maintenance procedures as well as thorough inspections should be taken very seriously in order to avoid the negative repercussions of winter roof damage.

The highest priority task to complete before the snow flies should be hiring a roofing professional to visit the roof and conduct a thorough analysis of any existing problems.
Professional roofing inspectors should thoroughly examine the roof structure for damage and deterioration. This includes the roofing membrane, flashings, drains, downspouts and other elements of a roofing system crucial for effective drainage during the winter months. Any elements of a roofing system that are damaged or nearing the end of their lifecycle should be repaired or replaced.

Staff should remove debris from downspouts and drains, as clogged drains can cause water to pool up and freeze, creating a considerable amount of additional weight on the roof. This should happen often throughout the year, but most commonly occurs during the few weeks leading into winter.

Additionally, staff members should always be on the lookout for damaged roofing systems, as they visit the rooftop far more frequently than professional inspectors. It is important to be proactive with preventive roof maintenance to increase the chances of a facility’s roof lasting through even the most severe winter weather.

Snow Removal

Some roof maintenance cannot be done in advance and must take place on a regular basis depending on the severity of the weather. Chief among these in terms of winter weather is snow removal. The best practice for commercial facility roofs is to remove snow as soon as possible, as the weight from the snow could cause the structure to collapse in extreme cases. After a heavy snowfall it is recommended to hire a professional to remove the snow from the roof in a timely manner.

If snow is not promptly removed from the roof, the snow can melt during the day and then re-freeze during the evening in what is known as the freeze/thaw cycle. After this cycle takes place, the snow will develop into layers of ice and become far more difficult to remove in addition to weighing considerably more than fresh snow. During the freeze/thaw cycle, ice has a tendency to form around roof drains and restrict proper drainage.

This becomes a serious hazard not only because of the additional weight it places on the roof, but because as the snow and ice melts, water can slowly seep into cracks and crevices in the roofing membrane and then freeze, expanding the openings and causing additional damage and costly repairs.

Winter weather presents particular hazards to maintenance staff, especially those who are not accustomed to working under harsh winter conditions. There are several precautions that maintenance crews should follow in order to ensure the safe removal of snow and maintenance of all roofing systems without employee injuries or damage to roofing materials.

If ice does accumulate on the roof after a snowfall, it is important not to chip the ice, as this could poke a hole in the roof membrane and cause leaks and other structural damage. This common mistake is often the cause of much more serious issues resulting from leaks caused by damage to the roofing membrane. Rather than chipping the ice, focus on breaking it into small pieces and removing them so as not to damage the roofing surface.

White membranes are very slippery for workers on rooftops during the winter, especially in the morning hours when frost has accumulated on cold surfaces. These conditions can be very hazardous, especially because frost is difficult to notice against white roofing material. Employees should take extreme caution, particularly on sloped roofs, to avoid slipping and falling.

It is recommended for facility managers or building owners to conduct employee training courses on the topic of rooftop safety so employees are fully aware of the risks of winter roof maintenance and the best tactics to avoid injuries.

As winter approaches in many areas of the United States, building owners and facility managers should take these important reminders into account to avoid preventable roofing damage due to snow and ice accumulation. Preventive maintenance as well as regular inspections and prompt snow removal are all important aspects of properly caring for a commercial facility roof during the winter months.

This was originally published in Building Services Management Magazine.

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