removing snow on a commercial flat roof banner

Removing Snow on a Commercial Flat Roof

The interesting thing about roof snow loads and ice problems and the clearing of snow and ice off flat roofs is that homeowners are much more apt to respond sooner to the need than our commercial and industrial roof snow removal clients.  “Commercial and industrial buildings are much more susceptible to roof failure / roof damage / roof collapse or roof leaks from lack of snow and ice removal than residential buildings are.”

The main reason for this is that commercial roofs are typically flat roofs and in some cases metal roofing systems – the spans are greater and the roofs are flatter than residential roofs.  Snow melts, it freezes and then is covered by a new layer of snow.  The process repeats until the ice sheet becomes too heavy for the roof to bear.  This process is “Excessive Snow Load” which can result in significant structural and property damage and may even cause injury.  Even the best-engineered buildings can collapse under the weight of heavy accumulations of snow.

Who could forget the news stories and pictures of buildings collapsing under the weight of the snow the winter of 2011?


Flat, metal, and even gas service stations are not immune to the effects of snow load.  Luckily no one was seriously hurt.

What is a snow load?

It is the downward force on a building’s roof by the weight of accumulated snow and ice.  . The roof or the entire structure can fail if the snow load exceeds the weight the building was designed to withstand or if the building was poorly designed or constructed. It doesn’t take a blizzard to cause problems; an imbalance of drifting snow can cause one part of a roof to give, causing a domino effect that affects the rest of the structure.  The perfect example of this is the recent Allstate Mayhem commercial

What are the warning signs?

Different types of roofing produce different signs and evidence of roof stresses due to excessive snow loads. Warning signs of structural roof problems include sudden roof leaks, cracks or movement in interior walls and ceilings, excessive sagging of structural roof elements or ceilings and even unusual sounds emanating from the attic space. These signs should be analyzed regardless of the season. Repeated or long term overloading of a compromised roof can significantly weaken the roof structure over time by fatigue.  Sometime trouble may not show up until the spring thaw when water that ended up freezing melts and comes through the ceiling often into tenant spaces.

Excessive Snow Load on a flat roof can cause significant damage to critical roofing system details, such as parapet walls, penetrations and unit flashings.  To avoid damage resulting in roof leaks, maintaining proper drainage is a first step toward proactive maintenance.

Considerations when removing Snow and Ice from a Commercial Roof include and are not limited to;

Power lines, pedestrian traffic, vehicular traffic, rooftop equipment of various kinds on various roof terraces; are there skylights or solar tubes covered in snow, ground spotter safety, bobcats and dump trucks operating, roof membrane considerations, &  window safety.

The point is clear, there are hundreds of considerations when removing ice and snow from a commercial flat roof system and far too many people just jump in to shoveling off a roof and don’t think through what can occur if the process is handled incorrectly.

Why take the chance of this happening to your building or having inexperienced person handling your snow removal incorrectly contact Vanguard and let the experts take care of your roof.

Why Vanguard?

Vanguard has over 40 years’ experience in commercial roofing.  The added bonus when contracting Vanguard is also that as an experienced flat roofing company we can also assess your roof while conducting ice and snow removal for any maintenance or repairs that may be required prior to the spring melt, at which time leaks will obviously occur.  Vanguard mechanics are looking for issues with the roofing system without even thinking about it.

One of the main problems people have with emergency roof snow or ice removal is that they wait too long.  It is best to engage Vanguard early in the season and have our contact info readily available then if emergency service is required you will naturally be closer to the front end of service considerations for Vanguard is aware and on top of your situation.

When the ice and snow does start melting, Vanguard can return to regularly check the internal drains or scuppers to be sure the water is flowing down drains and not filling your flat roof up like a bathtub.