As Old Man Winter prepares to make his entrance, facilities managers and business owners should ensure that the roofs of their commercial buildings are sound and ready for the damaging temperature extremes, winds, snowfalls and ice the season can bring. If the roof gives way, after all, everything underneath it is at risk.
Conducting regular roof inspections and maintenance, preparing and adhering to an effective snow removal plan, and monitoring and reacting to signs of roof stress will help prolong the life of the roof and protect the business.
Roof Inspections and Maintenance
Inspect roofs at least every fall and every spring, as well as after severe weather. It is easier to identify issues, perform maintenance and address potential problems before an emergency arises. If the roof is older or in an area prone to catastrophic weather, more frequent inspections are recommended.
Inspect the condition of and address issues as needed for the following:
- Decking, underlayment and surface coverings
- Roof edging
- Flashing, expansion joint covers and vents
- Pitch pans and drainage pipes
- Gutters and downspouts
- Support structures
During the inspection, look for signs of ponding water. Address the underlying cause to alleviate the problem. Remove debris and any objects that aren’t necessary from the roof, especially anything that places unnecessary weight on the structure. Secure any items that could cause damage during strong winds. If necessary, provide additional support to strengthen the roof.
Snow Removal Plan
Prepare a snow removal plan before winter weather arrives. It should address three questions:
- How much weight can the roof withstand?
- At what point should snow be removed?
- How will the snow be removed, and by whom?
A structural engineer can determine the safe snow load for a specific commercial building. If solar panels, HVAC systems, new roof coverings or other additions have been made to the roof since the last determination, re-evaluate how much weight the roof can safely withstand.
Begin snow removal before snow is too high for someone to safely get onto the roof and well before the maximum load is reached. How much the snow will weigh will depend on both the depth and the type of snow. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety offers some guidelines for estimating the weight and suggests considering removing snow from the roof before it exceeds 20 to 25 pounds per square foot, keeping in mind the determined safe load for the specific roof.
In addition to identifying the plan trigger (the point at which work will begin), a snow removal plan should include details about who will do the work and how the snow will be removed. Anyone working on the roof should be trained and outfitted to do the work safely, in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s regulations. If an outside firm is chosen to perform the service, make sure the company will be available when needed and that it has proper, adequate insurance coverage for the project. A qualified insurance broker can assist with this determination.
Carefully consider what type of snow removal equipment will be allowed, since the goal is to remove the snow without causing damage to the roof. Heavy snow blowers, for example, may add to an already dangerous load on the roof and may not be appropriate. Metal snow shovels can damage roof coverings and are not recommended. Stiff-bristled push brooms and roof rakes may be better tools for the job.
Generally, it is best to remove drifted snow first, then work from the roof slope (if there is one) out toward the roof edge, keeping the load balanced across the structure. As snow is removed, place it away from buildings to avoid water damage as it melts. Also avoid blocking building exits, drains, fire hydrants and access to utilities.
How to Identify Roof Problems
Warning signs are often visible before a roof fails. Some of these signs may include the following:
- Sagging roof and/or bowing support structures
- Severe roof leaks
- Sagging ceiling tiles and/or sprinkler heads
- Structural popping or creaking noises
- Difficult-to-open doors and/or windows
- Wall cracks
- Water pooling on the roof away from drainage areas
After ensuring the safety of those working in and around the building, contact a qualified engineer to assess the structural soundness of the building. Take the necessary steps to resolve any problems and make the building safe again.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “Snow Load Safety Guide” provides more detailed information about how to protect your roof before, during and after a snowstorm. Speak with your local Hylant risk management expert or your insurance provider to make sure your business is protected from top to bottom this winter.
The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your insurance broker or trusted adviser for insurance-related questions.