November 21, 2009 in City

Now there’s snow hurry

Winter weather tool sales strong early; last year’s shortages, collapses are likely cause
By The Spokesman-Review
 
File photo

A collapsed roof did extensive damage to this Spokane home, pictured Jan. 10, during last winter’s heavy snows. This year, home and business owners appear to be thinking ahead about winter maintenance.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Last winter’s record snowfall made a serious impression on the Inland Northwest, according to hardware store managers.

The General Store on Division Street in Spokane already sold out of roof rakes once this fall, though they’re back in stock now.

And Miller’s Hardware on 29th Avenue reports brisk sales of winter supplies, with some snowblowers and roof rakes sold out.

“I notice people seem to be buying things in advance,” said Nick Fjellstrom, general manager of the General Store. “They’re not waiting for the roof to start to collapse.”

Last winter, after dozens of roofs collapsed from a buildup of snow, stores throughout the region sold out of roof rakes. Fjellstrom estimated the General Store sold about 2,000 of them. Already this year, he said, about 1,000 have gone out the door.

Richard Shaw, who works at Miller’s, said the store sold about 300 roof rakes last winter. In a normal year, the South Hill store sells about 10. More should be in stock next week, he said. “People are remembering,” Shaw said.

While there were several high-profile roof failures, such as the Rosauers store on Francis Avenue, most roofs withstood the onslaught.

A report due next month from the Structural Engineers Association of Washington’s Spokane chapter is expected to advise that current codes dealing with snow weight are sufficient.

“What we found in general was that many of the collapses happened before the roofs actually were loaded with the minimum snow load,” said Robert Graper, past president of the association.

That indicates many of the problems were caused by deterioration prior to the event or plugged drains that caused extra weight to pool on roofs. Some likely simply didn’t meet the code, said Graper, a structural engineer at Integrus Architecture.

He said the report will recommend that builders consider adding more roof pitch to new structures.

Ninety-five roof failures in Spokane and Kootenai counties that were reported to area structural engineering firms last winter, Graper said. Of those, 68 were listed as “primary” structures, such as homes, businesses or warehouses.

Building codes in Spokane and Spokane County have required roofs to be built so they can support at least 30 pounds of snow per square foot. The standard is at least 40 pounds in Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County. Locations at higher elevations in both counties have more stringent requirements.

While some pockets of the region reportedly exceeded the 30-pound mark last year, the National Weather Service’s official reading topped out on Jan. 6 at 28.6 pounds per square foot. It’s rare for snow weight to reach the limit. It happened in February 1969, when the weather service measured snow on the ground at 36 pounds per square foot in Spokane.

Spokane’s city building director, Joe Wizner, said he agrees with the conclusion of the engineering association. “It was a very isolated case,” Wizner said.

He said after last year he expects building owners – especially ones with flat roofs – to be more vigilant in removing snow if the region has heavy snow.

There are other signs of early preparations in response to last year. This week, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner held her second news conference in two months to brief the media about the city’s new snow removal plan and parking restrictions during snow emergencies. Ken Rowe, store manager of Ace Hardware on Fourth Street in Coeur d’Alene, said he too sees signs people are more prepared. The store received so many requests for snow supplies, winter gear was put on display about a month earlier than usual. The store has sold more roof rakes than it did last year.

Rowe said customers are partly responding to the frustration they experienced last winter when stores couldn’t keep items on their shelves. “We’d get a shipment of 400 (shovels) in, and they’d be gone in 45 minutes,” he said. This winter, “They don’t want to be caught without.”

Not all areas have seen signs of a spike in winter preparation. Monica Hunter, manager of Tekoa Hardware and Supply, said customer demand for winter supplies appears typical: “Wait till the first snowfall, and they’ll want ’em.”

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