Plumb Safety: Roofing

Rooftop heroes: Maintaining commercial roof drainage systems

This winter, cities from Seattle to Minneapolis have been blanketed by record-setting heavy snow storms or frozen by bone-chilling temperatures. Even this year’s Super Bowl host, Atlanta, contended with dire winter weather predictions ahead of the big game. These meteorological events are more than just a bit of weather trivia, though—they are a reminder of just how important it is to prepare for winter weather. Those of us concerned with risk management often think of how winter weather may affect our customers’ properties, whether icy conditions cause slips and falls or snow creates heavy loads on roofs.

As we look forward to that winter snow and ice melting away, it is time to consider where all that water will go. Gutters and roof drainage systems are critical components of the overall roof system. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) goes so far as to call them the “unsung heroes” of roofing. When properly built and maintained, they efficiently remove debris and water.

Poorly maintained roof drainage systems can create leaks and water damage. For example, as standing water pools above a leaf-choked downspout, its best escape route may become a seemingly miniscule crack that allows water into the building below. Accumulated twigs, pine needles and leaves in gutters can become kindling for wildfire embers—which can lead to devastating fires.

Routine, preventative maintenance is the best way for businesses to prevent these scenarios from becoming reality. IBHS suggests following these steps for routine maintenance:

  1. In the spring and autumn, inspect and clean roof drainage systems, including gutters, interior drains and scuppers. Professional gutter cleaning services are available.
  2. Trim overhanging trees so rubbing branches don’t damage gutters. Plus, this helps prevent accumulation of leaves.
  3. Remove debris and loose objects from the roof system, including roof granules, which tend to accumulate in gutters.
  4. After contractors work on or access the roof, inspect the roof for debris.
  5. Check for debris and damage around roof-mounted equipment, including HVAC systems, solar panels and satellite dishes.
  6. Repair cracks around roof drainage components.
  7. After severe weather, check drainage systems for leaks and blockage.

For steps to follow to mitigate standing water and other considerations, please see IBHS’s resource, “Preventing Water Damage Through Proper Roof Drain Maintenance.” Download the PDF here:

Plus, businesses can find additional resources for preparing for winter weather, hurricanes and tornados in our library of loss control resources, accessible at