The panic continues. Yesterday, when I got home, I noticed my neighbor on the top of a ladder, that was too short, with a shovel that was too small, trying to knock some of the snow off his roof. I told him to stop before he killed himself. Our homes, typically have been constructed to take the weight of even a historic winter like the one we’re experiencing this year. There is no need to risk life and limb to shovel off the roof of your house.
The disconcerting part of all the reports of roof collapses,to me, is there are that many owners of buildings that have had alteration work done not in compliance with the codes for this area of the country. As of this morning, it has been reported that approximately 70 buildings have experienced some form of structural damage to their roofs. I would venture a guess that all have had some sort of alteration made to their building, probably since 1996, the last bad winter. These alterations more likely have not been completed correctly, have not been properly inspected for code compliance, and/ or have not been designed or approved by an architect or engineer.
Examples of this are multiple layers of roofing that has been installed. The rule of thumb in the roofing industry had always been that a third layer of roof is a no-no. Two layers maximum. This is still the code in most communities although I have noticed some communities, including Boston, are now allowing a third layer; bad idea. I personally don’t like putting on a second layer, and have always recommended that the old roofing be removed before installing a new roof.
I have also noticed a trend to install a sloped roof over a flat roof in recent years, because “flat roofs are always a problem”. Another bad idea. Large, sweeping sloped roof areas cannot drain off quickly enough, and buildings are not designed to take the weight of roof framing installed over flat roof framing. I believe this is the problem with the school in Georgetown, and the one in Hingham. Also, large metal buildings of the type that caved in at Plymouth Airport are a problem. They are not designed to take snow loads, in fact I question whether they should be allowed at all in this part of the country.
I watched WBZ last night interview Tom Silva from “This Old House”. He offered great advice. Ice dams are a major problem, and a very misunderstood problem, and a problem that cannot be solved during the winter. The best thing to do, is minimize any damage to the interior of your home (because of the water leaking in), by clearing the ice dam. Mr. Silva had some fantastic ideas for doing this by filling a paper bag, or panty hose with ice melt and throwing it, or placing it (if it can be done safely) in the area of the dam. The best part of that ingenious method is that you don’t have to get up on the roof to do it. I did disagree with Mr. Silva’s comments that the entire roof should be cleared off. In my experience, cutting channels through the dams, and spreading the ice melt will immediately alleviate the leaking caused from the ice dam. There is no need to shovel the entire roof. Will the ice dam re-occur? Yes, until it is permanently corrected, in the better weather, by adding ventilation. My opinion is that more harm than good will result in a roof being completely shoveled off, even by supposed professionals.
The good news is that no one has gotten seriously hurt because of a roof failure. What I expect to hear next are reports that people are getting hurt because they are trying to shovel off their roofs. Inexperienced people on the roof is trouble. Even professionals can get hurt. If you consider the weight that a crew of roofers puts on an already overloaded roof with altered framing members, then you can expect at some point that a roof has collapsed with roofers on it. And then of couse there will be those reports of homeowners feeling the need to hire anybody to clear there roof and getting ripped off.
Be safe, be smart, don’t panic. Spring is coming.