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What Happens to Your Commercial Roof When It Snows?

Commercial Roofing

With decades of commercial roofing experience in Virginia, the Tidewater Roofing team knows exactly what snow can do to your roof and how to prevent damage. Learn what happens to your commercial roof when it snows here and what steps you can take to keep your roof safe.

Posted by Emmit | November 21, 2023 | Reading Time:

The snow season might bring holiday cheer, but if you’re a business owner or property manager, it’s probably also a time of heightened concern for your commercial roofing systems. With decades of experience providing commercial roof repairs and other services, our team at Tidewater Roofing has seen firsthand how winter snowfalls can wreak havoc on local businesses, apartment complexes, and more.

This article is designed to inform you about the immediate, short-term, and long-term effects of snow on your roof so that you can prepare for and prevent them—read on for our expert advice.

Table of Contents

  • Immediate Effects
  • Short-Term Effects
  • Long-Term Effects
  • Frequently Asked Questions
Fresh snow on commercial roof

Immediate Effects

Snow may appear fluffy, but it packs significant weight. New snow can weigh as little as 1 pound per cubic foot or as much as 20 pounds per cubic foot if it’s wet and compacted.

Here’s what you need to look out for as the first snowflakes start landing on your rooftop:

  • Snow Buildup: Flat commercial flat roofs can’t shed snow like sloped roofs, making them particularly vulnerable to rapid accumulation. If your business has a flat roof, you’ll need a way to get the snow off fast.
  • Cracks and Leaks: If too much snow builds up on your rooftop, the sheer weight can cause roofing materials to crack.
  • Sagging Sections: Even if the materials on your commercial roof do not crack, they may bend and sag when placed under extreme load from fallen snow.
  • Water Damage: Melting snow can seep through cracks or gaps in your roofing material and cause water damage to the interior of your building.

What to Do

  • Keep an eye out for sagging sections of the roof or water stains on the interior ceilings.
  • Listen for unusual creaking or cracking sounds, as these could indicate the structural integrity of the roof is compromised.
  • If you suspect that the snow load is nearing your roof’s load-bearing capacity, make plans to remove the snow immediately. Always hire trained professionals for this potentially hazardous task.
Ice dams forming on roof of business in the short-term after snowfall

Short-Term Effects

Snowfall doesn’t just have immediate ramifications. More serious damage can begin to appear quickly if fresh snow is left on your roof for too long. Here’s how:

  • Material Vulnerability: As snow falls and melts, materials like rubber and metal expand and contract with the temperature fluctuations. This can lead to warping and premature wear.
  • Daily Thermal Shock: Contrary to popular belief, the freeze-thaw cycle happens daily, not just seasonally. The rapid temperature changes from day to night can put strain on your roofing materials, and the presence of lingering snow can make this worse.
  • Ice Dams: Ice dams form when melted snow refreezes at the roof’s edge, preventing water runoff. This can lead to water backing up under the roofing material, causing leaks and structural damage.

What to Do

  • If you suspect that snow left on your roof has begun to cause damage, call our team for help.
  • We’ll be able to assess any damage to your commercial roofing system and recommend the solutions that are fastest and most cost-effective.
  • Do not delay seeking help. Waiting until you need emergency repairs during winter can be far more expensive than solving the problem while it’s still relatively new.
Collapsed commercial roof due to long-term effects of snow

Long-Term Effects

Snow isn’t a “one and done” threat; it can have lasting impacts on the longevity and performance of your commercial roof. These include:

  • Structural Fatigue: Over years, the repeated stress from heavy snowfalls can weaken the structural integrity of your roof.
  • Shortened Lifespan: The material degradation caused by recurrent freeze-thaw cycles and ice dams can lead to a shorter lifespan for your roof.
  • Heat Loss: Poor insulation can cause heat to escape, contributing to faster snow melting and refreezing cycles—thereby increasing the risk of ice dams.

What to Do

  • Maintain your roof’s ventilation system—this helps maintain temperature balance, mitigating the effects of freeze-thaw cycles.
  • Get regular roof inspections during the winter. This can identify problem areas before they worsen, saving money in the long run.
  • Make sure you preserve your roof’s warranty to ensure its longevity in the event of any damage that is covered. Avoiding DIY roof repairs and unlicensed contractors is the best way to keep your warranty intact—always hire professionals from Tidewater Roofing when your roof needs service.

Frequently Asked Questions about Winter Roof Care

How much snow can my commercial roof handle?

Every roof has a defined load-bearing capacity, and overloading can cause immediate damage like cracks and leaks. Most commercial roofs in the USA are designed to handle at least 40 lbs per square foot to account for snow, but you should consult a structural engineer and check your local building codes for an accurate idea of what your roof can take.

How often should I inspect my roof during winter?

We recommend at least two inspections during the winter season, as well as after any severe snowfall.

What is the average lifespan of a commercial roof in Virginia?

This depends on the materials your commercial roofing system is made from. For example:

  • Rubber Roofing: Typically lasts 20-30 years but may require more frequent inspections and maintenance due to the freeze-thaw cycles common in Virginia winters.
  • Metal Roofing: Although they can last 30-45 years, metal roofs are susceptible to rust and may need additional coatings for protection against Virginia’s snowy and icy conditions.
  • TPO & PVC Roofing: Usually have a lifespan of 15-20 years. However, the material may become brittle with repeated freeze-thaw cycles.
  • Built-Up Roofing: Generally lasts 15-20 years but can require additional maintenance to handle the moisture and weight of snow.
  • Modified Bitumen: Has a typical lifespan of 10-20 years but may require more frequent patching and repair in snowy climates.

Can ice dams be prevented?

While it’s hard to entirely prevent ice dams, proper insulation and roof ventilation can significantly reduce their occurrence.

What is the best material for snow resistance?

Materials like PVC and TPO are generally the most resistant to snow-related issues, but weatherproofing is also available for metal roofs and other materials. Consult with us at Tidewater Roofing for a recommendation on the type of material that will work best for your building and its needs.

How quickly should I schedule repairs after snow damage?

Snow-related damages should be addressed immediately to prevent escalating costs and potential structural failure.

To schedule service for your roof, contact us at Tidewater Roofing. Don’t let winter woes compromise the integrity of your commercial roof—be proactive, and stay safe this snowy season.