Snow load on your roof may not be the biggest threat to your home this winter
Maintaining carbon monoxide detectors especially important this winter
To shovel or not to shovel the roof? That’s a common conversation around Routt County this winter.
Engineering and roofing company representatives say they are fielding more calls this winter posing that question. The decision may have consequences for the health of a home and the occupants.
The answer of whether to remove snow from roofs can be complex, depending on several factors about the home, its roof and snow loads, such as wind loading and density of snow, unbalanced or sliding snow, age of the home, type of roof materials, roof construction standards, angle or pitch of the roof, and presence of large ice dams.
Jacob Mielke, engineer and president of Steamboat Engineering And Design, said continued snowfall this winter may mean older, flatter or less well-constructed roofs that do not shed snow and are heavy with dense snow and ice might hit snow load design limits. Mielke said the decision to clear snow loads off a roof is determined on a case-by-case basis, but he provided a few rules of thumb.
“The first question I ask people is are they seeing signs of over stressing, such as big and new drywall cracks or doors and windows that will not open easily,” Mielke said. “The newer the house, the better the chance of it being adequately designed for the proper snow load.”
A Routt County home built in the early 1990s or newer, and especially a home with a metal roof with at least a 14-degree angle may not need to be shoveled as the snow can slide off on its own, the engineer said.
Older homes, especially those with asphalt shingle roofs that hold snow or have shallower than a 14-degree angle roof may be at risk for accumulating too much snow load this winter, Mielke said. Engineering companies can charge as low as $500 for a structural review of a roof, Mielke said, and he warned that a sagging roofline is a worst-case red flag.
Luke Berlet, president of Berlet Roofing in Steamboat, said residents may see their neighbors raking, shoveling or hiring a service to remove roof snow and automatically think they need to shovel too. That may not be necessary, yet Berlet advises residents to watch for large ice dams and house damage including leaks.
Berlet and Mielke do not advocate for homeowners to shovel their roofs from on top of their home, yet that happens often in Routt County. Mielke advises raking with a snow rake from the ground. Berlet advises if someone does shovel a roof, to leave 6 inches of snow on the surface and be extremely careful not to hit and damage roof pipes and vents.
“If you see your roof, you went too far,” Berlet said, noting his company receives calls in the spring to fix damage caused by shoveling roofs improperly.
Manufactured or mobile homes that are built to federal guidelines are especially at risk of heavy snow load this winter, experts say.
“They (mobile homes) are built for certain climate regions but not specifically for case study areas for snow loads,” Routt County Building Official Todd Carr said. “The building department has always required the owners to sign a snow removal agreement form where owners agree to take care of snow removal as part of their maintenance.”
Mielke said sheds and outbuildings generally are not engineered for heavy snow loads, so he advises carefully raking snow from those roofs from the ground.
Using calculations based on Structural Engineers Association of Colorado data, Mielke said 41.6 inches of dense, heavy snow may be the tipping point to take action for roof snow removal.
“If you look up and the snow on your roof is more than 41.6 inches, you should seriously consider getting your roof evaluated. In older homes it is significantly lower than that,” Mielke said. “This year has the potential for the snow load to exceed the engineered design capacity, especially on older homes.”
Families living in homes with gas-fueled or gas-burning appliances should make sure that exhaust vents, stacks and pipes for gas dryers, water heaters, stoves, boilers or furnaces are always kept clear of blockages of heavy snow and ice. Snow and ice hanging off a house that could drop on a gas meter should be prevented or removed.
Engineer Jacob Mielke, president of Steamboat Engineering And Design, explains why ice dams can form on roofs and become hazardous for home maintenance.
“Ice dams form when the exterior temperature is below freezing, the roof deck is above freezing and when snow accumulates on the surface,” he said. “Since the roof deck is warm, the snow melts, and water runs along the surface until it reaches the cold edge, where it freezes. As this process continues to occur, ice builds up, creating a dam. The water backs up and begins to cause infiltration problems via capillary action. The two major causes of ice dams are (warm) air leakage and lack of insulation. To prevent ice dams, proper air tightness must be achieved, and the roof surface must be kept cold (below freezing). If the roof construction is not adequate, air leakage occurs, and ice dams form.”
Most importantly, construction experts, Atmos Energy representatives and fire officials agree that homes should always have a verified functioning and appropriately placed carbon monoxide detector, especially in the case gas exhaust vents or pipes become blocked with heavy, deep snow or ice. Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed approximately 15 feet from all sleeping areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Colorado law requires carbon monoxide detectors/alarms in all homes built, transferred or rented.
Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Chuck Cerasoli said that if smoke or carbon monoxide detectors go off, beyond needing a new battery installed, residents can call the fire department for assistance. Cerasoli added the department is receiving an increased number of calls this winter about the smell of gas in homes and businesses.
In February 2016, a snow slide from a roof on a duplex on Cherry Drive in Steamboat was suspected to have hit a gas line that triggered an explosion and fire.
“Anecdotally, we seem to be getting more gas leaks for a variety of reasons,” Cerasoli said. “Because of the increase in snow and ice, there’s more situations where ice chunks are falling on gas meters or vents are getting blocked.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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