Snow and Metal Panel Roofs: Part I

Posted on February 24, 2016 by kbuchinger

It’s February; winter storm Jonas happened last month. Snowstorms will continue to occur, and heavy snowfall can have many negative effects on roofs. What should you consider when designing a roof in snow areas, especially those with high snow amounts?

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What to Consider when Building Metal Roofs

Roofs on buildings in snow areas—from a structural capacity point of view—can be designed to be any low-slope or steep-slope roof system. Roof structures can be designed and built to accommodate any anticipated snow loads. From a weather-protection point of view, snow buildup on a roof can be problematic. The extra load and the risk of leaks are not desirable; however, keeping snow on a roof is often the acceptable way to deal with it.

Roof Slope

Unquestionably, the slope of the roof matters when it comes to snow staying on or sliding off. Once a roof slope gets to be about 45 degrees (i.e., 12:12), slope becomes the overriding factor for sliding snow. The amount of snow and the roof type also matter. From a designer’s perspective, there are also a number of localized issues to consider when designing for snow on roofs.

Snow Density

The amount and density of snow also matters. More snow means more weight. More weight means a greater sliding force down (along) the slope of the roof. On slopes less than 45 degrees (e.g., 6:12 to 9:12), a low coefficient of friction (such as on smooth pan metal panels) means less resistance to sliding. Striations and embossing add a small 3D profile and improve the resistance to sliding, especially if they run transverse to the slope.

When heavy, dense snow slides it can pack a punch. Such snow sliding down a roof can shear off exhaust vents; therefore, rigid vent pipes are needed, along with a secure method of attachment. Further, installing vent pipes as high up on the slope as possible reduces the amount of potential shear load. Consider the potential load on a vent pipe that’s 5 feet from the eave with a 40-50-foot eave-to-ridge length! Reverse that and most of the load goes away.

Roof Material Type

Material type and surface color make a difference, specifically a roof’s emissivity. Metal roofing absorbs heat more quickly and radiates heat more effectively than most other roofing materials. Darker colors enhance this effect. Even with as much as 3 to 5 inches of snow, UV light passes through it; less light passes the denser the snow. (The proof: solar energy panels [photovoltaics (PV)] work when covered in some snow.) This effect only happens on sunny days, and is most effective on south-facing roof areas. If there is heat loss from the building up through the roof, the heat will help melt the snow at the roof/snow interface. This creates a potential for sliding snow.

In part II of this blog, I’ll discuss the logic, experience and engineering that goes into designing a metal roof for snow. In the meantime, learn how to properly install snow retention devices, and watch how a New Jersey home heats and cools itself by gathering snow and rainwater.

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