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Roofer Recalls January Snowstorm Problems In GTA

CM Condominium Magazine - Summer 1999

Provided that all systems stay in a reasonable condition, all is well and happy in a condominium community. However, extreme outside factors can influence normal conditions and create emergency situations.

The dictionary defines emergency as, "a sudden and unexpected turn of events calling for immediate action." The key words here are "sudden" and "immediate." For most condominium suppliers, an emergency is usually heralder by these words from a customer: " I need something and I need it today!" (Or in some cases, yesterday!). Emergencies are classified by the urgency of the situation. Does this really need to be done immediately, as in within minutes or hours, or can it wait a day or two?

For those of us who survived the massive snowfalls and storms in January this year, it became all too apparent exactly what an emergency is.


On Sunday morning, January 3, it started to snow and snow, and snow. This continued through Monday evening and by the time it stopped the Toronto area had received over 40cm. of snow. By Monday afternoon our phones were starting to ring, slowly at first. Calls came in from a few customers and managers about water that was coming into residential units. This seemed unusual to most people because water leaks are associated with spring thaw. What was happening was the winter phenomenon know as "ice back-up" or "ice-damming."

In the first few days it became apparent there were some service problems, but no emergencies - yet. With the second snowfall a few days later, and the third a week later, a snow emergency was declared in the city of Toronto. Mayor Lastman eventually called in the armed forces to assist in snow removal and traffic control. Condominiums were faced with moving tonnes of snow from driveways, walkways and roofs.

Some of the older, weaker structures collapsed, unable to cope with the increasing snow loads. Poorly-insulated and ventilated roofs suffered from thawing and damming on the underside, allowing water to penetrate inside. Insurance companies eventually covered the interior, property or structural damage. As the media publicized the situation, insurance companies began advising customers to have snow and snow and ice removed from roofs to minimize damages. Individual homeowners attempted to remove snow and ice themselves, or hired small local roofers and contractors to do the job.


At many condominiums, not only did they have to remove ice and snow from the roofs, but that snow had to be moved again on the ground. Budgets for snow removal were soon exhausted as no one could have forseen that amount of snow that fell last winter.

Most roofing firms more than had their hands full. Besides householders clamouring from immediate aid, there were also the regular condominium customers that depended on roofers for emergency aid.

Contractors obviously have customers who receive priority treatment, usually based on who is giving you work on an ongoing basis. In an emergency situation, every customer is a priority and no ones likes to be told they have to wait for their turn. However, honest dealing with clients and advising them that someone would indeed attend in 2 or 3 days, gave them the option of waiting or looking else where.

Dominion Roofing was fortunate (as were a lot of other large roofing companies) to be able to use support staff from other divisions ( such as flat roofing and new construction) who were at a standstill with their regular workloads. Any type of contractor who would climb a ladder and shovel snow was put to work. This presented another issue: safety! Because of the slippery surfaces and the height, workers had to be secured with safety equipment. Besides personal injury, huge fines could otherwise be levied under the Ontario Health and Safety Act. Horror stories abounded. There was a tale of one contractor who attempted to bring a snow blower up on a roof to remove snow. Or the TV camera man who nosedived a house. Very quickly, contractors ran out of room to store snow on the ground.


In retrospect, we advise that condominium corporations should ensure there are contingency plans in place to deal with future emergencies. Managers and directors must ally themselves with responsible contractors who are equipped to draw on extra staff and equipment in such emergencies. Otherwise, condominiums may be at the mercy of unscrupulous companies that double and triple their prices as supply and demand takes effect. When the cost of roof snow removal skyrocketed from$50 an hour to $150 an hour, and the projected cost for a 50-70 unit complex was in the $5,000 to $15,000 range, there was a lot of room for some to take advantage of helpless customers.

Most emergencies can be handled better if certain measures are taken prior to their occurrence. Since no one can anticipate when an emergency will occur, regular, ongoing maintenance and service provides the best protection. Even if roofs do not leak they should be inspected and serviced on a regular basis. Ice and Water Shield eaves protection, drip-edge flashings and heavier shingles will stand up better under abnormal weather conditions where upgrades are appropriate.

Norman F. Shore is manager of the Reroofing Division at Dominion Sheet Metal and Roofing Works in Toronto, specializing in roof tune-ups.



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