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Clearing roofs important

— If your garage door won’t open or cracks are appearing in your home’s drywall, Tom Williams recommends getting that heavy snow off your roof.

Those are just a few signs of a stressed roof, said Williams, who has been clearing snow from rooftops for 23 years.

The abundant snow that has fallen on Northwest Colorado this winter is keeping Williams and other snow-removal professionals busy, particularly when it comes to clearing heavy snow loads from the roofs of homes and businesses.



“There are a lot of people worried about it when it gets this deep,” Williams said. “We haven’t seen snow like this in 10 to 15 years.”

Williams typically begins clearing roofs in early January, but by December, he was receiving 20 calls a day from concerned residents.



The volume of calls has decreased to about six or seven a day, Williams said, but even with a crew of eight workers, the high demand means it could take three weeks before he can get to a new job.

The importance of clearing a roof of snow depends on the structure and snow load.

Ted Allen, the assistant building official for Routt County, said roof failures caused by snow are rare but that they do happen. Two weeks ago, an indoor riding facility off Routt County Road 20 was flattened under the weight of the snow on its roof.

Although clearing the snow from your roof might not be necessary, building officials recommend making sure dryer, furnace and water heater vents are unobstructed.

Local engineers and building officials won’t tell residents they shouldn’t be concerned about the structural integrity of their roofs, but they say most roofs monitored in Steamboat are handling only from 50 percent to 60 percent of what they were designed for.

“It would appear that we are well under the design loading,” said Luke Studer, president of Studer Consulting Company.

That can vary by location, Studer warned. Older downtown buildings require monitoring and regular snow removal regiments, he said.

The load a roof is designed to handle varies by location and elevation, Allen said.

The roof-load requirements are not as high in Craig, for example, compared with those for Steamboat buildings. Roof snow-load standards were established 30 years ago, Allen said. Most of roofs on recently constructed homes and buildings in Steamboat are engineered to handle between 75 and 100 pounds of snow per square foot. Some of Steamboat Ski Area’s structures were engineered to handle 200 pounds or more, Allen said.

“Pretty much, if it was built in the past 30 years … and it was built under a permit, it would be correct,” he said

But Allen warned that structures added on to a house without a permit should be suspect.

“What I tell people when they call is, if in doubt, remove the snow,” Allen said.

Williams, who owns Ice–busters, charges about $60 a man-hour of work, but if you have the nerves, you can do it yourself.

“What you don’t want to do is blow snow from one part of the roof to the other,” Allen said. “You don’t want to have snow on just one side because that can cause an unbalance.” Snow should not be piled onto decks, either, he said.

Special attention also should be given to older buildings, trailers and buildings with flat-top roofs. Some old mobile-home roofs are designed to handle only 20 to 30 pounds of snow per square foot, Studer said.

“We have some buildings that we require the owner to monitor the snow load because they are not designed to withstand the full snow load,” Studer said.

The heaviest snow loads are likely still to come, Studer said, as snow absorbs moisture and ice thickens.

“Heaviest snow loads might be in March, when the snow is wetter. It might not be deeper, but it might be wetter,” Studer said.

When someone calls Wil–liams and asks about having snow removed, he tells them three reasons why they might want to have it done: weight of the snow, putting their minds at ease and stopping leaks caused by blocked ice.

“We’ve seen a lot of houses built in the last five years, and they are finding out that the seal isn’t as good as they thought it would be,” Williams said.

— To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4204 or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com


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