Beyond Snow Load: Planning for Sliding Snow, Ice Dams and Falling Icicles in Your Building Design

If you are working with a builder designer or architect to create a building that will be subject to ice and snow, you have to consider those elements in your design. Whether you are spearheading a project involving a hotel at a ski resort, a factory in an area with snowy winters or any other type of building, your design has to take into account whether or not the roof can handle the expected snow loads for that area. However, that isn't the only thing you need to consider -- you also need to think about ice build up, falling icicles, sliding chunks of snow and related issues.

Besides load capacity, here are three other risks and annoyances you should consider when choosing your final design:

1. Sliding Snow

If a large volume of snow accumulates on the roof of your building, in the right conditions, it can start to slide around the roof, and it can hit or damage mechanical equipment, roof seams, barriers around the roof, and other functional and decorative elements.

This risk needs to be taken into account in the building's design. Depending on your exact climate, you may want to consider a flat roof where the snow is less likely to slide, or you may want to build snow barriers around functional elements such as mechanical equipment and forgo decorative elements.

2. Ice Dams

An ice dam is a ridge or dam of snow and ice around the perimetre of your building. Ice dams prevent moisture from reaching your gutters. As the snow melts, the water that can't reach the gutters builds up behind the ice dams, and ultimately, the water can seep into your roof tiles, or its weight can put strain on the integrity of your roof.

Ice dams occur when snow and ice start to melt on the roof. As the snow turns to water, it travels toward the edge of the roof. However, if the edge of the roof is colder than the middle, the water refreezes. This happens repeatedly until an ice dam occurs.

To mitigate ice dams, consider adding a heat trace to the gutters of your building. A heat trace is a small heating element that runs through your gutters to prevent water from refreezing near them. Also, ask your building designer about putting a heat trace on the roof itself to create a path for water to flow.

3. Falling Snow and Icicles

In addition to snow sliding around roofs and damaging them, snow can also fall off the roof. Similarly, icicles can form near ice dams, and they can fall on people or property below, damaging it. This can lead to liability and property damage concerns.

There are a few things you can do to mitigate the risk of falling snow and icicles. Ideally, you should work with the direction of the sun and wind, and you should orient your building accordingly. For example, many buildings in snowy climates opt for a non-symmetrical sloped roof that is only slightly sloped on one side and prodigiously sloped on the other side. The more sloped side is oriented so that it is the most likely to catch the falling snow, and its slope allows the roof to shed the snow easily. However, so that the falling snow doesn't affect anyone, it's oriented toward the back of the building away from walking paths, pedestrians and parking lots.

You may also consider choosing an entryway design that can help to mitigate this issue. For example, your entry could have a small covering designed to catch snow or ice that falls off from the roof. Then, that small roof should have its own gutters to help snow migrate to the side.

To learn more about how snow and ice may affect your building, consider consulting with designer who is also an ice and snow expert. They can help you modify your design to account not just for snow load but also for sliding snow, ice dams, falling icicles and similar issues. For more information, contact a local building design company like Bill Jacobs Pty. Ltd.

About Me

Building a basement

We have a small house on a small block and we can't extend the house up due to council restrictions. We really need some more storage room though, which is why we have been building a basement extension. It's quite a big project to build a large basement under an existing house and we definitely didn't realise how much work it was going to be before we got started! Now it's finished I'm glad we did it because it has given us a lot more space. This blog shows our project fom start to finish and should be useful for anyone attempting the project.


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