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Commercial flat roof in Detroit

How Snow Affects Commercial Flat Roofs in Detroit

If you own a commercial property in Detroit, you know how harsh and unpredictable the winter weather can be. After all, who can forget the snowstorm of 1978? And we’re about to head into it. Mother Nature can be unforgiving, but we can be prepared when you work with an expert – especially one that has the expertise and know-how about home renovations and specifically flat roofs.

Snowstorms can dump several inches of snow on your roof in a matter of hours, creating a potential hazard for your building and your business. Not to mention the commute to work. That’s why it’s important to understand how snow affects commercial flat roofs and what you can do to prevent and minimize the damage.

So, let’s start by talking about understanding exactly how snow load works.

Snow load is the term used to describe the weight of snow and ice on a roof. Doesn’t matter if it’s a smaller home or a giant business building, there are a lot of effects to keep in mind. It is measured in pounds per square foot (psf) or kilonewtons per square meter (kN/m2). Snow load can vary depending on the type, density, and depth of snow, as well as the wind, temperature, and slope of the roof. Which, as mentioned, we know in Detroit, can be pretty heavy.

What’s important to note is that it’s relevant to commercial flat roofs because it can affect the structural integrity and performance of the roof. If the snow load exceeds the design capacity of the roof, it can cause the roof to sag, crack, or collapse. Not good. There is a lot of value in all sorts of architectural styles of buildings (and we’ll get into more of this later), but be especially critical if you’re living in or working at an older structure.

This means, it is essential to follow the local building codes and standards for snow load in Detroit. According to the International Building Code (IBC), the minimum design snow load for roofs in Detroit is 25 psf or 1.2 kN/m21. That’s your science for the day. Well… for now.

Potential Risks to Commercial Flat Roofs from Snow Accumulation

We always want to keep our readers and customers safe – first and foremost. So, here are our go-to know-how’s. 

Snow accumulation on commercial flat roofs can pose several risks to the building and its occupants including:

  • Structural damage and leaks: As snow melts and refreezes, no matter what season it is, it can create ice dams, which are ridges of ice that form at the edge of the roof and prevent water from draining. Ice dams can cause any measure of water to back up and seep under the roofing design, resulting in all sorts of leaks, mold, and rot – not a good surprise. Ice dams can also add extra weight and pressure to the roof, causing it to buckle – or even worse, break.
  • Blocked access to building systems and features: Snow accumulation on commercial flat roofs can block access to key building systems and features, including HVAC equipment, plumbing systems, (surprisingly) skylights, and fire escapes in larger buildings. This impacts the functionality and safety of these systems and features, as well as make them difficult to maintain and repair – both today and in the foreseeable future.
  • Liability and safety hazards: Snow accumulation on commercial flat roofs can create liability and safety hazards for both you and those around you in the surrounding neighborhoods or areas. Snow and ice can fall from the roof and injure people or damage property below. We don’t want that to happen. If you’re thinking about a commercial property, snow and ice can also create slippery and hazardous conditions on the roof, making it dangerous for workers and contractors to access the roof – the last thing you want if you’re thinking about other home renovation projects.

But don’t worry, the experts are here to help. Here are some suggestions:

  • Inspect and repair your roof regularly: Make it a habit twice a year to inspect your roof at least twice a year, preferably in the fall and spring, and repair any cracks, holes, or defects in the roofing membrane, flashing, and drainage system. Make a day of it and then rest and recover knowing that you’re safe and sound. Treat yourself if you will to spend some time with family and pat yourself on the back. You should also check for signs of water damage, such as stains, mold, or rot, and address them promptly. You can always ask us for advice and we also like this article. 
  • Install snow protection features: You can install snow protection features, such as snow guards or heating elements, to prevent snow and ice from sliding or accumulating on your roof. Snow guards are devices that attach to the roof and create barriers to hold the snow in place. Heating elements are wires or cables that run along the roof and melt the snow and ice. These features can help reduce the risk of ice dams, leaks, and falling snow and ice.
  • Clear your roof drains and gutters: You should clear your roof drains and gutters of any debris, such as leaves, branches, or dirt, that can clog them and prevent water from flowing. Again – pick a day, make it an activity and reward yourself with something seasonal afterways.You should also make sure that your downspouts are clear and direct the water away from the building foundation. This can help prevent water damage and flooding from snowmelt.

Snow can have a significant impact on commercial flat roofs, especially in snow-prone areas like Detroit. Snow accumulation can cause structural damage, leaks, ice dams, blocked access, and safety hazards. To prevent and minimize these risks, you should inspect and repair your roof regularly, install snow protection features, clear your roof drains and gutters, and remove snow professionally and safely. By taking these proactive steps, you can protect your commercial property and business from snow-related damage.

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