Heavy Snow Poses Risks To Buildings

Looking up from the phone, Meagan Ellis thought it was a strange gust of wind that popped out the sliding doors of her parents’ machinery storage shed and sent them flying to the ground.

But what she really witnessed from the office window of Ellis Seeds north of Wawanesa Jan. 16 at 4 p.m. was the doors being blown out by a roof collapsing under the weight of snow.

Two and a half feet of snow was too much for the sloped wooden roof, which crashed down on two trucks parked underneath. One truck experienced minor damage. The other had its cab crushed.

Contractors studying photos of the wreckage say the 4,600-square-foot storage shed is beyond repair, said Warren Ellis, owner of Ellis Seeds. The replacement value is estimated at over $38,000.

COULD BE WORSE

It could have been worse. In 2009, one person was killed and three injured when a vegetable storage shed collapsed due to snow load near Portage la Prairie.

“We’re so lucky that all we have is a few broken two by fours,” he said.

There have been reports of other buildings in Manitoba experiencing structural damage from snow this winter. Ellis thinks the snow buildup on roofs is unusual this year. The snow seems exceptionally high in water content, which could explain why it builds up and doesn’t slide off. Even Ellis’s grain bins have a foot of snow on the roofs, despite a 60-degree slope.

His advice to other farmers? “I’d be checking my roof and cleaning it off.”

The Co-operators insurance company is encouraging its clients to do just that. It recently emailed an alert to its policyholders in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta warning that heavy snow can pose risks to both property and personal safety.

The company provided tips for avoiding snow damage, including: watch for falling snow and ice from roofs; inspect roofs from the inside for leaks or structural stress; sand and/or salt icy areas around entrances; clear ice and debris from gutters, drains and downspouts.

However, it discourages people from putting themselves at risk to protect their property. It advises hiring professional contractors to clear snow from roofs instead of doing it themselves, the alert stresses.

The issue is safety as well as damage prevention, said Steve Reihl, The Co-operators district manager for Manitoba.

“Make sure you’re taking precautions to protect yourself and your property,” Reihl said.

Wayne Wyborn, vice-president of underwriting for Portage la Prairie Mutual Insurance Co., said roof collapses resulting from snow are more likely in spring, when early rains boost the water content of snow and make it heavier.

Fortunately, Ellis’s insurance policy covers the damage to his shed. But not all policies do.

Basic fire and extended coverage policies normally do not cover snow damage to buildings. Only all-risk coverage does that, said Wyborn.

But all-risk insurance isn’t always available for older buildings. Policyholders should make sure by consulting with their insurance providers, he said. [email protected]

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I’dbechecking myroofand cleaningitoff.”

– Warren Ellis

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