Keep Winter Risks in Check

Snow and ice buildup on roofs can lead to a sag in your
structure or an out and out collapse.

Marie-Christine Daignault* | Desjardins Group

Rain and deep cold?! January has been a strange month for temperatures, and heavy snowfall followed by thaws can be tough on buildings. Here are 4 basic things you can do to fight the effects of winter--and the weather roller-coaster!

1. Shovel the roof
Snow and ice buildup on roofs, balconies and awnings--especially flat ones--can lead to a sag in your structure or an out and out collapse.

There's a higher risk of damage when:
- Structures are already in poor shape or haven't been properly maintained.
- Rain or thaws are followed by low temperatures that refreeze the snow and make it heavier.

Effective prevention:
• Shovel as much snow off the roof as you can. Your best bet is to hire specialists with the right equipment and experience to avoid damaging your roof or the weatherproofing.
• Use a telescoping scraper to reach parts of a sloping roof or awning from the ground. Make sure the perimeter of the building is safe for people walking underneath.
• Get rid of ice on the side of the building as much as you can, and never let it get too big; neglected ice buildup can weigh hundreds of kilograms. Building owners can be held responsible for injuries or damages resulting from falling snow or ice buildup. Sloping roofs need the most attention, but flat roofs need to be maintained too, especially after high winds cause drifts.
• Don't park vehicles under roof overhangs or at building edges. Mark off dangerous areas to stop people from walking underneath.
• Put up visible signs warning pedestrians of falling snow and ice if you need to. If you deal with heavy snow and ice every year, you can stop huge pieces from sliding off onto the ground or sidewalk by putting a barrier up along the edge of the roof. The snow and ice can be very heavy, so let professionals handle the installation.

2. Check gutters and drains
Gutters and downspouts drain water off the roof and away from the building.

There's a higher risk of damage when:
- Leaves, branches and debris build up in the gutters and slow or block drainage.
- Water in the gutters freezes and moves into the eaves, which can cause premature wear on the roof and even get into the building. Gutters full of ice are heavy and can pull away from the building and come down.

Effective prevention
• Inspect your gutters and spouts year-round, but especially in the fall when you'll need to clean out falling leaves.
• Install a convex mesh covering or something similar over the gutters to stop debris from building up.

3. Make sure pipes don't freeze
There's a higher risk of damaged pipes in the winter, and especially during a deep cold spell. One small crack in a pipe can spill litres of water and damage structural elements, interior finishing work or furniture and personal items.

Quick action can minimize damage and your frustration; the later you detect a problem, the greater the damage.

Effective prevention
• Make sure there's enough heat in each building or room.
• Maintain heaters and heating systems to prevent failures.
• Find out exactly where the water intake valve is located so you can shut it off right away if necessary.
• Never try to thaw out a pipe using an open flame--it's a fire hazard. Call specialists who know what they're doing. If it's just a small problem, you can use a source of soft heat, like a hair dryer. But make sure you've turned the water off!
• Ask someone you trust to stop in to your property daily and run the taps and flush the toilets if you'll be away for a while. It might not completely stop damage to the pipes, but it will help.
• Shut off the water intake, purge the lines and fill them with a safe antifreeze solution while you're away, or if you have an empty property.

4. Watch your step
Whenever winter temperatures fluctuate, you can count on ice. It's important to take care of outdoor areas and eliminate dangerous icy surfaces to prevent falls that can cause severe injury to clients, suppliers, service providers or employees.

Effective prevention
• Make sure entryways, stairways, landings and exterior balconies are well lit.
• Shovel snow and remove ice as soon as possible.
• Use gravel, salt or other appropriate materials on icy surfaces when thaws refreeze, or in anticipation of a drop in temperature.
• Lay down non-slip carpets or mats in heavy-traffic or trouble areas.
• Make sure exits are always unobstructed and free of snow and ice that might cause a problem during a safe and orderly emergency evacuation.

*This article was written in collaboration with Jean-Jacques Fournel, safety expert, for Desjardins Business Insurance.

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