COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — It can be dangerous when snow piles up in feet. Colorado building codes were written with heavy snowfall in mind. However, falling tree limbs and gutters clogged with ice dams can cause damage to homes, power lines, and vehicles. In extreme cases, heavy snow loads can also lead to roof collapses.
That happened in the Denver area during the historic snowfall in March 2003. An abandoned building and a gas station, both with flat roofs, experienced collapses when more than 31 inches of snow fell on the metro area.
"Back in 2003, we did have nearly $100 million in insured losses from that spring/winter storm, almost to the day of when we're getting it this year," said Carole Walker, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.
More recently, a snow load collapse occurred at the Village at Breckenridge hotel in January 2017 when more than 49 inches of snow fell in a week.
Roof collapses are rare because building codes in our state are written with heavy snowfall in mind.
Greg Dingrando of the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department explained that every square foot of snow that is one inch thick weighs roughly one pound. Flat roofed structures built at elevations below 7,000 feet are required to hold a minimum of 30 pounds per square foot (PSF.) At higher elevations, such roofs must hold 40 PSF.
"I think people can feel pretty comfortable heading into the weekend and it's because of the code that we have in place," Dingrando said.
He points out that most residential buildings have pitched roofs which makes it harder for large snow accumulation to occur.
Falling tree branches are a much more common danger. Walker says insurance claims from fallen branches occur frequently with spring snowstorms.
"They're going to fall on power lines causing power outages which then could cause frozen burst pipes, even food spoilage if you're out of power for a long time," Walker said.
The branches can also fall on parked cars or onto roofs or through windows. Walker recommends homeowners look around their property to check for damage and keep their insurance agent's number close-by.
Generally speaking, a claim for a fallen branch should be submitted by the homeowner who experienced the damage, even if the branch came from a neighbor's tree.
Walker also recommends clearing out gutters before the snow starts falling. Ice dams can cause water to seep under the shingles leading to roof damage.
"If you see brown spots, that's a sign that you have a leaky roof," Walker said.
Even with heavy snow accumulations on the roof, Walker discourages people from trying to clear it because the risk for injury is very high. She also discourages people from heating gutters to melt ice dams as it can lead to a fire.
Should your become damaged during the storm, Walker recommends keeping receipts for any materials purchased to patch holes or make emergency repairs. Those expenses can be included when you file a claim later on.