Big snow means big damage
roofs in danger, budgets blown
By Chris Woodall
The big snowfall of 1996-'97 is wreaking havoc on Whistler rooftops and liquidating snow removal budgets of property management companies.
Up to one-half of all Whistler chimneys have likely sustained some damage because of the heavy snow pack, says a local roof repair company.
The snow removal budget for one condo development will go $80,000 in debt. And a village clothier is looking at $50,000 in lost business, no thanks to water runoff that backed up into his store.
Local trades that repair roofs are getting scores of calls from homeowners who've had chimneys, skylights or plumbing vents ripped off by the powerful weight of snow and ice up top.
"In previous years we'd get the odd call, but not this year," Georges Tanguay at Whistler Woodheat and Gas says of the 50 calls he's had this year, compared to maybe seven or eight in a normal year.
Nordic Roofing had 50 calls each day over New Year’s alone.
"It's been non-stop," says Nordic's Nic Slater, who estimates one in every two Whistler chimneys has been damaged in some way.
Snow on Whistler roofs has not had a chance to melt off as it does in normal years. The deep snow has been getting saturated with water, then freezing again, making for a dense heavy force.
Slater estimates that an unshovelled roof is experiencing pressures of 200 pounds a square foot, that adds up to 400,000 pounds of snow on a typical 2,000 square-foot roof.
"A semi-trailer truck fully loaded weighs 100,000 pounds," Slater says, so an unshovelled roof has to hold up the equivalent of four of the huge trucks.
With that kind of weight, a slide or even a shift of the roof pack can cause damage.
"Some slides have opened up metal roofs like opening a tin can," Slater says.
Snow brakes haven't always helped.
"You're caught between a rock and a hard place," Slater says. "If the snow stays, it can cause a weight problem; but if the snow comes down it can also cause a problem."
A slight shift in the roof pack can also result in smashed windows, as icicles get bent inward, bashing against the glass when the roof snow avalanches, says Whistler Woodheat's Tanguay. Some residents have lost porches and hot tubs to the crush of falling snow.
Residents are urged to watch out for their neighbours, especially those weekenders who aren't around to monitor their roofs,
"People have gone away and come back to find a pile of snow in their house," Tanguay says.
Just because the chimney hasn't disappeared is no reason to rest easy, Tanguay says. "In spring or summer, residents should verify if their chimney has been pushed by the roof snow. A lot of chimneys have been kinked or knocked off line. If they are disconnected from the flue, they could be a fire hazard."
Roof damage from massive snow build-up has nothing to do with the quality of the roof, say roof repairers. The sheer weight of the ice pack will take its toll. The solution is simple.
"We're advising all our clients to have their roofs shovelled," says Slater.
But it can be a tricky operation. "Dig out the snow stops first to see if they've been ripped off," Slater advises.
Use ropes to tie yourself off in case the snow slides and distribute your shovelling efforts along the roof, rather than concentrating at one point, or the shift in weight will trigger your personal avalanche, Slater suggests.
Whistler insurance companies are anticipating a rush of claims come spring when residents get a better look at roof damage.
"We've had a few claims, but at this point it's not out of control," says Judy Bachman at North Shore Insurance Services. "It's really important people do what they can to keep roofs clear."
Whistler Town Plaza is looking at an $80,000 deficit beyond its $30,000 snow removal budget this year, says Barry Burko of Summit Strata Management.
"Just the amount of snow we received right now has kicked our snow removal budget in the pants," Burko says. "It's an unforeseen situation."
It's been a war against the elements that has caused roof leaks, burst sprinkler pipes in four of six properties Summit handles, and damage to roof flashing and snow brakes, Burko says.
Water leaks prompted a Summit memorandum to commercial tenants and owners of Whistler Town Plaza advising them of what Summit was doing to combat the leaks.
"The leaks were caused by the build-up of ice and water on the balconies above the commercial stores," the Jan. 2 memo says. "The water rises above the waterproof membrane and then down into the building structure and into suites and commercial spaces."
Eight crews were hired New Year's Day and worked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to prevent water invasion, the memo says, that "could have been a much larger problem."
Summit is working with Apia Developments, the Town Plaza developer, to determine who'll pay for the added water damage and snow removal costs.
Meanwhile at The Mountain Shop clothing store in the Delta Resort Hotel retail complex, owner Mike Kristmanson estimates he lost $50,000 in business when his store had to be closed for four days to clean up water damage when a frozen drainage pipe caused water run-off to back up.
Water wrecked his rugs, a computer and $5,000 in stock. Kristmanson has insurance, but his staff lost 96 hours of work while the store was closed.