Snow weighs heavily on roofs, minds of homeowners
“There is probably a couple thousand pounds of weight sitting on it right now,” one homeowner said of his roof. “It’s a lot of weight and I don’t want it to cave in.”
As reports grew of buildings collapsing Tuesday, Terry Czerniejewski stood by his garage in Belmont Cragin holding two poles strung together with a 12-inch long wooden plank attached to the end of one of them.
The makeshift tool was necessary after yet another snowstorm blanketed the area, forcing residents to get creative to protect their property.
“There is probably a couple thousand pounds of weight sitting on it right now,” Czerniejewski said of his roof. “It’s a lot of weight and I don’t want it to cave in.”
That already was the fate of a handful of buildings in the Chicago area, including a vacant building near 75th Street and Ridgeland Avenue, which collapsed Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day in Brainerd on the South Side, a man watched as an abandoned building in the 700 block of West 91st Street caved in.
Firefighters also discovered a collapsed building while driving in the South Chicago neighborhood. A roof also buckled at a Morton Grove equestrian center Tuesday afternoon. No one was hurt in any of these incidents, but a few cars were damaged by the falling debris, officials said.
That follows a roof that collapsed in Englewood on Sunday and two in Elgin that caved in last week.
Almost all of the buildings that collapsed were large facilities that were vacant or abandoned and had a bowstring truss roof system, with an arched roof but without traditional support columns, officials said.
Larry Merritt, a spokesman for the Chicago Fire Department said, the system has trouble holding heavy loads for a long period of time, especially in buildings that are dilapidated or vacant.
Moisture from snow piled up along the perimeter can seep into brickwork when the snow melts. Then the water will expand when it turns to ice, pushing the bricks outward — leading to what is called a pancake collapse.
“If the building is occupied that helps melt the ice because of the heat generated inside,” which stops freezing, Merritt said. “When it’s not then the ice will continue to expand.”
But owners of buildings with all types of roofs should be concerned about a range of potential damage after a heavy snowstorm, said Robert Ely, co-owner of Chicago Roofing Services Inc. in Logan Square.
“The freeze-thaw cycle is what causes the most damage to roofs because on days like this the sun is out and you will begin seeing a little bit of melting,” Ely said. “Then at night, when the temperature drops again, the water that is trapped will begin freezing and turning into ice.
“It’s my experience that this is what does the most damage to roofs and gutters besides the snow,” Ely said.
Anytime a roof has been hit with more than eight inches of snow you should consider hiring a professional to remove it by applying heat, Ely said.
That can cost as much as $1,000 or more, depending on the roof’s size, he said.
“It’s a dangerous job and extremely time consuming — like my guys will take about eight hours to safely remove snow and ice from a roof,” Ely said. “More importantly, people must do preventative measures like annual inspections or adding heating coils to the perimeter of the building for extra protection.”
Czerniejewski, though, planned to take matters into his own hands, although he said he had no intentions of climbing his roof to remove the snow. He planned to scrape off as much snow as possible with his makeshift tool — then head inside for a warm drink.
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.