Steps To Prepare Your Roof for the Winter

Every fall season, both commercial and residential building owners should take steps to avoid the roof leaking in winter.

Although often an over-looked maintenance step; failing to complete such due diligence can result in costly and untimely repairs for roofing assets. Consider having to remove snow and ice to access an affected roof area during the winter season. Getting ahead of such an event can translate into saving hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars when compared to dealing with winter roof leaks in the midst of a severe weather event.

The first step involves inspection.

Any particular roof system essentially breaks down into a few basic categories:

  • The field surface of the roof; whether flat or sloped, has a water-proofing (flat roofs), or water-shedding (sloped roofs); covering. Check to insure there are no open seams, splits, fissures or blisters in the surface of a water-proofing membrane. On sloping roofs; inspect for missing or dislodged, shingles, slates, or cedar shakes. Metal Roofs should have fasteners checked for worn rubber washers located beneath screws, which adjoin metal panel sheets; and loose or dislodged flashings or roof panels.
  • Flashings; can be both made of metal, and, or comprised of field water-proofing materials. In the case of flat roofs; membrane reinforcement flashings are located at the exterior, and interior perimeter areas such as walls, and curbs, as well as protrusion points through the roof. These should be checked for proper adhesion, and that they are not split or dislodged in some fashion. Usually, such vulnerable leak areas are additionally protected by “metal flashings” which are used to protect the membrane flashings beneath. When inspecting metal flashings, checking for loose or missing fasteners, void pieces of metal, deficient caulking, or improper joinery, are key to avoiding future leak perils.
  • Drainage components; such as gutters (eavestroughs), and downpipes, which can be found both on sloping roof systems, and some configurations of flat roofs; need to be thoroughly cleaned out, and checked for blockage, and proper grading; as well as being properly secured. A poorly secured or misaligned gutter can trap frozen water and cause collapse from the weight of ice. Additionally; leaks can result from meltwater backing up under the perimeters of roof edges, resulting in winter roof leaks.

On flat roofs; there can exist both external and internal roof drains. These need to be checked for secure water-proofing into the roof assembly and for proper drainage. All debris in the drain should be regularly cleaned, drain connections below the roof grade should also be checked (by a licensed plumber or drain contractor); to insure no rusted or weak drain pipe connections,  and, or blockage of drain elbows. Doing so prevents excess water from backing up on the roof, freezing, and resulting in excess load on the roof structure. Excess ice in addition to the weight of wet snow can result in a roof collapse, and or can result in ice freezing into a vulnerable waterproofing membrane, resulting in the splitting of seams or membrane flashings.

  • Roof related appliances; such as HVAC equipment and related ducts, gas lines, skylights, pipes, chimneys, skylights, and protruding electrical wires, all represent vulnerable potential points of water entry. Items such as ducts located on the roof should be checked for dents that trap water, should be insulated and wrapped in a waterproofing material, both for thermal efficiency and to avoid leaks at connecting joints. Of course, HVAC equipment should be checked for proper service including filters, belts, fan motors and electrical connections. Where such equipment adjoins the roof; related flashings should be carefully inspected and repaired if required.

Related Content: Maintenance Tips to Prevent Roof Leaks

Likewise; on residential sloping or flat roofs, such items should be checked prior to every winter season. Becoming familiar with such components, and how they function as part of the roof assembly as a whole; helps consumers to avoid being taken advantage of during “ perceived duress” situations.

Check skylights for cracked lenses, seal failures such as degraded perimeter gaskets or observing condensation between the panes of glass,or plexiglass lenses. Check skylight curbs for proper metal flashing details, proper caulking detail, and any potential deficiencies on the roof surface, immediately surrounding the particular appliance.

  • Ventilation, Insulation, and Heat-loss; can all be related to particular winter roof leaks. Therefore; one must think of a roof assembly as a system. A system that has inter-related items such as the attic or rafter space beneath the actual roof. As an example; soffits should be free from insulation blockage to allow in-flowing air to be introduced into the attic space. This serves to push hot moist attic air out through the exhaust vents typically located near the peak of the roof. Interrupted attic spaces, and cathedral ceilings, typically require continuous ridge venting. Air leaks should be sealed in attics, such as at perimeter roof to wall junctions, attic hatches, and pot lightboxes. Insulation levels should be increased to meet building code standards. All such activities help to prevent ice dams from developing in winter months.
  • Consider Safety and Liability; when undertaking any form of inspection or maintenance regimen. Home or building owners should be careful to consider their own skill and comfort level when working at heights, as well as making employees vulnerable under such circumstances. The Ministry of Labour requires by law, that persons working at heights be certified in working at heights training, ladder safety training, and that workers or contractors have current WSIB coverage for their workers. Home and building owners may now be considered constructors in the event of an injury or fatality when someone is hired to work on their property. Always insist on viewing such certifications, and copies of liability insurance. Point number six is the most important step of all items noted. 

As discussed in many prior ARR® articles, the investment in proper maintenance does serve to mitigate costs associated with emergency roof repairs, and or premature roofing asset replacements. To learn more about  avoiding winter roof leaks, visit: