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Mounting snow puts stress on roofs, officials warn

As snow continues to pile up on people’s roofs and rain comes down, local homeowners are up against more than slushy morning commutes.

The snow buildup, combined with water weight, is causing damage, leaks, and the threat of roof collapses, said a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

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“The roofs are getting heavy,” said spokesman Travis Hengen. “At first, when the snow comes down, it is light and fluffy. But now you add rainwater to it and it gets heavier.”

Though a collapse tends to be the first thing that comes to a homeowner’s mind, they are rare, said Hengen. He said he has only heard of one roof collapse this season, which occurred at a barn in Framingham this morning. The real worry is ice dams, he said.

Ice dams occur when ice builds up on the edges of a roof, and blocks snow and water from sliding off the roof. Instead, the moisture trickles down behind the shingles and causes leaks, said local roofers.

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Benjamin Connell, a manager at William Connell LLC in Needham, said he’s had a busy winter helping people shovel off roofs and prevent ice buildups.

“The phones have just been ringing constantly,” he said in a telephone interview this morning. “I’m swamped.”

The combination of rain, snow, and sleet has created the perfect climate for ice dams, said Connell. He said this is the worst season he has seen since 2007.

Preventing ice dams in the thick of winter is difficult, but the best thing people can do is clean their roofs consistently, he said.

Proper insulation is also helpful, according to the owner of Cape Cod Roofing and Siding in Wareham.

When the heat inside a house is “cranked up” this hot air rises to the center of the roof and often causes the snow to melt. But, the edges where the ice dams occur often stay frozen, said owner Skip Schiappa.

He said this season he has seen ice build up 8 inches wide.

“What happen then is these dams block all of this runny, slushy crap in,” said Schiappa.

Schiappa said these are the highest ice dams he has seen in years.

“This winter has been different,” he said. “We’ve gotten so much snow.”

Flat roof properties are also in danger, said Schiappa. On these homes snow just continues to pile up, and the buildings could reach their “snow load” capacity, meaning the maximum snow weight the roof can sustain.

“That’s where things get dangerous,” he said. “Those are the news stories you see when people get hurt or killed when the thing collapses.”

During the cold months, homeowners should keep house temperatures low, and keep shoveling off debris to alleviate some pressure, he said.

When the weather warms up, roofers can install barriers to add another layer of protection against the water, said Connell.

“You really need to stay on top of it,” said Connell.

After mixed snow and rain tonight, more rain is expected Thursday night into Friday. Dry weather is expected Saturday and Sunday.

Jacqueline Tempera can be reached at Follow her on twitter @jacktemp
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