Can Ice Damage Your Building?

Ice is a menace to our paved surfaces. It can destroy foundations, roads, concrete structures, pipes, and more. This is one of the key strengths of crystal structures. They can exert great force on their surroundings. Ice starts from liquid water, so it can move, invade, and then cause a massive obstruction or destruction with ease. What few people realize however, is just how much damage it can cause to the rest of a building.

High Loads in Weak Places

Ice will easily accumulate at the sides of a building, where water typically runs into the gutters. During cold weather events and cycles of melting and freezing, the gutters can become clogged. Water first freezes inside the gutters, then it flows over the edges and starts to freeze on the sides and down the bottom of the gutters.

This will quickly grow into a major issue: ice is heavy. The exact weight of ice per-volume will vary with the temperature. For round numbers sake we’ll say a gallon of ice weighs eight pounds. Raingutters vary in capacity as well, a five-inch wide gutter holds just over a gallon and a six inch gutter holds two gallons, per foot. You can see this is going to get heavy very quickly.

If your business has one side with rain gutters that is forty foot long, and those are six inch rain gutters, then those gutters alone would weigh 640 pounds once they’re full of ice. After that, the water overflows, forms icicles down the sides and the weight begins to drastically increase.

Rain gutters are typically held in with nails on prefabricated mounts. Nails are good for building most things, but they can be pulled out with enough force. On a bad day, that ice is going to produce force, tear the gutters off the side of the facility, and do significant damage to whatever that ice happens to land on. Imagine that 640 pounds landing on your boss’s new car?

Ice build up like this is also a legal problem. If that ice falls on an employee or a customer, it’s going to get expensive. Some facilities will employ heated roofs to deice and prevent this issue from occurring. Other facilities will have their maintenance staff remove the icicles outside their operating hours, under safe conditions.

Ice Dams

Ice can form anywhere though, it’s not confined to just the gutters. When the water freezes, it can freeze in inconvenient places. For a typical angled roof, the blockage at the gutters can cause melted water from elsewhere on the roof to back up and form a small pond.

Despite apparent evidence to the contrary, roofs aren’t actually water proof. They’re water resistant. What this means in practice is that water isn’t likely to enter if it keeps flowing. The flowing water will proceed downhill and eventually safely leave the system. We design our roof structures with this in mind, so they don’t have to be sealed water-tight. In many cases, this means if water flows backwards or pools, it can move up under shingles and other roofing materials to find a way in.

Sometimes that’s not really a problem. The water still won’t get in directly. In those cases, it’s possible for the weight of the water to force it down through weaker materials instead. If a layer of snow or ice forms on top of the water, that weight can put pressure on the roof and force it through.

Water inside your facility is nothing but trouble. In your absolute best case scenario, you’re going to have an annoying drip and an employee emptying a bucket every fifteen minutes. In the worst case scenario the water goes unnoticed, causes significant structural damage, and causes the entire facility to collapse, destroying a multi-billion-dollar piece of equipment like the Soviet Space Shuttle, the Buran.

There’s really two main defenses against this, besides putting your business in a submarine. Some facilities employ heated roofing that prevents the formation of ice, ice dams, and icicles from the very beginning. This is not a cheap thing to do, but it’s about as effective as a heated driveway. Ice doesn’t stand a chance unless the system breaks down.

The second defense is to have the roof cleared just like your driveway. Snow removal services often take care of clearing commercial roofs to prevent damage. This will depend on the structure of your building, so always have the roof inspected prior to having employees, contractors, or anyone else work on the roof. For small businesses, it may be possible to remove the snow yourself from the ground using a Roof Rake, essentially a very wide shovel on a pole. This is most effective for businesses with angled roofs, particularly using smaller buildings. As always, we don’t endorse shoveling the roof yourself. Only engage in activity that you can do safely and with the approval of the relevant experts.

Unseen Damage

There can be further issues elsewhere in your facility caused by ice. We’re only giving a general rundown here. If ice forms inside any structural elements, it’s also possible for them to be broken apart by the ice. Significant cold, helped along by ice can weaken metal structural components as well. Water trapped around metal equipment can cause rust and corrosion or enter equipment like packaged HVAC systems. It’s important to remember water can get anywhere and then freeze to damage anything.

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