Snow load

– a challenge for property owners
In the Nordic region, last winter gave us an exceptional amount of snow. Because of this, our clients and customers experienced more snow load-related damages than would normally be expected.

This winter it is natural to ask ourselves if we and our clients learnt anything from last year's experience. I believe it is fair to say that even if an insurance cover provides good economic protection from damage caused by snow load, it is always better to try to avoid such damage.

First and foremost, we all need to realise that snow load represents a significant risk that could compromise building structures. In some cases, people may also be severely injured, even fatally, by collapsing buildings or snow sliding off roofs and the like.

Reducing risks – what to do?

Follow the weather forecast. A lot of wet snow in a short period of time may represent a significant danger. Snowfall followed by rain may also pose an increased threat, as the water content of the snow will increase, and so the weight per square metre will also increase significantly.

One should always be prepared and have plans for the removal of snow load, as snow load represents a general and repeating risk. In geographical areas with a lot of snow, removal, as well as measuring snow load and snow depth on roofs, should be considered a general and normal necessity.

It is important not to jeopardise safety when removing snow. This will normally imply that such undertakings should be left to professionals, who will remove snow safely and in a skilled way. Apart from posing a significant risk of personal injury, unloading may, if done wrongly, actually cause additional damage, for example, if the load on the building or structure becomes increasingly uneven during unloading.

Unskilled workers may also damage the roof when removing snow, causing water to penetrate the roof. Furthermore, trained personnel will also consider the risk and take appropriate measures to avoid harming people due to snow and ice falling from the roof.

A lot of wet snow in a short period of time may represent a significant danger.

Watch for signs – is anything starting to give way? Any cracks or noise? Are doors and windows increasingly hard to open or close? These may all be signals that something needs to be done sooner rather than later. In the long run, monitoring the girders of buildings is not uncommon. Such monitoring is a good and relatively easy way to detect deformation and gives an early warning if something needs to be done. Monitoring and measuring snow depth on roofs should always be considered a viable option to detect possible problems early.

Sometimes frozen drainage systems may cause snow and ice to build up on the roof. To avoid this, consider installing heating in the drainage system, especially in geographical areas with a climate where the temperature frequently varies from below freezing to a milder temperature.

Even though old buildings may have been exposed to a heavy snow load over many years without suffering any damage, the structure may have been weakened over time, and may therefore be more prone to such damage than in previous years. One should take this into consideration when deciding the need for an inspection, and deciding when to start unloading snow. Sometimes an unusual wind direction in combination with heavy snow may cause stress to the building structure that is unusual and causes unexpected damage.

Insurance cover

Most property insurance covers damage caused by snow load. If you are in doubt about whether your insurance policy would be sufficient, ask us!

The cover is normally dependent on property owners taking good care of their buildings, meaning that the owners do what they are reasonably expected to do to avoid snow load damage. The owners must, to the best of their ability, make sure that snow is removed before the snow load becomes a problem.

In the real world, unexpected situations happen. The snow may be accompanied by heavy rain; the snow may be heavier than expected; and the wind may be stronger, come from an unexpected direction, and add to the stress. If the building code of the building is met, and the owner has acted in a way than corresponds to normal and prudent behaviour, things tend to end well without damage. However, unexpected things may happen and cause damage, for which insurance will provide cover.

What may the consequences be if you fail to be aware of the responsibility to unload snow?

Apart from the fact that people may be injured, a lack of prudent unloading may have consequences, and may result in a reduction in the insurance settlement.

Prepare and monitor

Beware of the risk. Snow load may lead to the collapse of building structures, and it poses a significant risk of damage to both people and property. Monitor the building and be aware of signs of overload. Use professionals to safely remove snow load.

If damage still occurs, If is there to help you!

Article by

Oddmund Bleie

Leader Major Property Claims, If