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Roof Repairs in Extreme Weather Conditions
Sometimes the weather is less than ideal, but you need to stop a leak or patch a hole on your roof immediately. Luckily, there are steps you can take and tips to consider to fix it now.
Depending on your location, there are times when it’s likely you’ll need to make a roof repair in the rain, snow, low temperatures (less than 25 degrees) or high temperatures (more than 105 degrees).
For safety, do not do repairs in hurricanes, tornadoes or thunder and lightning storms.
“Always keep in mind that you’re up on the roof in a less-than-safe environment because of the weather,” says Ted Michelsen, president of Michelsen Technologies LLC, a full-service roof consulting firm that specializes in low-slope commercial roof systems.
[Related: Roof Safety Tips for Facilities Managers]
With that in mind, be sure you are taking such general precautions as using fall protection, which is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, on roofs more than six feet tall (and most roofs are). And be aware that roofs are slippery when wet or covered with frost or might have a damaged deck (Pictured).
3 Questions Before You Take Action
To ensure you’re performing the best repair possible in less-than-ideal conditions, consider these three questions beforehand:
1. Who will do the repair?
If you decide to use in-house staff, make sure that person has roofing experience or a background in roofing. If you contract out to professionals, consider how long it will be before they can get to your facility and what you can do in the meantime.
2. How bad is the problem?
“If you have a quart of water coming in, you have some issues you need to deal with,” Michelsen says. “Certainly if it falls in an area where people walk, slip and fall is a problem. But it’s not as big a problem as if you got gallons and gallons of water coming in.”
Also consider if the problem is affecting critical equipment or processes.
3. Can you find the leak?
“Leaks under even the best of weather conditions can be challenging to find,” Michelsen says. The leak location on the roof is often not where the leak is in the building. Coverings (both natural, such as snow, and unnatural, such as a ballast) can hide the problem. Thus, large areas of the roof membrane may need to be exposed.
[Michelsen shares Keys to Roofing Maintenance]
Once those questions are answered, keep the following tips in mind, depending on the conditions you’re working in.
Snow and Rain
When snow piles on your roof, that layer acts as an insulator, which means the membrane is stuck between two layers of insulation.
As a result, as the heat from inside the building goes through, it will be warmer than the exterior air and warmer than the melting point of ice or snow. So along with the layer of snow on the membrane, there will also be a layer of water or slush from the melted snow.
Michelsen notes that this can create a reservoir of constantly melting snow. “Your leaks are going to be more problematic and longer-lasting.”
Use a broom or shovel to remove the snow—the former if the snow is less than an inch thick. Use shovels without metal wear edges to prevent roof damage.
(Photo: Don’t use a shovel with a metal edge.)
Snow blowers aren’t recommended, as they can cause damage to cables and other items running across the roof.
Repair options in the snow or rain are the same, Michelsen says. Any repair material that requires a dry roof will need a means to keep the water away from the area until the repair is made.
This can be done by creating a dam around the repair area using bentonite or kitty litter, then mopping up the remaining water.
Repair options include using high-swelling sodium bentonite, torch modified bitumen repairs and compatible repair tapes (which require a dry surface).
In extreme cold, keep in mind that personnel might have heavy clothing or gloves on, which could limit their abilities. Repair options are similar to those used in snow and rain, but consider these tips when working in very low temperatures:
- Solvent-based repair systems are preferred over water-based because of possible freezing.
- Repair materials need to be warmed before use.
- Solvent will take longer to evaporate.
- Hot bitumen repairs are impractical.
- Some membranes get “brittle” when very cold and damaged by traffic.
Typically, Michelsen says, high temperatures don’t cause roof leaks. In any case, though, keep in mind that darker surfaces are going to be considerably hotter than the air temperature.
Make sure crews are well hydrated while working. Other things to consider when making roof repairs in high temperatures:
- Adhesives may set too quickly to get a good bond.
- Bitumen roofs will be soft and easily damageable.
- Work at night when it’s cooler (but make sure you’re working under lights).
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