Snow Load Failures: Causes & Case Studies

Winter is quickly approaching and in some areas of the country, snow is already accumulating.  With more snow on the way and the inevitable roof damage and collapses that seem to follow at some point, Beau Menard, P.E., District Engineering Manager and Consulting Engineer with Engineering Design and Testing Corp. / EDT Engineers, P.C. in Charlotte, NC presented a visiting lecture to Penn State AE students on the topic of case study analysis of snow load failures.

Mr. Menard presented an introduction to the basic code items and procedures that need reviewed when investigating snow collapses.  He also put this all into perspective with a series of mini snow damage and collapse case studies that covered both common and unique contributing factors to failures from snow events.

Structural collapse and roof damage from snow can occur from a variety of sources and often results from a unique combination of events including snow drifting, roof geometry, storm overloads from ice and snow combinations, design deficiencies  and construction defects just to name a few.   A good background article on this topic can be found in the November 2008 issue of Structure titled “Structural Collapse from Snow Loads” by Michael O’Rourke.  Another good summary of snow collapses can be found from the Building Failures Forum guest post by Alyssa Stangl titled Snow-Induced Roof  Failures and Prevention Methods which also leads to a detailed discussion on the topic on the Failures Wiki site.

On a related topic, the Whole Building Design Guide contains a section titled Considerations for Building Design in Cold Climates: Avoiding Falling, Sliding or Windblown Ice and Snow from Buildings and Structures.  Another excellent supplemental resource is FEMA P-957 Snow Load Safety Guide.

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