March 3, 2016
In part I of this blog, we discussed what to consider when deciding the roof material and roof slope to build with in snowy conditions. If you have decided to design a roof with metal panels, it is important to use the correct panel seams, evaluate the roof layout and consider long-term weatherproofing, and ensure your roof design fits the needs and function of the building.
For metal panel roofs less than 3:12 (i.e., low-slope roofs), the panel seams should be watertight. A watertight seam resists water intrusion, so snow on a roof should not become a leakage issue. For metal panel roofs with slope greater than 3:12, the steeper slope means liquid water (e.g., rain) drains very quickly off the roof. Because of this, many seams used for steep-slope metal panels are not watertight. Non-watertight seams can be problematic where snow stays on a roof. Architects should consider using watertight seams (e.g., double lock) and highly water-resistant underlayments in snow areas for all roof slopes.
A designer should also consider the layout of the roof. Valleys collect snow. Valleys in which one roof area is significantly larger than the other (e.g., a dormer extending from a large roof area) are vulnerable to unbalanced sliding snow. A large snow slide can move across the valley and literally tear open the standing seams and displace panels.
Drifting snow can occur behind HVAC units, at perimeter walls and behind rooftop solar thermal and PV panels. Where a roof transitions from a lower low-slope roof area to an upper steep-slope roof area, snow will collect. Consider the potential snow load and entrapped moisture at these locations; the transition detail becomes critical to long-term weatherproofing. And, depending on the orientation (e.g., north facing), areas with drifted snow may not see much sunlight, so snow is more likely to stay on the roof for a longer time.
As the roof designer, design the building and site to account for the roof’s function. Many designers turn to snow retention devices to keep snow on roofs, especially above pedestrian areas, such as entrances and outdoor seating areas, or adjacent buildings. Some of these devices rely on adhesive attachment to the panel, which means they rely on the adhesion of the paint to the metal. But physical attachment—e.g., snow fences clamped to the standing seams—is always a more confident, long-term approach than adhesive attachment when it comes to resisting shear/sliding loads. Using.multiple rows of snow fences, sometimes double in height, may be needed in areas that get large and prolonged amounts of snow (e.g., ski resorts), or where the eave to valley length is long, or where the slope is very steep. Each increases the shear loads.
Snow retention systems need to be engineered, not guesstimated! Use online models to assist with designing snow retention devices. Input your snow load, roof slope, panel width, roof length (measured horizontally), overall width of the roof area, and the manufacturer and panel type. These inputs are needed to adequately engineer a snow fence assembly. And remember, the snow loads are transferred from the fence to the panel seams, then to the panel clips and to the deck/structure. The entire load path needs to be designed to handle the snow load. Here is one model: http://www.s-5.com/calculator/index.cfm
For more tips on designing a snow retention system, read “The Art of Properly Specifying Snow Retention Systems.”
Designing a metal roof for snow is a mix of logic, experience and engineering. We can design roofs in snow because of our everyday observations of roofs with snow on them. Stay observant; design well.