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  • Writer's pictureJohn Skoog

Five Steps to Help Prevent Flat Roof Collapse in Winter

Practice Proactive Roof Care to Prevent Issues with Your Flat Roof and Help You Stay Safe and Dry all Winter Long!

One winter season I got a call about a problem with a roof drain. I arrived on sight and found 2 feet of standing water in a puddle that was more than 20 feet wide and stretched the entire width of the building. To say that there was a problem was an understatement! The weight of all that water posed a serious safety risk and compromised the structural integrity of the building. The issue was that the drain pipes were blocked with debris and had frozen shut, preventing the water from draining. This problem was easily solved but could have been prevented with some proactive care measures. Keep reading to learn more!

Before going out on your roof, remember to put safety first! If you don't feel safe going on your roof - hire a professional to do so. Make sure you're wearing rubber soled shoes that offer good traction and remove any gravel or rocks from your treads to help prevent punctures and improve traction. Take the following steps in the fall before the temps get too cold and the snow starts building up.

1. Maintain Rooftop Equipment

It’s a good idea to perform basic equipment checks and maintain rooftop equipment, such as fryer vents, heaters, and A/C units, prior to the first snowfall. This is best done by the professional who typically services your rooftop equipment. After they service your equipment make sure to walk the area and look for any loose screws, loose equipment panels, or damage to the roof surrounding the equipment. Pick up any loose screws (taking care not to step on them), refasten loose panels (or call the tech back to do this), and if any roof damage has occurred make sure to document the situation, seek legal counsel, and call in your roofer for repairs.

A badly rusted roof vent!

Other rooftop equipment, like roof vents, keep your building dry and properly ventilated. Vents that are rusted through or damaged can cause leaks and should be replaced. Vents that are loose or not properly set in place can also cause leaks by failing to properly shed water. If you suspect a problem with a vent but aren't sure how to fix or replace it, reach out to your roofer and ask them for a service call.

2. Prevent Damage from Trees

Trees that overhang your roof may look nice, but they can scrape and puncture the roof as they sway in the breeze, or press down into the roof once loaded with snow. If you have trees with limbs hanging out over your roof it is a good idea to work with an arborist before winter to get them limbed up away from the roof.

3. Remove Debris and Install Heat Tape

Debris erodes the roof surface and can pile up on top of drain covers and build up in gutters, blocking downspouts, and impeding proper drainage of snowmelt and water runoff. Each gallon of water that sits on your roof adds around 8 pounds, so plugged drains combined with large amounts of trapped water and heavy snow pose a serious collapse risk. Prevents this by removing debris in the fall. Start by sweeping or blowing away leaves, moss, and dirt. Pay special attention to areas where debris typically piles up, like the valleys, gutters, and scuppers. Check all of the drains, gutters, and downspouts and make sure that they are clear of debris and can drain water without any problems.

Once you've cleared debris from your roof make sure to install heat tape. Heat tape can prevent winter roof damage from ice dams and frozen drains and ensure good water drainage. Install, or ask your roofer to install, heat tape in the downspouts, drains, gutters, and valleys. Ensure that the heat tape you select is safe for your roofing material and will not damage it. If you have a roofer do this, they can select the appropriate heat tape, and make sure it is installed properly.

4. Look for Problems

Roofs require maintenance and accumulate damage with exposure and age. Problems can crop up in a season from hail, wind, and UV exposure, so even if your roof was in good repair in the spring, it's a good idea to look to any new problems before winter. Walk your roof once you've removed the debris and carefully scan it for punctures, rips, or cracks where water could seep into the roof layers. Even small holes can allow snowmelt to seep in and cause big problems. If you spot problems you can circle them with a marker and call in your roofer for repairs. You can also call your roofer in and ask them to do this step for you. The following pictures show what some of these problems can look like. Hover over each picture to see a description of the problem.

5. Follow Up in Spring

Ask your roofer to stop by and perform warranty checks every spring. They can look for potential problems, fix any issues to help your building stay leak-free, and get you on their books for a big summer repair or restoration project if necessary.

The best way to prevent winter time disasters is to keep your roof in good working order year-round. Proper maintenance maintains the integrity of the roof, helps the building stay free of moisture and rot problems, and identifies any major repair needs. The best way to care for your roof is to develop a good relationship with a professional roofing service. Sunvek WA offers services to meet all of your commercial and industrial flat roof needs and we can help you get prepared to make it through winter safely. Call Sunvek today if you'd like help with proactive pre-winter care!

Best of luck with your rooftop care! Stay safe and stay tuned for our next blog post on snow removal!

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