Metal roofing is an attractive investment to homeowners and building owners in cold climates. It’s more durable in cold temperatures than other roofing materials subject to cracking when water freezes under or between shingles. Metal roofing also can shed snow better, especially important in areas where heavy snow can put strain on the structure.
And just like contractors on the Southeastern Coast who set out to install a system that can stand up to hurricane-force winds, quality contractors from New England through the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest and all across Canada install metal roofing systems that can stand up to the coldest and snowiest of conditions. Metal roofing systems can handle the cold, once properly installed. The tricks come in finding ways to keep working safely in the cold, installing when equipment (and crew members) find it hard to keep going.
Working in cold conditions and installing a roofing system the owner expects to survive cold conditions for years requires extra care and some common sense techniques to get the job done properly.
Joe Marshall, owner of Never Leak Roofing in Rathwell, Manitoba, estimates he loses about three weeks a year to weather. Believe it or not, that includes a couple summer days when it’s too hot to work a full day. Remember, what’s hot in Rathwell may be comfortable for those installing metal roofing in Daytona Beach. During a Rathwell winter, the combination of cold temperatures and strong winds can put a stop to any project. And because Never Leak Roofing spends most of its time installing long panels on agricultural facilities, there is increased danger.
“I’m always at the jobsite and if the conditions make it unsafe to work, we don’t work,” Marshall says. “You can listen to the forecast and if they say high winds with gusts, that’s when you have to be careful. You just need one gust during the day to start tossing things around. That will mess up a day real fast.”
Marshall says his crews used to have a wind sock at the top of its scaffolding. If the sock was pointing straight out, they would stop working. Marshall says the sock endured the Manitoba weather only a couple of years. He made a note to get a new one.
Never Leak installs standing seam panels, often times up to 100 feet long, directly to purlins. Most of the installations are low-slope, 1:12 or less. “We had a job in September where it was windy for a couple weeks,” Marshall says. “You have to pick a day when it’s not too windy to run panels. When guys are holding a panel, the wind can push you around. I’ve seen guys cut pretty badly by a panel in the wind.”
Never Leak lifts its roll former to the eave and runs panels onto the roof. Marshall says it’s easier and safer than running panels on the ground and then craning them up to the roof. Crew members walk them into place and install them. Marshall says the panels are mechanically seamed only if there is no snow or ice in the way. The presence of either could cause the mechanical seamer to get off track, jeopardizing the watertightness of the system. Panels are hand-seamed for the time being and mechanically seamed when warmer weather comes around.
Snow, ice, and wind can make it an even more dangerous job, especially when an installer is weighted down by heavy clothing, including winter boots. Marshall and his crews construct safety rails on all scaffolding along the roof edges. You can’t be too safe in cold winter conditions.
Installing a weathertight metal roofing system requires a careful and knowledgeable touch under the best of conditions. Any extreme weather conditions, hot or cold, make that job more difficult. Bill Anderson, owner of Diversified Roofing Company in Elk River, Minn., has a hard and fast rule.
“It is too cold to work when the temperature reaches 10 below zero,” he says. “Hoses freeze, compressors stop working, guns pop out of order and you have to heat up your silicone on the dash board all day. We have worked in those conditions but normally it is best to stop working right about 10 degrees below zero.”
Even when temperatures are approaching single digits, most metal roofing installers find ways to keep working during cold months. Unfortunately, extra steps and precautions cut into productivity because of the time dedicated to those extra steps. Some equipment has to be warmed up and workers move slower, possibly taking more breaks to warm up with a little coffee sitting in idling trucks.
“If you get a lot of snow, projects just can’t get done — without a great cost,” says David Mackey, owner of Mackey Metal Roofing of Champlain, N.Y., and Montreal. “It’s tough. It gets dicey and frustrating. You can quickly see your profits slipping away if you’re not careful.”
Working through the cold and snow
Tomahawk Expediting of Tomahawk, Wis., runs coil from Coated Metals Group on a Zimmerman roll former — no matter what the temperature is. Owner Brad Finken insists on using synthetic underlayments and an ice and water shield together to ensure the system is “100 percent watertight at the underlayment,” before sheet metal is installed around penetrations or skylights. Finken has, in some scenarios, installed an ISO board commonly used in flat roofing projects to ensure a watertight system. “We’re using quality details,” he says. “We’re installing a 50-year sheet metal job to match that 50-year roofing system.”
You can’t do much with frozen equipment, so you have to keep it from freezing and there are a variety of theories on how to best keep equipment going. “In real cold weather the air compressor freezes up so you can either set it in the sun if it is sunny out or sometimes we cover it with a tarp and put a trouble light next to it,” says John Zolko, owner of Preferred Contracting Services in Pittsburgh. “The heat from the light bulb will usually be enough to keep it from freezing. We have the most problems with air lines freezing as we are pumping compressed air into a hose and we compress the moisture in the air. So I keep extra air lines in the customer’s garage or basement and we just switch them out as they freeze up. Sometimes we keep the compressor in the garage or basement to keep it from freezing.”
Zolko installs standing seam roofing, but the bulk of his work is with Gerard Roofing stone-coated shingles. “The real advantage of metal shingles is that they do not crack or warp like asphalt shingles do,” he says. “You also never shoot a nail through metal shingles like you do with asphalt shingles. You can also install them with gloves on.”
One common problem is keeping sealants or caulking warm enough to apply in areas they are needed, either with standing seam panels or at penetrations in metal shingles. Finken says his crews keep tubes on the floor of their trucks and keep the trucks running with the heater on. “I know, that’s pretty technical stuff,” he laughs.
You do what you’ve got to do.
“A lot of sealants don’t work very well in the winter,” Mackey says. “We’ve found that the clear silicone DAP recommends for gutters to be the only product that works well in very low temperatures. Still, we set up a tent, keep it heated.” In addition to sealants and caulk, Mackey’s crews store batteries in the heated tent. “All our tools are cordless and those batteries have a tendency to think they’re running low when it’s cold,” he says. “They’ll die on you pretty fast.”
For every square of roofing a crew installs during the winter months, it may remove that much snow from roof decks so work can get started or continue.
“We just broom the snow off and keep moving,” Zolko says.
Anderson says snow removal from the decking of the house is relatively simple in Minnesota. “If the snow is high we shovel it off which usually takes place the first day of the job,” he says. “When the day is over we always tarp the roof or at least the section we will work on the next day. Most of the time we can lift the tarp but if it snowed a lot, we use a broom or leaf blower to remove excess snow.”
If the temperatures are bearable, but there’s a lot of new snow, Mackey says his crews will try to keep working. “If we didn’t get a chance to tarp, we use shovels or brooms to get snow off the roof,” he says. “Leaf blowers are great. We’ve even had a snow blower on the roof.”
Cold and desperate times call for desperate measures.