Roofing that is not properly taken care of in the winter can become very unpleasant. Winter weather can cause serious and expensive damage to the roofing that is not ready. It is important to develop a winter roof management plan that incorporates inspections, maintenance actions, and repair procedures. You need to be prepared before and winter events occur. A range of winter weather conditions can your roof system: cold temperatures, high winds, and precipitation are a few. For a building manager, the first step to prevention of problems is identifying the potential problems these hazards can cause. You also need to understand practices on how to maintain and repair these conditions during the winter months. Having a winter management plan can eliminate costly roof repairs and extend the life of the existing roof.

Your Guide to Winter Roofing

Preparation for winter weather is an important step. Even the toughest materials can be damaged without this. There are steps to take during winter weather that will be more beneficial in the long run. Colder weather and excessive precipitation are the primary problems that will affect your building in winter months.

Temperature swings

Lower temperatures can have a negative impact on roof materials. This is especially true when temperature fluctuations are extreme. For instance, a daytime temperature of 70 degrees F and a nighttime temperature of 40 degrees F is common can be substantial when it comes to roofing materials. Variance in temperatures contributes to the expansion and contraction of materials. Materials expand and contract independently as a result of the continual freeze and thaw process. This condition causes loss of attachment, which creates membrane blisters and membrane openings. Moisture presence in the insulation will also contribute to these defects and potential damage.

One strategy to prevent membrane splits and openings is to monitor and repair existing blisters/ridges as soon as they are identified. In harsh conditions, temporary repairs should be made to eliminate moisture intrusion into the building. Permanent repairs should then be completed once the weather is more favorable. Colder temperatures are often accompanied by gusting winds. Any loose, unsecured, or unattached roof materials can be easily displaced. The most common points of roof displacement are around perimeter edges, with problems also occurring at flashings. Damage can also occur from the impact of displaced material on the roof membrane. This causes membrane splits or openings that will allow moisture into the building.  The best prevention is to make sure that all roof materials and components are properly secured during the winter months.

Winter Roofing Hazards

One element that can have a negative impact on roof assemblies is precipitation. When precipitation occurs during colder temperatures, the result is ice or snow. Without proper roof maintenance, these conditions can create havoc on your roof.  The most significant concern is the excessive weight which can lead to structural damage. The facility manager needs to be aware of the load rating and, in the case of any heavy downfall. While snow is heavier, water can pool and create a heavy force on roofing as well. The best practice is to remove excess snow, ice, or water at the top layer. Should any damage occur during this, it needs to be repaired immediately.

Another potentially negative impact of the freeze/thaw cycle. When snow and ice melt, they turn to water. Snow and ice can melt during lower temperature days if exposed to enough sunlight. This melting can leave large pools of water which adds additional weight to the roof surface. Pooled water can enter through any cracks and can lead to the growth of mold within and on the roof surface. Most roof membranes require the removal of ponding water within 48 to 72 hours. It is important that the accumulated water is allowed to properly drain from the roof surface. Because this can be a lot of water, it is imperative that all roof drains are free of debris. It is also important to ensure that all drain connections are sealed and in working condition.

The roof material around the drain also needs to be thoroughly inspected for any splits or cracks. There is typically a mixture of materials meet in these locations, so openings could be created from differential movement. These areas are also points of continual water accumulation, making them highly susceptible to roof leaks.  The best practice is to inspect the roof drains regularly throughout the year. You want to make sure they are in proper working conditions. Take care of any clogged drains right away. It is also recommended to inspect all drain strainers prior to any extreme weather to ensure there is no presence of debris impeding the drainage. Flashings and penetrations are the most vulnerable points on a roof system. These areas are vulnerable to roof leaks from any water or snow accumulation. Moisture can enter the structure from openings in the materials or from openings at terminations or coverings.

Special Winter Considerations for Steep-Sloped Roofing

Winter weather can also have a negative impact on steep-slope roof systems. The creation of ice dams, or accumulated snow or ice at perimeter walls and gutters is common. Once these dams begin to melt, they can enter the structure from openings at fascias and eaves.
Make sure fascia panels are inspected for openings at joints and for separation from the substrate. The ICC building code requires the application of eaves flashing material a minimum of three feet upslope from the perimeter. This material is typically thicker than a standard underlayment and it serves as a flashing material to prevent water from getting in.

Conclusion

The best practice is to ensure fascia and eaves flashing materials are in proper working condition. This can be done through regular inspections during the year. In the event ice dams are created, you may want to bring in a local roofing contractor to properly remove them so as not to further damage your roof.  The roof surface experiences greater accumulation than the ground. To care for the roof system in the winter months, facility managers should develop a roof maintenance plan that includes all the best practices mentioned above. Being prepared and properly executing your management plan will eliminate costly repairs.

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