Wet storms pose snow, ice threats for roofs across Routt County
March 13, 2019
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After a series of heavy, wet storms pummeled Routt County this week, residents and businesses may have to deal with a foot or more of new snow on their roofs.
The hundreds of pounds of snow that can accumulate on rooftops pose dangers to people walking under them, as well as to those who scale buildings to clear them of their wintery burdens.
Following this period of denser snowfall, the Routt County Building Department released a statement over the weekend urging people to be wary of snow and ice dropping from roofs.
Todd Carr, the county building official who authored the statement, said the transition into spring has presented especially dangerous conditions.
"We are reaching that point where we have a lot of snow, rising temperatures and wetter snow that can be slippery," he said.
Danger to pedestrians
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Recently, he has seen snowdrifts build up and sag over the edges of rooftops. They look like waterfalls of thick, vanilla frosting pouring over the sides of buildings. That likeness may make them appear harmless, but that is far from the truth.
"If we get some heavy snow on that and warmer temperatures, it can want to snap or break," Carr said of such drifts.
He has also received emails about chunks of ice falling from buildings, which can be heavy and sharp enough to injure or even kill a person.
Carr explained the county's building codes limit the amount of snow that can accumulate on the top of buildings, but those standards still allow for hundreds of pounds of snow to stack up.
The exact amounts vary depending on a building's geographic location and elevation, ranging from 50 pounds of snow per square foot to 160 pounds per square foot in more mountainous areas.
The roof location, slope and type of roofing materials all affect the amount and frequency of snow slides, according to Carr. Roofs that face south or west receive more sunlight, which means they tend to accumulate more ice. That ice can dam up, then fall as temperatures warm.
Steeper roofs obviously mean snow and ice are more likely to slide off of them, and metal roofs are particularly slippery. That leads to more frequent slides and hazardous conditions for people trying to clean off their roofs.
To prevent injuries, Carr advises that people remain aware of their surroundings and take precautions when walking under buildings with snow or ice hanging over the rooftops.
Danger to roof cleaners
If left unchecked, the weight from snow and ice can cause damage to the structure of buildings, but residents and business owners who climb up to clean their roofs should also remain vigilant.
"It can be just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, to be up there trying to do this," Carr said.
Besides the obvious danger of slipping or falling from a building, people can harm the roofs themselves when hacking away at snow and ice.
Brett Allison, owner of the Allison Agency insurance company, has been guilty of taking an axe to the ice that accumulates on his roof each winter. While he knows he is not alone in this, he warns others against taking similar tactics.
"You are physically doing damage to the roof, which is not covered by home insurance," he said.
In Steamboat, he has seen insurance claims of leaking homes that cause greater water damage later on. The severity of that damage can quickly snowball, ranging from a few thousand dollars to $10,000, Allison said.
He added that most of those cases stemmed from some type of roof damage during the winter months.
Carr recommended that people who do not feel comfortable cleaning off their own roofs should hire a professional to do it for them.
One of those pros is Alex Pond, the owner of Icebusters, which specializes in residential snow removal around Routt County.
Pond said this has been the busiest winter for him since he bought the business three years ago. The Yampa Valley has seen its deepest snowpack in five years, with measurements across Routt County outpacing state averages.
This winter, Pond and his four-man crew have cleaned about 10 to 15 roofs each week, he said. They use a special tool that can clear away snow up to four times faster than traditional shovels, according to Pond.
"It's a tool that no one else uses in town here," he said, but he refused to divulge any details because he is trying to patent it.
Pond and his crew take special precautions when cleaning rooftops, such as tethering themselves to ropes as they work. They also use particularly gentle tools with more fragile roofing materials like metal.
In all of this, Carr does not want to frighten the public into thinking that every roof presents a death sentence. Across town, he has noticed that many buildings have been adequately maintained this winter.
"We don't want to scare people," he said. "We're just trying to stay proactive and make people aware."
With sunny days in the forecast, people should get a chance to clear the snow from this week's storms. They just may want to hire someone else to do it for them.