Property Management Playbook: Channeling Creativity and Engineering to Save a Roof

by Lenny Pierce, Research Analyst


Source: Wikipedia

With warm weather and intermittent rainstorms conquering the very last of the snow banks, Bostonians are gladly putting thoughts of the snowiest winter on record behind them. But while nobody is eager to reminisce on the weeks upon weeks of unprecedented snowfall, we’d be wise to view our struggle through the snow as a learning experience for various Boston area businesses. The commercial property management industry, for instance, had plenty of lessons to take away from the winter. By late February there were already over 100 roof collapses across the region, many of which were industrial buildings such as warehouses. Luckily, this specific type of disaster was avoided by the creative ingenuity of CBRE/New England’s property management team this winter. With over 35 million sq. ft. under management throughout New England, CBRE/New England possesses a vast reservoir of best practices for protecting properties from the elements. This winter provided new challenges, which allowed us to make a few additions to our Property Management Playbook.


Zeke Sawayer CBRE/New England

A roof is generally deemed safe with up to two feet of saturated snow on it according to Massachusetts building codes. It is at that depth that there is approximately 30 pounds of snow in a single square foot. As we all recall–the Boston area hit this level in a single storm over the first days of February, and with another storm on the horizon for the following week, owners quickly realized their roofs would be weighed down by closer to three feet all too soon. One property facing this reality was a single-story 230,000-sq.-ft. warehouse managed by CBRE/New England’s Zeke Sawayer.

“Usually you get a thaw,” said Sawayer about the typical period between storms, a tendency that allows the snowpack to decrease enough that an additional storm doesn’t necessarily present a hazard, “but it stayed cold–just didn’t give us any break”. The lack of climatic assistance meant the building owner readily gave Sawayer the go ahead to remove the snow–and it was no small task.

“Two cranes, two front end loaders and about 20 guys with shovels” was the make up of the 3-contractor task force according to Sawayer. The shovelers filled bags on top of the roof with snow, which were then lifted up by the crane and dumped into piles in the parking lot. From there, the front-end loaders moved them onto already mountainous snow banks.

This level of effort still wouldn’t be enough to clear off all of the snow within a week. The roof of this particular warehouse was simply too expansive to clear off entirely before the next storm hit. The solution was to remove the snow in 15-foot channels evenly spaced across the roof–a strategy which relieved the weight evenly across the roof and meant that this particular building would not be yet another casualty of the storm.

Even with established guidelines outlining exactly how much weight is or isn’t safe to have over your head, it is ultimately the owner’s decision whether or not to clear the snow. All a property manager can do is advise an owner as to when such an effort is worth the cost and hope he or she heeds their advice. It may be a long time before snow is able to amass on rooftops to dangerous depths again, but when it does, building owners across the region will be want to sure they have a crisis-tested property management group that knows when immediate action is necessary and exactly how it ought to be executed. Luckily for one industrial owner in the GBA, they had just such a group at their disposal.

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