Following the three-day winter storm that pummeled much of the Northeast, there are reports of significant snow accumulation in Pennsylvania, New York and the surrounding areas. New Jersey received nearly 30 inches of snow accumulation in some cities, resulting in the highest total snowfall accumulation in recent years.

While snow is most commonly blamed for creating travel and visibility challenges, it can also cause damage to homes and buildings due to the weight of the buildup. During this unusual year, the risk of significant damage has increased since more properties are sitting vacant or have limited occupants.

As NOAA indicates, February and March continue to have the potential for heavy snowfalls due to the intersection of hot and cold temperatures. The potential for heavy snow continues into April for select parts of the country. The Hays Property Claims team has assembled a quick overview of warning signs of property damage following a winter storm, as well as what you should do about it.

Warning Signs of Damage/Collapse Following a Winter Storm:

  • Bowing, sagging, cracking or fractured trusses/purlins are a likely warning sign of overloading.
  • Fresh cracking in plaster or drywall may suggest shifting or movement of framing members.
  • Doors can suddenly become out of plumb or no longer properly shut.

These issues can also impact buildings in other regions of the country with a more moderate snow pack. Building codes are often not designed to carry the same snow loads that are anticipated in colder climates. Older buildings are especially susceptible due to less stringent building codes in effect at the time of construction or aging building materials.

COVID-19 Considerations

  • Additional effort may be required by facilities staff to determine if snow loading damage has occurred.  Many companies have less employees on site due to COVID-19, and changes/signs of snow loading issues may not be as readily apparent in areas with less traffic than normal.
  • Even if you are in a warmer climate/have minimal snow amounts can still be impacted.  Codes are not as stringent as northern climates where heavy snow accumulation is anticipated.
  • Less traffic in buildings equates to less water movement.  Pipes can be more susceptible to freezing if there is less movement of water through them.  With upcoming cold weather, this may be an issue.  Signs of pipe freeze include no water, less water or only hot/cold water coming out of faucet.
  • Less traffic in buildings also means that any water resulting from burst pipes may not be discovered as quickly as it normally would.  This can allow water to run for a longer period of time and additional areas to be damaged.

Suggested responses to snow load issues or signs of a potential collapse:

  • Contact a structural engineer to evaluate the structural stability and determine if shoring or other emergency repairs are necessary.
  • Safely remove snow from the roof and hire outside vendors to assist if necessary. Areas which are most susceptible to snow accumulation are along parapet walls, where there is a difference in roof elevations and in roof valleys. Be careful with snow blowers and other equipment as additional damage can occur to the roof if not properly used.
  • Keep operations and employees out of impacted areas until the licensed engineer determines the situation is stable.
  • Evaluate whether it is safe to maintain utilities in area, or if they should be shut off as a precaution.
  • Notify your insurance carrier and broker of the situation.
  • Complete shoring and temporary repairs in-line with engineer recommendations to mitigate any further damage.
  • Take photos and video, save invoicing for incurred expenses and track internal labor utilized to respond.

If a catastrophic collapse has occurred:

  • Isolate the entire area from the balance of your premises/operations.
  • Notify your insurance carrier and broker.
  • Turn off utilities to prevent further damage.
  • Identify alternate means for production/operations if they are impaired.
  • Contact a structural engineer to evaluate any remaining portions of the building.
  • Gather original building details, plans, specifications, and other construction documents available. These will assist with both rebuilding and the insurance claim process.
  • Contact a contractor for demolition and rebuilding of the structure. We suggest working with the adjuster to confirm there is agreement on the scope and pricing prior to completing any of the permanent repairs.

If you are impacted by heavy snowfall this season, Hays is here to help! Please reach out to your property claims team or contact us here.

This document is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered legal or tax advice or legal or tax opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. Readers are urged to consult their legal counsel and tax advisor concerning any legal or tax questions that may arise.

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