Must-Know Tips For Installing Shingles In Cold Weather

Can you replace a roof in the winter?

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.

What is considered “cold 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:

  • They must increase health and safety precautions,
  • Roofing materials don’t work quite as well as they do in moderate temperatures, and
  • Workers risk delivering a subpar job if they don’t give themselves enough time to do the job right while working against the demands of Old Man Winter.

However, while not ideal, roof construction and repair can be done in cold weather, as long as weather-related precautions are strictly observed.

The benefits of roofing in cold weather

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.)

What to expect when roofing in winter

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.

Here’s how to prepare yourself for cold weather roofing:

  • Plan your work around sunlight hours and/or storm or weather events. Reduced sunlight hours means planning for your job to take longer.
  • Wet, cold conditions mean workers can’t put in as many hours safely without needing breaks, or to call it a day. Adjust your project timelines accordingly.
  • Working in the cold can make your body less responsive. Plus, being bundled up against the elements means you won’t have the same dexterity. Expect performance to naturally change or slow down.
  • On top of that, more complex logistics will be required: from cleaning snow off the roof safely before starting a job, to staying safe while working, to keeping materials warm and dry when not in use, and finally, protecting the roof surface from the elements while you work. Be sure to include these extra planning steps into your project plan.

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.

  1. 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 Manufacturing Association (ARMA) warns, even on a freshly cleared roof, heat from a warm attic can create condensation that makes roof surfaces slippery. Work with the homeowner to introduce proper ventilation inside the house to prevent this.

  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  4. 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.(Source: Occupational Health and Safety Administration)

Equipment and Materials

Now you know how to prepare yourself, what kind of performance can you expect from your tools and materials in cold winter climates?

  • Asphalt shingles.
    According to Underwriters Laboratories (UL), 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. Cover them with a waterproof, breathable material (such as canvas) and store them indoors wherever possible.Be sure never to throw or drop your shingles when they’re in the cold weather, or they may break.
  • Metal Roofs.
    Metal roofs take the gold medal for being winter weather warriors. They’re easiest to install in the winter because they maintain their shape and aren’t affected by the cold.
  • Nails and Nail Guns.
    Nail guns have been known to jam 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 warranty requirements, along with local building codes for any further cold weather application requirements.

Manage expectations

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.