So far, the 2018 winter season has been mild (thankfully), but it’s looking like January will be a tough month for New England. Protecting your home or commercial property from heavy snowfall is part and parcel of living in the northeast, but the regularity of winter storms demands a clear action plan. While many have grown accustomed to the severe weather, it’s crucial to anticipate the risks brought on by the annual blizzard conditions.

When it comes to securing your roof, the first step is to consider how snow buildup and below-freezing temperatures can threaten its integrity. Some property owners invest in heated roof systems to help quickly clear away snow drifts, but these installations can introduce new hurdles into the upkeep process. The biggest winter risk is universal among every type of roof – accumulated snow and ice is heavy, which could cause a collapse if it’s left uncleared for too long. To help you anticipate the severe weather ahead, consider your roof’s unique challenges and develop a comprehensive action plan that will keep you one step ahead.

Winter Risks for Homes with Pitched Roofs

Pitched roofs are designed to efficiently channel snowmelt into an external gutter system, making them a perfect option for residential homes. Roofs with steep slopes usually have less long-term buildup, but you should always expect some accumulation during a storm. According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, most residential roofs should be able to support 20 pounds of snow per square foot before they become stressed.

A clear and well-anchored gutter system is extremely important during the winter season, as it allows for quick drainage and effective runoff management. However, if your gutters are choked with leaves they may become too heavy with ice to remain properly fixed to your roof. This is a major hazard that could lead to serious injury or property damage if they are dislodged by heavy winds.

Winter Risks for Commercial Properties with Flat Roof

Flat and low-pitched roofs face the greatest risk during the winter season, as heavy snow and ice accumulation can easily cause the entire structure to buckle. These types of roofs are mostly found on industrial buildings and apartment complexes, opening up a slew of liability concerns should their integrity become compromised. Unlike residential properties, most commercial buildings possess rooftop heating and ventilation systems which may not perform as needed if snow buildup uncontrolled. To ensure your workflow is not disturbed, you should pre-schedule snow removal before the severe weather hits.

Snow Removal Basics

Both homeowners and commercial property managers should learn how to differentiate between the types of snowfall they will encounter during the winter season. This is an important distinction because each type of snow has different weight distributions. Generally speaking, there are three categories to consider when evaluating rooftop accumulation:

  • Fresh snow: This type is characterized by a fluffy and powdery consistency, and is most common during and/or immediately following a snowstorm. 10 – 12 inches of fresh snow is about equal to one inch of water, making any buildup over 4 feet a risk to your roof’s overall structure.
  • Packed snow: If left uncleared, fresh snow can quickly become more dense as a result of low temperatures and moisture in the air. 3 – 5 inches of packed snow is about equal to one inch of water, making any buildup over 2 feet a risk to your roof’s overall structure.
  • Ice: Following periods of fluctuating temperature or near-freezing rain, both fresh and packed snow may turn into a heavy sheet of ice. 1 inch of ice is about equal to 1 inch of water, making any buildup over 4 inches a risk to your roof’s overall structure.

Once you have a grasp of the basic types of winter accumulation and their associated risks, you’ll be better equipped to prevent structural damage to your property. Snow removal can be dangerous (even for professionals) so be sure to play it safe at all times. Here are four helpful tips for managing snow and ice on your roof:

1. Identify your roof’s vulnerabilities

The best way to handle heavy snowfall is to take a proactive approach to roof defense. Before the snow starts to fall, you should already have an idea about your roof’s vulnerabilities. This is one reason why roof inspections are essential, as they will make you aware of the weak spots before the weather finds them for you. Be sure to look out for low-lying areas, leaks in you upper floors, and sagging gutters, as these problems will grow more severe as the season drags on.

2. Inspect your roof after each storm

Even if your roof is structurally sound, it’s important to evaluate its condition after every storm. You never know what might happen during a blizzard, as a falling branch or dislodged shingle may lead to more serious problems down the line. During your post-snow inspection, keep an eye out for these common warning signs:

  • Sagging and/or warping
  • Moderate to severe leaks
  • Cracked or split framing
  • Bends or ripples in the support structure
  • Cracks in your walls or ceiling
  • Doors that pop open or are difficult to close
  • Bowed utility pipes or conduit

While these signs may not necessarily point to a significant issue, it’s crucial to take them seriously until the root cause is identified. Don’t wait for the snow to melt before taking action, as the risk of collapse will rise just as quickly as the cost of repairs.

3. Clear off ice and snow as soon as possible

While pitched roofs can handle prolonged snowfall more effectively than flat roofs, the steeper slope makes clearing snow and ice a lot more treacherous. Of course, commercial property owners should also take precautions to protect workers that are sent up to remove excess accumulation, but homeowners should be particularly cautious. Consider these safety tips before you venture out into the cold:

  • Start from the edge and work your way up the roof
  • Use a snow rake and avoid climbing a ladder if possible
  • Remove a portion of the snow (down to 2 or 3 inches) rather than scraping clean
  • Stay away from metal tools, as they may damage your roof
  • Carefully clear away large icicles hanging over doorways and walkways
  • Wear protective headgear and goggles to avoid injury
  • Always have someone outside to assist you with snow removal
  • Keep gutters and drains free of ice, snow and other debris
  • Shovel snow away from the building when clearing flat roofs

For more tips about safe snow removal, check out FEMA’s free instructional resources.

4. Don’t wait before calling in a roofing expert

If you believe your roof may be at risk, do not hesitate to call in a licensed roofing contractor. Snow removal comes with a great deal of personal risk, both for your health and the well-being of your property. Roofing contractors are professionally trained to safely clear away snow and ice, which can save you time and money in the case of serious injury.

If you’re concerned about snow removal this winter, we can help you find affordable solutions that will keep your roof intact and your property secure. Our expert roofing team has helped families and commercial property owners around New England by anticipating seasonal risks and developing personalized action plans to suit their unique needs.

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