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Experts say the best time to construct a roof is when weather is “warm, calm, and dry.” That is, in warm temperatures, with little wind and clear skies. In a perfect world, that would be every day. But in most northern states and provinces, these ideal conditions are few and far between. Most roofers have to consider how, not if, they can perform a roofing job in winter weather. Any outdoor temperature lower than 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) starts to change the way both our bodies, and our roofing equipment and materials perform. This is the point at which risks continue to rise as the mercury falls.
In cold weather, roofers face a variety of extra considerations:
However, while not ideal, roof construction and repair can be done in cold weather, as long as weather-related precautions are strictly observed.
In fact, the benefits can be considerable to a roofer or employer who wants to keep busy during off months. As the Canadian Roofers Contractor Association suggests, winter roof constructions and repair can be a boon to your business. It may help you keep your schedule full (and your workers fully employed) year-round. It prevents job losses or layoffs during the off season so you can maintain your regular roster of employees. Plus, it helps you build relationships with clients who might otherwise have to wait for the busy warm season for their build.
Some contractors charge up to 20% more for working in winter weather, according to CAA Quebec, which can help prevent revenue loss from increased overhead and slower performance. (These are both natural side effects of working in reduced sunlight, taking your time in slippery or inclement conditions and exercising extra safety precautions, such as removing snow and ice from roofs.)
Roofing in winter weather requires a lot more foresight, planning and safety precautions than summer days. The good news is: most materials will perform up to a certain point with just a few tweaks to your technique. And if you adjust your work style to construct a roof designed to last through cold temperatures (being careful not to damage materials, such as shingles) you can be sure it will be built solidly.
Winter Roofing Worker Safety
There are ways to carefully and safely take advantage of the business boosting benefits of work year-round, by learning how to minimize the drawbacks of winter weather. But, never under any circumstances put your work before personal safety. Finishing a job is never worth risking a life – be sure to respect the limits Mother Nature may impose. Here are some unique cold weather threats to be aware of when doing winter roof work.
Snow and Ice Make Surfaces Extra Slippery
Roof surfaces can become slick and slippery thanks to snow, ice, or frost. That means roofers must take extra precautions when working on a roof to wear roof-fall protection equipment, work methodically and carefully, and wear high-performing gear (like winter-rated work boots) which have been tested for wet, cold conditions.
A common winter consideration is snow removal or de-icing of the roof surface after a storm. This requires extra time, extra caution, and different equipment on which you or your fellow workers need to be trained, along with increased monitoring while the removal is taking place.
After all that, the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association (ARMA) warns, even on a freshly cleared roof, there may be nearly invisible ice or frost build-up on the roof or deck surface, which can make work extremely hazardous. It is advisable to wait until the roof surface is free of ice and frost for safer roof application.
Ensure that the attic space is adequately ventilated. Often, what appears to be a roof leak is actually condensation of moist interior air drifting up into a cold, improperly ventilated attic.
Snow Can Disguise Risks Such as Skylights, Debris or Materials
Pay close attention to where you work and walk to ensure you don’t accidentally step on or fall through a skylight, or trip over materials hidden under the accumulation. Clear surfaces before working and pay close attention while disposing of snow and ice.
Cold Weather Can Be Hard on the Body
Working in below-zero temperatures can put strain on the body, making your heart and lungs work harder, while at the same time putting you at increased risk for hypothermia or frostbite. Roofers should work shorter hours, planned around the sunshine and weather forecasts. Adjust your schedule to avoid uncomfortably cold temperatures and potential snow or ice storms. Roof workers should also wear layers of warm clothing that is breathable but provides ample coverage, hides exposed skin, and insulates against wind. Just like working under the hot sun, working in the cold takes a lot of physical exertion, so workers should also remember continue to drink plenty of fluids to prevent the risk of dehydration.
Snow or Ice can Weigh Down Your Structure
Along with roof-fall equipment, one of the top considerations of roof fall protection (or, the measures roofers must take to prevent falls when working at height) is whether the surface upon which they’re working is sturdy and safe from collapse. The weight of winter snow or ice accumulation, and potentially extra snow-clearing equipment, could overload the roof structure, making it unsound. A competent person must determine whether the roof is safe before anyone starts climbing the ladder.
Now you know how to prepare yourself, what kind of performance can you expect from your tools and materials in cold winter climates?
According to Roofing Construction & Estimating By Daniel Benn Atcheson, the best temperatures to install asphalt shingles is between 40 and 85 degrees F (4 and 26 degrees C). If you’re installing roofing shingles in cold weather below these temperatures your shingles may become brittle and more prone to breakage. To prevent this, when working in below-zero temperatures, store your materials in a warm place (above 50 F or 10 C) until right before you need them.The Canadian Asphalt Shingle Manufacturers’ Association (CASMA) adds that shingles will also mould to the shape of the surface they rest on – so keep them flat, stacked and raised on pallets so they don’t touch the ground. Be sure never to throw or drop your shingles when they’re in the cold weather, or they may break.
Nails and Nail Guns
Nail guns have been known to jam more frequently in cold temperatures. To ensure you don’t blow through your shingle, when nailing shingles nail down through the double layer of shingle, being careful to use a straight, flush angle.
Eaves Protector Membranes and Roll Roofing
CASMA recommends using winter weather membranes to seal your eaves, valleys, skylights, vents and plumbing pipes, rather than warm weather roll roofing, which can buckle or wrinkle when applied in cold weather. When you choose to use any kind of felt or membrane, roll it out in your staging area and allow it to relax before you apply. This will help reduce wrinkles caused by the cold. Always store your roll roofing upright so it doesn’t get warped laying on a cold ground.
The above information is intended as general guidelines for cold weather shingle applications. Always consult the shingle manufacturer’s application instructions and limited warranty requirements, along with local building codes for any further cold weather application requirements.
A patient attitude, coupled with safe and careful planning can make all the difference to a winter roofing job. Follow these tips and you’ll end up with a solid, lasting and functional product you can be proud of – without having to wait for those fine summer days.
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