Five Tips for Protecting a Low-Slope Roof from Snow Damage This Winter

Five Tips for Protecting a Low-Slope Roof from Snow Damage This Winter

02/03/2021

Low Slope Roof Trapped Moisture

Winter is upon us, and so is the snow for much of the country. While kids and other winter lovers are going crazy for these fluffy, white accumulations, commercial building owners and managers are left wondering what the heavy buildup of snow and ice has in store for their properties and their low-slope roof systems. 

Once the snow melts, any unresolved defects and/or damage to your low-slope roof system could allow the water to infiltrate  the building(s), potentially interfering with, or halting, the daily operations of the facility. We’re offering up some tips to help protect and keep an eye on your roof system this winter when it’s at its most vulnerable.

1. Perform an Interior Evaluation

Perhaps the simplest of all tips for protecting your roof system is to just look up! There are plenty of signs that are noticeable from inside the building that you can catch just by making it a point to look up at the ceiling. Far too often, roof systems are out of sight, out of mind because they are literally above us. But this small act can help you detect a problem before it becomes larger and more noticeable. Don’t wait until there’s an obvious roof leak to encourage an investigation.

Interior Warning Signs

Interior warning signs include:

  • Interior water leaks
  • Cracks in the ceiling or walls/masonry
  • Sagging ceiling tiles
  • Sagging structural roof deck 
  • Doors and/or windows that can no longer been opened/closed
  • No movement through drainage pipes 
  • Structural issues and/or damage to load-bearing components that cause buckling of walls and beams

2. Look at the Roof

You’ll notice that these first two tips are fairly straightforward and encourage you to simply take a look and see what you notice—whether it’s from inside or outside the building. Having the right roof consultants on your side is key to turning those simple observations into actionable items. 

Go up onto the roof after a snowfall to see how much has accumulated. If you notice any of the signs we’ve listed below, call Technical Assurance to investigate the issue and come up with a plan to address it.

Exterior Warning Signs

Exterior warning signs of issues:

  • Deflection in the membrane, substrate, etc.
  • Accumulation of water at non-drainage locations
  • Distressed conditions – holes, dry areas of the roof amongst areas with snow and/or frost
  • Extreme icicle formation on the perimeter of the roof
  • Rooftop equipment that is no longer securely fastened 
  • Clogged or blocked gutters and overflow drainage components

Dry Spots on the Roof

A simple way to detect if there may be issues within your roofing system is to see where you have dry areas after a snowfall. If the majority of your roof is covered with snow, dry areas could indicate where there could be latent moisture in the substrate. In some instances, you can even feel the trapped moisture underfoot. Unresolved, this can exacerbate any potential issues as heavy snowfall on top of wet insulation creates a more significant weight load on the structure. 

Check for Structural Distress

If you suspect a larger, more involved structural issues, such as damage to load-bearing components that can cause wall and beam buckling, it may be time to schedule a structural engineering evaluation to check for structural distress. 

3. Perform Annual Roof Assessments

Annual assessments allow you to understand the condition of your roof system, check for vulnerabilities and identify trouble spots. This is what we call establishing a health baseline of your roof assets—and repeating the process each year will give you a clear picture of how your system is performing over time, what defects need to be repaired so that natural weather events don’t cause additional damage, and measures that need to be taken in order to extend the life of your asset. 

Establishing a health baseline of the roof assets through a portfolio-wide inventory and condition assessment allows us to prioritize capital and repair projects over multiple years. The assessment provides all the data we need to establish metrics and accountability, and then chart savings through a manageable plan.

4. Implement a Proactive Preventative Maintenance Program

Proactive preventative maintenance (PM) allows you to find issues in the early stages before they become much larger, more costly problems requiring immediate attention. 

A proactive PM program is an investment in your facility and can lower the average life cycle cost of a roof system, resulting in significant savings. Think of it like your car or your home’s HVAC system… Ignoring issues and putting off small repairs will only lead to an overworked system that’s not running efficiently. Eventually that overworked system will stop working altogether, and repairs often end up being much more involved and expensive.

A proactive PM program includes general roof housekeeping and maintenance-level repairs that are performed on an annual basis and have been proven to generate the greatest life cycle improvement for our clients’ assets. It reduces—and often eliminates—emergency repairs and replacements. 

You can reference our spring roof preventative maintenance checklist that helps keep important maintenance tasks top of mind. 

5. Properly Remove the Snow 

One of the most important tips we can communicate is that you must know how to remove snow from a roof in a way that does not cause harm. Having this knowledge will keep you from potentially making mistakes during snow removal that could cause future issues with your roof asset.

A lot of time, snow removal isn’t necessary. Roofs are designed to support expected snow loads using historical data from your geographic location, and design calculations include a safety margin. But when it is, or if an owner prefers to remove the snow, doing it carefully to not damage the system is key

Because snow varies in water content, its weight per inch of accumulation will vary, so snow depth is not a good criteria on which to base snow removal decisions. When in doubt, call a professional snow removal company for help. They’ll have the knowledge to help you make the right decisions regarding how to remove the snow. 

Next Step: Get a Formal Evaluation of Your Roof System

If you are concerned about any interior or exterior warning signs that you noticed during your own inspections, contact Technical Assurance for a formal, professional evaluation of your roofs. We will not only help identify issues, but come up with a plan for how to address them within your budget and when it makes sense. 

If you have followed these steps and haven’t noticed any issues, that’s great news! You’re doing your part to protect a very important asset of your building, but you can do even more to get in front of potential issues and actually extend the life of your roof system. Contact Technical Assurance to schedule a consultation on implementing a proactive preventative maintenance program.