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Snow and Ice Damage

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Issue: 85 February 23, 2003

Snow and Ice Damage
By Rudy Hilton

As I enjoyed the recent inclement weather, with an inoperative furnace, parked in front of my fireplace, imagination was interrupted by the following thoughts:

I gaze around. Problems are everywhere. 

Disturbing sights leading me to despair.

I stop, look up and grin,

when I think of all the troubles I ainít in!

We do not face many of the severe problems that those do in areas of heavy snowfall. My daughter and son-in-law in Connecticut and granddaughter and her family in New York are faced with such now as they try out their new snow blower digging out from the recent storm. Most of us in the old North State enjoy the graceful beauty of snow covering the landscape in pristine white. Our reverie is often interrupted when we begin to think of the problems that snow and ice can bring.  We begin to wonder; will the roads be passable; will the power go off; will school be cancelled, again; will both client and I be able to make our scheduled appointment; will it disadvantage a showing; how will I stay warm when the old furnace just died?

We need to be aware that heavy snow and/or ice can adversely affect our homes. Climatic conditions sometimes cause unusually heavy accumulations, causing structural problems, damage, and injury from snow sliding from the roof or leaks from ice dams.

Structural Problems

Not many years ago, we experienced a major institutional building collapse, not in the weather plagued north, but here in Winston-Salem. Thank God, it occurred during the night and the building was vacant at the time.

Drifting snow and uneven loading on the roof often cause structural problems.  Large amounts of snow and ice sliding from an upper roof can overload a lower roof.  A properly constructed roof system handles most of these situations. Many homes have inadequate roof bracing, collar beams and knee bracing missing or removed in renovation.  Proper bracing keeps the rafters from swaging, and is essential for the roof to bear unusual loads from wind, snow and ice encountered during severe weather conditions.  The absence of these features and obvious deficiencies in roof framing are noted in the Home Inspection Reports and should be corrected, their omission can be a potential disaster waiting to happen. It isnít enough to consider that the roof has survived all of these years. It only takes one unusual weather condition to bring your roof down on your head.

Snow and Ice Sliding from Roof

Donít think it happens here? Take a look at the picture made this week in Pfafftown. Significant accumulations of snow or ice can slide off roofs and damage anything it strikes and has even caused injury to people.  We tend to think that snow is light and fluffy.  When mixed with sleet or rain it becomes heavy, dense creating massive destructive potential.  Remember as a child how a wet frozen snowball hurt when someone hit you with it?  A serious slide from the roof would be like several hundred of those snow balls striking at once.  Children and elderly people are especially susceptible to injury or even death from roof snow slides.

The Danger Zone

The danger zone from slides is under the eaves of a house.  Gutters are usually the first thing damaged.  In the recent snow we saw, or heard of, several instances where gutters were ripped from their mounting by sliding snow and ice requiring replacement  

Shrubbery is often damaged.  The weight of a modest snow slide added to the weight of the snow or ice accumulated on shrubs can cause severe damage necessitating replacement or special pruning and years of nurturing to help it regain its former shape and vigor. 

The weight and impact of falling snow may overload canopies, awnings or porches causing them to collapse.  It can also damage steps, handrails and wooden decks.

A serious snow slide can damage electrical entry wiring, propane tank piping, heat pumps and air conditioners.  Vehicles or equipment parked under the eves are at risk.

Slides will sometimes curl under the eves and damage a window remember the picture in Pfafftown?

Damage on the Roof

Metal vent pipes from furnaces, heaters, fireplaces, exhausts and dryers are sometimes damaged or sheared off.  This may cause serious water damage, permit the entry of flue gases into the home or even start a fire.

The sliding snow and ice sometimes tears asphalt shingles or damages other roofing materials.

Cause of Snow Slides

Snow slides occur more readily on smooth roofing material such as metal, glass, slate and etc.

Snow slides when the temperature rises above freezing and melts a layer of snow lubricating the roof surface and destroys the cohesion of the snow mass. Snow may also slide if it accumulates above a weak layer of frost.

Prevention of Damage from Snow Accumulation and Slides  

Be sure roofs have been properly framed and required bracing is in place.  For smooth roofs such as metal and slate installation of snow guards (click on picture at right to enlarge it) will resist the snow pack from sliding.  Gutters should be securely fastened.  Treat the area under snow-pack on the roof as a hazardous area.  Keep children away and warn others with a sign.  Use other entrances when possible.  Have sheet metal stacks on lower slopes braced to resist the pressure of snow slides.   0009.jpg (480528 bytes)

Ice Dams

Potential damage from ice damning is prevalent across our area because few roofs have ice shield installed under the roofing.  Many homeowners have spent hundreds, even thousands of dollars repairing and redecorating damage caused by ice dams.  This happens dozens of times each year in the Piedmont. We will share some information on this in the near future to help you understand the problem and what remedial action can be taken. 

Thought for the week...

In life as in nature, timing is everything.


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