Roof Connections Podcast: Episode 03 – Snow Removal

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We’ve all seen the memes, but winter has finally arrived. And with it, freezing temperatures, snow, and ice. On today’s show, we’re going to discuss winter roof maintenance and why it is important. Especially in areas of the country that get more significant amounts of snowfall. 

Today I am joined by:

VP of Technical Services, Eric Harrison
VP of Sales, Wade Crosswhite
Customer Service Manager, Gina Nutt

As I said earlier, we are going to discuss snowfall and roof maintenance. I wanted to start off by talking about, I remember 20 years ago when I joined the Army, they sent me up to Fort Drum, NY, which is in upstate New York. Being from Texas, I had barely seen snowfall at all, let alone have to deal with heavy snowfall. I remember having to dig my car out from several feet of snow, after just a couple of nights of snow. So I want to discuss, what are some things that facility managers need to consider in certain parts of the country, that have to deal with regular, heavy snowfall.

WC: To me, the big thing is the design load for their buildings. Obviously, as snow comes and accumulates, if the drains clog, that weight starts to accumulate. So what we always encourage is know your design load; otherwise when we tell you what the weight is, if you don’t know the capacity, it is useless information. Knowing that, and having a good partner. During a big snowfall, everyone will say they can do snow removal, but having a partner that you know and trust. You don’t want to find a new vendor during the middle of a blizzard. We’ve seen people go up there with metal shovels and destroy a roof. It was someone that they had never worked with before, but they were out scrounging to find someone during a snowstorm, and find the cheapest person possible. That is a bad idea.

DH: Why wouldn’t they want someone with metal shovels?

WC: When you are removing snow, you want plastic shovels and leave about an inch of ice on the roof, so that you don’t destroy the membrane. The important thing is to get the drains cleared, the heat of the building will begin to melt the snow, and so if the drains are cleared, the weight will be relieved. Monitoring the weight compared to the design load is key, and obviously monitoring the snow in the coming up weeks is a huge factor too. If you are already at design load, and there are 8 more inches coming, you’ve got a problem.

DH: You see on the news almost weekly, about a roof collapse, in the northeast mostly, due to heavy snowfall, or the weight of the snow building up. Can y’all discuss a little bit how this happens, how a couple of feet of snow can cause something like that to happen.

EH: It also goes back to what Wade said about having a roofing contractor that you are joined together with in this situation. Because like he said, you don’t want to be looking for a roofer or new vendor during the storm. And really, you don’t want to be at the point where you are reacting from the jump that you are reacting and have to remove snow immediately. You want to have a plan. Being able to go out and monitor your roof several times during an event to see where your load is, and you can be strategic about how you remove snow so that you aren’t in an emergency and have to remove snow all at once.

DH: What about some of the steps they can take beforehand? They know winter is coming, they see the forecast a week out… What are some steps that they can take to prepare for something like that? 

WC: To me, it is take a vendor/contractor that you already work with, that has a big footprint and can cover a lot of ground, and team up with them for a plan. We see a lot of customers that put out an RPF, and whoever wins the RFP has put out really low numbers. Thinking they will be able to find laborers to do the work. During a snowstorm, you are not going to be able to find people. An RFP for low bidder will always fail. We have seen it over and over, where we finished third or fourth on an RPF, and then they call us on the second day of a snowstorm because their vendor can’t get people. This is not a time to save money. You are going to spend money, hopefully insurance money. It is expensive. But the flip side is, if your building collapses, it will be much more expensive. Don’t try to save pennies, when you have your entire company and all your inventory at stake. Do it the right way. Like Eric said, knowing your design load, team up with a contractor. Give him the design load and drawings of your building. Have it planned out where, if we need to remove snow, where will we remove it, get the drains cleared. You also have to have a plan on where you are going to put the snow. Some of these buildings in downtown areas such as Boston or New York, some of the larger cities, there isn’t a field of grass where they can dump snow. You have to have a plan so they know what to do with it. And doing that at the last second can be expensive. So planning that out is advantageous.

EH: Another part of that too, is doing a pre-storm assessment. We encourage everyone to do pre-season assessments, so that when you are coming into the winter season, you’re looking at your roofs and making sure there isn’t any vegetation or leaves or whatever that is already causing problems with your drainage. You want to go ahead and address that up front. It also gives your contractor an opportunity to see if there are any other pitfalls on this roof. You see if there are gas lines that we need to be aware of, different penetrations, skylights, whatever may be. So that when you get to where you need to remove snow, you have a strategic plan on how you are going to do it, and a safe plan on how you are going to do it. Even talking about, like Wade said, where you are going to offload snow. You want to make sure your contractor is not offloading snow at an emergency exit or a gas main or something like that, you want to make sure they have the opportunity to go out and evaluate the building, in particular the roof, when it is not covered in snow. You want to be able to see it clearly so that you can have a plan.

WC: Yeah, you can take that plan and take it to the local fire marshal, so he is aware of it, and helps show that you’ve done some due diligence on the front end. What you don’t want is the fire marshal coming and shutting down your store, so that you lose operating income at that point.

DH: Even if you aren’t threatened with a roof collapse, you can get shut down because of all the snow on your roof.

EH: The other thing is, if we are doing pre-season assessments, that is where we can bring Gina’s department in, our customer service team, they can take a large number of locations and divide it up and get it dispatched out and turned around pretty quickly. Wouldn’t you agree, Gina?

GN: Yes. It helps also, on the front end, if we plan ahead of time, these guys do a really great job getting contractors ahead of time, so that we have a plan, and everybody knows what is going to happen in the next few days and weeks going forward. It is not just a pants on fire, hair on fire type of thing, we are prepared to do things.

DH: You brought up Boston a few minutes ago, I remember in 2015 that was like, they had record breaking snowfall, 30-something inches, and they didn’t have any place to dump all the snow. I remember they were putting it on the beach for a while. How, what is the procedure here at RoofConnect for a storm like that?

WC: In preparation of that, we always try to plan out where we are going to put the snow. Obviously in that one, we were running out of places to put the snow. You want to have a plan, you want to know how high the parapet walls are, because sometimes you can’t shovel over the parapet walls. And you want to know what is on the other side of the parapet walls. But we work with ground crews, if we are going to have to offload in the parking lot we will come out and put it in a place there, and then we will have a ground crew come in with a Bobcat or other equipment and remove it from there. We are teamed up with various companies throughout the country for that. So my advice for anybody who has a big box store, you obviously do not want to have it shut down, is to reach out to someone who is experienced in this and has a big labor presence, such as RoofConnect and there are others out there too. Let them go out and assess the roof, identify where they would dump the snow, if there is ever a need for removal, find out what the design load is, and come up with a plan for measurements. With a plan for measurements, what we will do is take a 1’x1’ section out in the field of the roof, get the weight, and obviously if your design load is 35 pounds and you are at 40 pounds, then you need a plan for removal. Anyone will remove the snow, but you want to have a strategic way of doing it. You don’t need to remove all the snow. You go in between the columns, and remove swaths, make sure the drains are clear and the water moving. That can save the company a lot of money. Those are areas and ways to save money, not by going with the cheapest guy, who will go up there and destroy your roof. I’ve seen it done. In 2012, we had a customer who went with a landscaper to remove their snow. They took metal shovels up there, and there were over 2,000 punctures in the roof when they finished. The roof was only 3 years old. They saved $20,000 in snow removal and had to spend $350,000 for a new roof.

EH: When you say over 2,000 punctures, I think that is accurate, but I think over 10,000 would’ve been accurate as well. The guys really just quit counting. The roof was shot.

DH: I think that is going to wrap us up for this week.  

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