Snow woes! Roof collapse a real hazard; worries arise over snow blocking school windows

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YouTube: Oversized icicles hanging from a roof can contribute to ice dam issues.

MANCHESTER, NH – There is more snow out there than anyone knows what to do with, and beyond the nuisance factor, there are safety concerns, says State Fire Marshal J. William Degnan.

In a memo issued Feb. 15, Degnan reminds New Hampshire residents that there is greater urgency to clear roofs of excessive snow and accumulated ice following the weekend snow. A roof collapse may occur with little or no warning, and one common misconception is that only flat roofs are susceptible to collapse.

NH Fire Marshal Bill Degnan
NH Fire Marshal Bill Degnan

The weekend snowstorm has burdened several structures in the seacoast, including Seabrook and Hampton. An apartment roof collapse in Portsmouth left 500 people displaced, according to the Union Leader. The impacts range from structural compromise, total building collapse to blocked venting for the heating system.

On Monday Manchester School District reported they are watching school buildings for signs of snow load.

Kevin O’Maley, chief facilities manager for the Manchester Department of Public Works has crews out regularly to remove snow from rooftops around the city, including schools.

“We are well ahead of this problem and we currently have no indication that there is any reason for concern,” O’Maley said.  “We will continue to watch and take appropriate action.”

The view from inside Jewett Street School library.
The view from inside Jewett Street School library.

However, the related problem of snow being pushed up against school buildings and blocking windows at Jewett Street and other city schools became a topic of interest on the Manchester Happenings Now Facebook page Monday night, where Ann Campono posted a view from inside the Jewett Street school library, which shows snow completely covering the window.

“We have snow so deep at Jewett Elementary School that no light gets through into the classroom. They plowed it right up against the building. It’s awful,” Campono said in her post, adding that she feels it’s a fire hazard.

Memorial High School
Memorial High School

Other commenters said they observed similar situations a West and Memorial high schools. Photos posted by Tricia Deroches shows an exterior view of Memorial with snow piled in front of windows.

“I’m sure it’s like that at every school! There’s just so much snow and nowhere to put it,” Deroches posted, noting that her photos were taken last week before the Valentine’s Day weekend snow storm brought an additional foot or so of snow to Manchester.

Some group members said they intended to bring the issue to the attention of Mayor Ted Gatsas, who is also chairman of the Board of School Committee.

Manchester Ink Link reached out to the school district late Monday for comment. On Tuesday morning district spokesperson Andrea Alley said that concerns had been called to the attention of District Superintendent Debra Livingston and facilities manager Kevin O’Maley.

O’Maley reported that there were no safety code violations due to the snow piles, but that he had 12 contractors working to clear the snow away from school building windows, not just at Jewett Street or Memorial, but other schools as well.

Alley said a memo would be going out to school principals to advise them that any immediate safety concerns should be directed to O’Maley.

Windows covered at Memorial High School.
Windows covered at Memorial High School.

Degnan said that generally speaking, buildings considered most at risk for roof collapse are ones where the snow load is not even across the roof with large accumulations of snow and ice, buildings with large open floor areas, storage, warehouses, flat or low-sloped roofs and unoccupied buildings. The factors that also contribute to the potential of collapse of these structures are ice dams, frozen or clogged roof drains, structural design issues, and damage to structural components. The balance of the snow load is also a major element to consider as having the weight all on one side of a roof can cause excessive loading and possible collapse.

Screenshot 2015-02-15 at 1.14.25 PMThe weight of accumulated snow and ice is critical in assessing a roof’s vulnerability. The water content of snow may range from 3 percent for very dry snow to 33 percent for a wet, heavy snow, to nearly 100 percent for ice. An inch of water depth weighs 5.2 lbs. per square foot and can be measured by taking a uniform vertical column of snow from the snow surface to the roof surface and measuring the death of the water when melted. Thus your roof snow load carrying capability is critical to determining when to clear your roof.

What you can do:

  • Clear roofs of excessive snow and ice buildup, being careful not to damage your roof along with gas and oil service to the building.
  • Keep all chimneys and vents clear to prevent carbon monoxide from backing up into the building. Some vents, such as gas and oil heaters and pellet stove vents, may exit the building through a wall and are susceptible to being blocked by excessive snow buildup on the outside of the building.
  • Keep all exits clear of snow, so that occupants can escape quickly if a fire, or other emergency, should occur. Keep in mind that windows should be cleared to allow a secondary means of escape in case the primary means of escape is blocked by fire. Keeping exits clear also allows emergency workers to access your building.

Working on or near a roof to clear snow can be very hazardous. Make sure you have good footing and a safety line if you are on a roof, stay clear of the fall zone for snow and ice that is coming off a roof. Use a company with people who are trained to work on roofs whenever possible.

Specific fire and building safety questions can be answered by local fire and building officials or by contacting the State Fire Marshal’s Office at 603-223-4289. For information on roof snow load requirements in your community, view the report below:

Ground Snow Loads for NH

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About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!