Cold-weather Roofing

By Mark J. Donovan

July 1, 2013 4 min read

Regardless of the time of year, if your roof becomes damaged or begins to leak, it needs to be repaired promptly. Cold-weather roofing offers its unique challenges and requires modified standard roofing procedures to ensure the roof repair or installation is done properly and safely.

Though the outside air temperature may be below freezing and the winds howling, if roof shingles are blown off or a tree has fallen on the roof, it's imperative that the repairs happen quickly to protect your home. Unless you're a skilled roofing contractor, leave it to the pros. The cold weather creates a number of additional roofing safety hazards. In addition, the roofing materials themselves require special care. Asphalt roofing shingles, for example, are extremely brittle, and roofing tar is like cement in very cold weather.

When making a cold-weather roofing repair it is vital from both a safety and an installation stand point that all snow and ice be first removed from the work area. Also, if it is at all possible, store the roofing materials in a warm and/or sheltered place, such as a garage or shed, until you actually need them. You'll also need roofing tar or cement. Make sure to keep it in a warm space until you actually need to use it.

*Roofing Shingles

Asphalt roofing shingles are the most popular type of residential roofing material with approximately 80 percent of residential buildings using them. Cold weather affects their installation in a variety of ways. Besides being brittle in cold weather and requiring extra care not to crack, there is another concern. Asphalt shingles are installed in courses, with each upper course overlapping the course below it. In addition to nailing the shingles in place, there's also a pre-coated layer of heat-activated adhesive on each shingle. This adhesive works in conjunction with the nails to hold the shingle in place and, more importantly, hold the bottom half of the upper shingle to the top surface of the lower shingle. When the air temperature is too cold, the adhesive is unable to work properly and prevents the adhesion of the adjacent shingle courses. As a result, when the winter winds begin to blow, the shingles can easily be lifted up and ripped off the roof. Missing shingles will quickly lead to roof leaks.

*Heat-Activated Adhesive

With the sun low on the horizon and unable to produce any significant heat to activate the adhesive on the shingles, another method is required to securely fasten them down. A small dab of warm roofing tar or cement must be installed on the bottom half and backside of each shingle prior to nailing it in place. In addition, roofing nails should be installed per the asphalt shingle manufacturer's recommendations to ensure that the shingle will stay securely fastened to the roof even under the worst of wind conditions. By following these two simple cold-weather roofing tips, the shingles will stay properly fastened to the roof. When the temperatures eventually warm up and the sun produces more heat, the adhesive on the shingles will also begin to do their job and provide additional adhesion to the shingles.

Also note that the same type of asphalt roofing shingles should be used when making repairs to ensure proper adhesion. Asphalt roofing shingles come in two basic construction types, fiberglass and organic-based. Fiberglass asphalt-based shingles are compliant to ASTM D-3462 standards, and organic-based shingles are compliant to ASTM D-225. Each has its unique construction properties, including the adhesion used.

When interviewing prospective roofing contractors for a cold-weather roofing project make sure to ask them how they plan to go about making the roof repair and/or installing the new roof. If their response is not similar to the instructions I've outlined above, find another contractor.

Mark J. Donovan's website is

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