Protect Your Roof From Storm Damage

01/24/2014 | By Christopher Curtland

Know what to do before, during, and after an extreme weather event

Remove ice from rooftops quickly to avoid disaster.

Snow and ice must be removed from rooftops in a timely manner. They can clog drains or melt and leak into the assembly. To avoid these failures and even worse disasters like caved in assemblies, have a removal plan that includes where the snow should be dumped. Also ensure that only trained roof technicians are performing snow removal, as they are trained in how not to damage the surface.

When your site is susceptible to storms of any sort, don't throw caution to the wind. It's easy to forget your roof is up there – until it's caving in around you.

Whether you're facing wind, winter, or whatever the elements may bring, have a plan in place and make sure your building's roof is prepared for extreme weather. Human optimism makes us believe the worst won't come, and then it takes us by storm.

"We're seeing record temperatures, several inches of rain overnight, damaging winds, regional power failures, and building collapse from accumulated snow or plugged drains," says Richard L. Fricklas, former technical director emeritus of the Roofing Industry Educational Institute. "It's one thing to read about these things in the local newspaper – quite another when they affect your building and its occupants."

Successful handling of severe storms requires preparation, emergency response, and damage assessment. Take these steps to weather the risks of extreme conditions.

Plan for the Worst
Preparation revolves around personnel and procedures, but you should first assess the condition of your assets.

"The secret to successful roof management begins with an evaluation of existing roofs," Fricklas says. "This could be performed by skilled in-house staff or by an outside roof consulting firm."

Your existing maintenance program should already include semi-annual inspections. If it doesn't, be sure to perform walkthroughs prior to severe weather seasons.

"The best way to prepare is to maintain," says Steven L. McBride, president of Professional Roof Consultants (PRC). "Look for obvious signs of defect and make sure things are buttoned up."

Be Wary of Winter Weather

Use this checklist to help your roof endure the cold months.

  • Check exterior walls for leaks, stains, and cracks in brick and missing mortar. Seal these openings to make the building weather-tight.
  • Check the ceiling and interior walls for signs of leaks and staining. Before winter weather gets bad, seal as many roof leaks as possible. When the rooftop is covered with snow and ice, it becomes impossible to find them.
  • Check the roof deck and fascia/coping for any signs of deterioration. Check expansion joints for signs of excessive movement and splits, thin sections of membrane, and deteriorated caulking. Cold weather has a significant effect on loose mortar and composite building materials. They contract and may separate, creating entry points.
  • Check all penetrations on the roof, like pitch pockets, vent pipes, and pipe boots. Check flashings and joints for deterioration and voids.
  • Check and clear all gutters, downspouts, and scuppers. Clean out all drains and make sure they function properly. Check all strainers and clamping rings. Drainage problems in the winter months are a forerunner to future roof failure.
  • Check the field of the roof membrane and redistribute all ballasts across any bare spots. Check for tears and holes in the membrane and repair them promptly.
  • Remove all loose debris from the roof surface. Remove all unattached walk pads so they don't become an icy slip hazard as water freezes around and beneath them.
  • Remember that only trained roof technicians should remove snow from the rooftop. They are trained in how not to damage the roof surface.

Information courtesy of NATIONS ROOF LLC

Pay close attention to penetrations, flashings, and joints. Also verify that drains and screens are clear and functional. These areas are especially vulnerable during winter weather that poses the threat of moisture infiltration, but they also offer entry points for air in the event of extreme wind. .

The inspection of your roofs may reveal that your in-house maintenance staff is ill-prepared for a roofing emergency, Fricklas notes.

"Meet with key personnel and discuss what to do in the event of an emergency. At what point should snow removal tools be placed on the roof, and where should snow from the roof be dumped?" he adds. "If severe winds are predicted, address the placement of sandbags and where safety equipment is located."

Building personnel must have a comprehensive understanding of the building envelope. Communication between managers, staff, and contractors requires a common language. Fricklas recommends attending the programs offered by the RCI, an association of envelope consultants, architects, and engineers. Visit for subjects and schedules.

Before an event can occur, identify what exactly the manufacturer's warranty covers. Because extreme storm losses usually aren't included, make sure they are covered by your insurance provider.

"You can write a high wind warranty into the specification if you pay a premium," McBride explains. "If you're in a high-risk location, that's all the more reason to do so. Not everything is covered."

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