Take a Load Off this Winter

Help prevent snowload roof collapse by taking these steps now

Resilience runs from the top down. In winter, that means the roof. Prepare now to stay in the clear during snow season.

"Winter storms can become a routine occurrence and we tend not to think about them too much," explains Jay Cannon, assistant vice president and manager of the FM Global SimZone. "However, our loss history suggests that in any given winter, there are incidences of roof collapse and frozen pipes. That's why it's good to have a plan and implement it."

"It's all about getting water off the roof."

Jay Cannon, manager, FM Global SimZone

Make these steps part of your rooftop snow removal plan:

Before a snowfall

  1. Ensure you have and follow an occupational fall prevention plan that is compliant with local regulatory agency requirements before engaging in roof preparation activities.
  2. Clearly identify safety protocols and ensure they are followed.
  3. Train your emergency response team and contractors to properly remove snow.
  4. Ensure generators are working and their fuel tanks are full.
  5. Affix electrical heat tracing along the roof edge up to the gutter to melt the snow and make it more liquid in the drain.
  6. Check roof drains and downspouts to ensure they are clear. Remove leaves, pine needles and any other objects that would impede water drainage.
  7. Mark roof drains with a visible flag high enough above expected snow.
  8. Check condition of rooftop equipment and make any necessary repairs before snowfall and freeze.
  9. Check changes in roof elevation. Adjoining roofs of different heights can lead to snow drifting onto lower roofs, so these areas must be reinforced to withstand the greater weight.
  10. Clearly mark fire hydrants and fire protection system control valves to avoid damage from snow removal equipment. This identifies them for prompt snow removal along with access routes.

"Those steps should be an ongoing process during the winter as part of your routine maintenance program," Cannon advises. "Ensure that no obstructions have been created, particularly fall leaves and winter ice. It's all about getting water off the roof."

During a snowfall
"Do nothing on the roof," Cannon cautions. "Whiteout conditions can lead to dangerous falls. Prepare to remove snow after the storm has passed."

After a snowfall

  1. Ensure you have and follow an occupational fall prevention plan that is compliant with local regulatory agency requirements before engaging in roof snow removal activities.
  2. Manually remove snow with shovels and wheelbarrows, and cart snow off the roof edge. Snowblower augers can damage rubber and plastic roof structures.
  3. Snowblower caution. If using a snowblower, ensure that the auger is set to the highest level to avoid contact with the roof. Set the blower discharge level high enough to clear the roof.
  4. Carefully remove ice using small tools. Ice choppers and ice melt can damage a roof.
  5. Check the integrity of roof overhangs and canopies that can buckle from the weight of snow and ice.
  6. Use an emergency, standby or temporary generator and make sure the following circuits are included for heat:
    - Heat tracing along the roof edge
    - Dry sprinkler riser heater and air compressor
    - Building heating system(s)
  7. Inspect roof for damage and make any necessary repairs when it is safe to do so.

Before allowing personnel or contractors on a roof, ensure that it has been designed to withstand the amount of snow expected in your geographic region and the actual amount of snow that fell, and add to that the weight of equipment and expected people on the roof.

Buildings with metal roof systems are especially vulnerable if the purlins have not been adequately braced or otherwise designed according to the 1996 (or later) edition of the American Iron and Steel Institute Specifications for the Design of Cold-Formed Steel Structural Members.

Milder weather can put roof collapse from snow out of mind. Cannon explains, "Roofs can handle routine snows. But if snow events continue and are followed by snowmelt and rain, that adds a lot more weight. Ponding rainwater can also cause collapse."

Remember, when you protect your roof, you protect everything beneath it. Prepare now to take the load off before the snow flies.

Download FM Global's Protecting Your Facilities from Winter Storms

Related article – Protect from Hidden Freeze Loss: Where to find it is Job #1

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