TRAVERSE CITY — Roofs across Michigan have taken a pounding this year with heavy snowfall, swirling winds and cold temperatures. And potential danger to home and health lurks up there.
“As far as ice buildup, I have not seen so much ice on roofs as this year. It’s been pretty wild,” said Joshua Fischer, owner of A+ Snow Removal and Landscaping. “Some places I’ve gone have two feet of ice on a roof. That’s crazy.”
Some roofs have more than four feet of snow, even if it’s invisible from the ground.
“I’d say if you have 24 inches of snow or less, it’s probably not a huge problem, but when you get into the 24- to 30-inch range I think you’re getting close to the maximum engineered snow load,” said Mike Tucker, who owns Grand Traverse Roofing. “It’s quite rare you have a roof failure from snow weight, but I have seen it before because there’s just so much static weight everywhere on the roof.”
Winter weather can wreak all kinds of havoc on roofs. Ice dams form when snow melts and then refreezes as ice at a roof’s edge, which locks water on the roof when snow melts again.
And the sheer weight of snow can threaten roof collapse, and moisture can seep through shingles and drip inside.
At least three of the Traverse City Area Public Schools’ roofs already leaked this winter, more than usual, said Paul Mahon, the director of facility maintenance and construction for TCAPS.
“Because of some of the cold, cold temperatures we’ve had, some icing and ice dams developed on our roof edges,” Mahon said.
The good news is dry, cold conditions translated into relatively light snow this year, Tucker said, but problems can still occur, particular with such great volumes of snow.
People who take to their roofs to remove snow need to take care for their personal safety and to avoid damaging their roofs in the process.
“People will try to remove ice from their roof. They’ll use sledgehammers or other things like that. It’s a daunting task because the ice is thick and strong, but that’s not really the approach you should take,” Tucker said. “It’s frustrating to do because you can swing at it 50 times and nothing happens and the 51st time you may break the ice and damage the roof.”
Sometimes, Tucker said, ice may have to be removed with steam, heat, or roof-safe salt.
His crew typically removes snow with snow scoops and shovels.
State building codes require structures in the Traverse City area to withstand up to 60 pounds per-square-foot --a greater strength than buildings downstate that only need to withstand 20 pounds per-square-foot.
Carl Studzinski, a Garfield Township building official, said it’s hard to judge when people should clear off their roofs.
“The only thing I can say is it’s a function of depth and moisture,” Studzinski said. “You could have three feet of snow that’s light and fluffy and not much of a load, but if you have wet snow it’s a lot heavier.”