Winter’s worth of snow weighs down on roofs

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette The former Family Dollar Store in Calumet, seen above, is seen from the street after a partial roof collapse Thursday.

HOUGHTON — The best time to clear snow off a roof is about 100 inches into the season, said Dan Riutta.

The next-best time is now.

“It’s a lot less costly and a lot easier to do, and it puts them in a better position going forward,” said Riutta, owner of Dan Riutta Contracting.

This year’s high snowfall, coupled with the lack of thaw, has led to brisker business so far, Riutta said. Some owners have already had to have their roofs cleared twice, he said.

“If we had four days of really warm weather, like 35 degrees, I think it would get everybody pretty much over that hump.” he said. “A lot of that’s going to melt or evaporate. if we have one or two days, and then it freezes again, it’s going to be a bad situation.”

A foot of fresh, dry snow exerts only 3 pounds of pressure per square foot, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Wet snow can be up to 21, ice up to 57.

Those pressures accumulate as snow adds up.

Most buildings in Houghton County require roofs able to withstand a ground snow load of 80 pounds per square foot, although numbers range from 70 to 90, according to the 2015 Michigan Building Code. Ninety is the minimum in Keweenaw County; Eagle Harbor, Grant and Houghton townships require 100.

Buildings with lower roofs can also fall prey to drift snow, said Tracy Smith, coordinator of the Houghton County Building Department.

“Even though the snow load is this, you’re not taking into account the wind,” she said.

That unbalanced snow load poses a greater threat than a uniform load, according to FEMA.

Aside from a visual inspection of the roof, other warning signs include inside doors not closing properly or cracks in the drywall, Riutta said.

Earlier in the year, it would have cost about $200 to $300 for clearing off a medium-sized ranch home, Riutta said. That cost can double later in the season.

If people are experienced with snow removal and fairly healthy, they may be able to do it themselves, Riutta said. For people who get someone else, they should check to make sure the person has liability insurance or worker’s compensation, Riutta said.

“If they have a contractor do the work and something happens or they damage something, then they have liability insurance to cover that,” Riutta said.