Could Snow Collapse your Roof?

Wicked Winter: How to get prepared & protect your property

While the winter season hasn’t even officially begun, the last few weeks prove that massive snow storms aren’t waiting until December 21st.  John Frank, XL GAPS Loss Prevention Leader, provides practical steps you can take now to protect your business property assets.

While the winter season hasn’t even officially begun, the last few weeks have proven that that massive snow storms don’t have to wait until December 21st to get started.  November’s winter storm Bozeman delivered a fierce pounding, leaving a swath of snow and ice from Oregon to Kentucky, even leaving behind a trace of snow as far south as central Texas. And it triggered the lake-effect snow that left parts of western New York with over seven feet of snow!

When these types of winter storms hit, the impact can be felt for weeks on end. Especially when snow isn’t properly removed.

According to the Paramount Disaster Recovery Survey, every year there are more than 3000 roof collapses caused by snow or water buildup in the United States alone. These collapses endanger lives and can cost businesses millions in:

  1. Building Repairs
  2. Damaged Inventory
  3. Lost Business During Closures
Getting Prepared

If the weather service is predicting another winter storm with snow and ice accumulations, what should you do? Protecting the property assets of your business is paramount for continued operations.  Preparing ahead of time will drastically reduce the potential for frozen pipes, loss of power, or the catastrophe of a collapsed roof due to weight.  XL GAPS can assist you with the identification of these hazards.

Snow Removal Plan
One important part of winter weather preparedness is to have a plan for snow removal.  I was recently asked about best practices for snow removal contractors. After asking around to some contacts in “snow country”, I heard many responses that facilities “just know what to do and who to call” based on years of experience in dealing with the snow. As it turns out, it’s actually areas that get occasional snow that may be at the highest risk for property damage. These areas might not have stringent snow load requirements, and usually don’t get enough snow to make it top of mind.  Atlanta, where I live, certainly comes to mind as one of these cities.

Snow Removal Contractors
XL GAPS can help you locate contractors that can perform emergency snow removal. The key is to identify the vendor before everyone is calling them when the snow starts falling. It may be worth establishing a blanket order contract, which is essentially a small retainer fee to ensure priority service. It also means that terms and conditions are renegotiated so that they are not being debated as the snow gets deeper and deeper. Such pre-contracting philosophy should be applied to any vendor that needs to respond on very short notice.     

Snow on the roof? Consider wireless sensors
XL GAPS has been reviewing wireless sensor technology developed by a Texas, USA-based entrepreneur in cooperation with the University of Texas at San Antonio that can monitor the weight of snow, rain, or ice that may be accumulating on the roof. This can be monitored in real time to provide time to act not only before a collapse but also before there is a competition for snow removal resources. Figure 1 show these sensors (yellow discs) installed on a roof.


Freezing Pipes

During the Polar Vortex that the United States experienced in early 2014, fire service news feeds reported seeming hourly reports of sprinkler system leaks caused by freezing pipes. Most of these losses were below insurance deductibles, but were an unwanted expense and inconvenience. Most of the occupancies were non-industrial such as schools and retail shop.

What are some common causes of losses from freezing?

  1. Windows, doors or skylights have been left open causing temperatures to drop in parts of a heated building.
  2. The heating system has failed during the night or on weekends when an area was unoccupied.
  3. Heating systems were set too low during a weekend or holiday period.
  4. Heating system thermostats have been located in the wrong areas. As a result, they may not effectively monitor or control heat in areas where piping systems are located.
  5. Low temperature alarms have failed to operate when the temperature has dropped.
  6. Severe snows or sleet storms have caused electric power failures that have led to heating system and alarm failures.
  7. Liquid systems have been installed in new construction before the heating system or other protective measures were ready.

Losses will increase more dramatically where freezing temperatures are less frequent and unexpected. In southern latitudes, systems may be outdoors, above ground, or in unheated buildings. Often, they handle heated liquids that are expected to keep the systems from freezing. However, at abnormally low temperatures, heat loss can be extreme and systems can freeze as a result.

Getting Ahead of the next Winter Storm

Even though many parts of the United States have already been hit with snow storms, it’s never too late to prepare and get ahead of the next round of winter weather. With this in mind, here are some recommendations for cold weather preparedness:

  1. Have a maintenance plan which ensures that various controls, safety devices, shut down mechanisms and alarms work as intended. Schedule at least one maintenance inspection before the cold season begins.
  2. Drain all liquid systems located outdoors or winterize them with appropriate non-freeze solutions. While systems may not freeze with temperature at 32°F (0°C) for a short time, freeze-up can result from a longer period of weather with subfreezing temperatures.
  3. Check large outdoor tanks. If the possibility exists for low temperatures to cause liquids to separate or solidify, tanks and associated piping should be heated or the products circulated as necessary to prevent freezing.
  4. Ensure that fire protection tanks and standpipes containing large quantities of water have enough heat to prevent freeze damage to the system.
  5. Install extra insulation in valve pits, valve houses and isolated, enclosed areas, even if there is only minimal exposure to outside temperatures.
  6. Repair all heating systems and controls as necessary.
  7. Check fuel supplies of heating devices.
  8. Provide heat tracing for process systems or other systems that might be exposed to freezing temperatures.
  9. Test low temperature alarms, and make sure they are working.
  10. Review inspection procedures and watchman services to insure that all areas of a facility are being observed on a regular basis.
  11. Inspect cold storage facilities or other systems designed to maintain cool temperatures. A period of sustained low temperatures can drop well below the required cool temperatures and damage stored contents.
  12. Review written contingency plan annually.
  13. Check emergency electric power and emergency heat sources.
  14. Arrange for adequate fuel and other supplies to be available.
  15. Plan for extra personnel or extra watchman services during prolonged cold periods.
  16. Plan to thoroughly inspect all systems as soon as the temperatures rise above freezing.
  17. Detect and repair all damaged or leaking equipment as early as possible. This is essential in limiting the extent of loss.

XL GAPS clients can obtain a full checklist of items at for more information.

GAP Guidelines 15.5 – Freezing

GAP Guidelines 15.5.1 – Arctic freeze

Overview forms - Arctic freeze checklist with cold weather precautions


Preparing for winter should be a year-round proposition. We can help. XL GAPS can assist you with your property conservation any time of the year. Whether it is freezing conditions or recognizing occupancy loss hazards, we can help to address your risk management needs.

For more information, contact:

John Frank
Office +1 770 389 1480; Mobile +1 404 431 2673;

Marc van deVelde
Office +49 69661 278215;

Terry Behan
Office +61 28270 1704; Mobile +61 41489 4575;

The information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice, seek the services of a competent attorney. Any descriptions of insurance provisions are general overviews only. 

Global Asset Protection Services LLC (XL GAPS) is a leading loss prevention services provider and a subsidiary of XL Group Ltd.

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