Steamboat Springs December's bountiful snowfall was a welcome sight for many in Steamboat Springs, but it could eventually lead to problems for some area homeowners.
Snow removal expert Tom Williams urged business owners and homeowners not to let too much snow build up on their rooftops. Cracked drywall and garage doors that won't open are signs that heavy loads are putting undue structural pressure on buildings. The stress may result in the need for expensive repairs, while many buildings, unable to shoulder the load, collapse under the enormous weight.
"It's something you really need to take care of before it becomes a problem," said Williams, who has been clearing snow from rooftops for 24 years. "If it's a problem for one person, it's a problem for a hundred people."
Steamboat Ski Area officials reported about 126 inches of mid-mountain snowfall in December, which is almost double the amount reported in a typical December. Despite the heavy snowfall, which has been a boon to Williams' business, he said most residents do not need to worry about their roofs caving in - yet.
"We have to have 350 to 400 inches of snow, or 80 pounds per square foot, for a home to really do that. The real danger for your home is leaks," said Williams, who noted the average home accumulates about 2 tons of snow per season.
"What happens is the snow melts above the body of the house, runs down until it hits the eave and then it freezes up and creates an ice dam," he said. "Water creeps back up the roof and water gets high and higher until it finds a hole in the membrane to enter the house. : Roofs are designed to shed water, not hold it."
Ted Allen, the assistant building official for Routt County, said snow-load standards were established 30 years ago, and most roofs on new homes and buildings in the area are engineered to handle between 75 and 100 pounds of snow per square foot.
"Most homes built in the past 30 years since the standards were adopted are pretty structurally sound," he said. "But many of the old buildings, like the old Routt County Courthouse that was built in 1923, we have to shore it up as we remodel. In the courthouse, we are installing major new beams in the roof as we put in new insulation."
Allen said the new insulation will help keep heat from escaping the building. The heat traditionally melted snow on the roof, so Allen noted extra structural support is needed to accommodate the extra rooftop snow.
"A building collapsing from the weight of snow is really all together too common," said Allen, who stressed that special attention should be given to older buildings, trailers and buildings with flat roofs. Some old mobile home roofs are designed to handle only 20 to 30 pounds of snow per square foot.
The structures that typically go down are old barns that may have rotted or sagged from year to year," he said. "Occasionally, we will lose a relatively new structure that was never considered for the amount of snow here."
While shoveling your roof may not yet be necessary, officials recommend making sure dryer, furnace and water heater vents are unobstructed. For more information, call the Routt County Regional Building Department at 870-5566.