Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Heavy snowfall poses threat to roofs

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 2/27/2013

A pair of winter storms that dumped more than 17 inches of snow on Ottawa in the past week have done more than cause hazardous driving conditions in Franklin County.

The piled-up snow also has put extra stress on area rooftops.

A pair of winter storms that dumped more than 17 inches of snow on Ottawa in the past week have done more than cause hazardous driving conditions in Franklin County.

The piled-up snow also has put extra stress on area rooftops.

One Ottawa trailer owner at 824 S. Cherry St. found out how weighty of a problem the excessive snow could present when the home’s roof sagged under the additional six inches of snow that fell on the community Tuesday morning.

“The roof was compromised by the heavy snow load,” Richard Oglesby, Ottawa Fire Department assistant chief, said. “The heavy snow caused the ceiling to lower, with some popped joints inside. The occupant was home at the time and has gone to stay with a neighbor. Power to the trailer was disconnected at the breaker box.”

Firefighters were called to the scene of the weakening trailer about 6 a.m. Tuesday. The trailer’s contents were not damaged by the initial sagging of the roof, and no one was injured, Oglesby said.

In total, the latest storm dumped another 8 inches on Ottawa between Monday night and Wednesday morning, according to measurements taken at the Ottawa Water Treatment Plant on First Street.

The storm — which packed a heavy, wet snow — caused multiple roof collapses in Missouri. A portion of the roof caved in at a furniture store in Warrensburg, Mo., according to news reports Tuesday morning. The Eagles Club Bar in Belton, Mo., also sustained a partial roof collapse, and a Break Time gas station in Columbia, Mo., reported a roof collapse on the structure covering gas pumps, news reports said.

“It is a concern for some of the older buildings that were built before there were building codes,” Doug Loyd, whose architectural firm is housed in an historic building in downtown Ottawa, said. “Roofs could collapse under the weight of this snow. I think the fact that many of these older buildings — some over 100 years old — are still standing is a testimonial to how soundly they were built. But their roofs could have deteriorated over time.”

Older structures that have suffered leaky roofs in the past are especially of concern, Loyd said, because those leaks can produce rotting and other deterioration that could weaken the structural integrity of a roof.

“These buildings have withstood snowfalls equal to or more than this 50 to 100 times [in their existence], but you don’t know what weight the roofs were designed to withstand,” Loyd said. “I have no doubt there probably are some roofs in jeopardy.”

Kansas building codes are designed for fairly light snow loads, when compared to states like Colorado, Loyd said.

“Kansas snows typically do not hang around more than a week,” Loyd said, “while in Colorado, you might get a month’s worth of snow in one day, and get another snow on top of it the next day.”

Heavy snow piling up on the flat roofs of buildings that are more than 100 years old also are of a concern, because those buildings could have shifted over time, putting added stress on the structures, Wynndee Lee, the city’s director of planning and codes administration, said.

“We just want people to be mindful of the fact these snows add a lot of weight to their roofs,” Lee said. “Flat roofs and canopies that are not supported by walls could be at risk. If a person can safely clean some of the snow off of their roofs, they might want to do so, but we certainly do not want to create a life-risk situation. If a building owner or homeowner is not sure how sound their roofs are, we don’t want them climbing onto them. And you shouldn’t walk around on top of a [snow-packed] flat roof.”

Newly constructed homes and decks are less likely to have dead load issues of snow and ice accumulation due to the updated residential building code requirements, Kyle Trendel, director of operations and owner of Devore + Associates Architects and vice president of family owned Trendel Lumber Co., both of Ottawa, said.

“Older homes constructed with undersized structural roof rafters are at greater risk of failure,” Trendel said. “The lower the pitch of the roof, the more likely snow and ice will accumulate.”

Other factors like wind load and wind exposure are causes of roof failures as well, Trendel said.

“Awnings are to be designed for two different structural issues — deadload, and wind uplift load,” Trendel said. “There needs to be supports on for the weight distributed on the top of the awning as well as support for uplift on the bottom side of the awning.”

Building and home owners can call Lee’s office — (785) 229-3621 — at City Hall if they have questions or concerns about their structures, she said.

“We have shoveled the roof before, but this time, with the melting, we don’t think this will be a problem for us,” Cathy Sutton, one of the owners of Sutton’s Jewelry at 207 S. Main St., said Tuesday afternoon.

The owners of the building, which was constructed in the 1890s, reinforced the roof in the 1970s, Sutton said.

“The roof had problems in the ’70s, but the owners had reinforced it then, so our problem isn’t about the heavy snow,” Sutton said. “Our major problem is when the snow melts — that water can find the smallest holes and will leak from the third floor clear down to our first floor. We never know where the water will appear. We just cover everything that we can with heavy plastic bags.”

Loyd, who has put down a new roof deck and made other improvements to his downtown building in the 400 block of South Main Street, said he wasn’t worried about the roof of his building collapsing from the recent snows.

“Now, if we had double this amount of snow, I might start to become a bit concerned,” Loyd said.

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