Winter weather can wreak havoc on your commercial operation. In addition to power outages and hazardous road conditions, snow and ice can cause severe damage to your buildings.
Drifting and sliding snow, inadequate drainage, or weight of snow and ice can all exceed design tolerances and cause structural damage or even collapse. Here are a few key factors to be aware of during the winter months in order to avoid unnecessary claims:
Unbalanced snow load – Drifting and sliding leads to accumulation of different depths in different areas.
Roof geometry – Simple roofs with steep slopes shed snow more easily. Flat or stepped roofs will collect snow in unbalanced patterns.
Rain and snow – Heavy rainfall may cause snow to melt, saturating it and significantly increasing the load.
Falling ice – Melting sheets of ice can slide off metal roofs, posing danger to people and property on the ground.
Property owners should have a contractor perform a building inspection and assessment prior to the winter weather season. This could identify potential problem areas ahead of time.
Also, look into hiring a professional roofing contractor on retainer. If a major snowstorm hits, they will be in high demand and difficult to find.
It is important to develop an in-house plan for snow removal. Here are a few pointers to help with creating your plan:
- Follow OSHA protocol for PPE, working on rooftops, and fall protection.
- Ensure snow and ice falling from rooftops will not damage any property. Section off any hazardous areas that may be dangerous to foot traffic.
- Clearly mark hazardous areas on your rooftops with flags, including mechanical objects, skylights, and protrusions. They may not be visible under deep snow.
- Avoid using mechanical equipment or metal shovels for rooftop snow removal. They may cause damage to the roof material. Use plastic shovels instead.
- Remove snow from building exits, fire escapes, drain downspouts, ventilation openings and equipment.
- Inspect the roof for any signs of damage as soon as possible after snow removal.
Warning Signs of Structural Failure
Despite taking precautions and implementing an effective snow removal plan, structural failure can still occur. The building will show signs of stress that can lead to collapse. The FEMA Snow Load Safety Guide explains what to look for. Some signs include:
- Sagging ceiling tiles or boards
- Sagging sprinkler lines or sprinklers
- Popping, cracking or creaking noises
- Doors or windows that can no longer open or close
- Cracked or split wood members
- Cracks in walls or masonry
- Severe roof leaks
- Sagging roof members, including metal decking or plywood sheathing
If you see any of these warning signs, evacuate the building immediately and have a qualified professional engineer conduct a detailed structural inspection before allowing anyone to re-enter.