Falling Ice and Snow – Mitigating Your Facility Risk by Mike Carter & Roman Stangl

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Falling ice and snow

Falling ice and snow from buildings and structures can pose a real risk to people and property.

If fallen ice is visible on a walking surface, are pedestrians likely to perceive a danger? If the number of “Danger/Caution – Falling Ice” signs that show up on our urban sidewalks is an indication, the answer is likely “yes”. However, this leads to the next question:

“Do these signs really reduce management and owner liability?”

If a potential danger truly exists, is anything less than either restricted access on the sidewalk or eliminating the risk of falling ice and snow acceptable?

This is a Facilities operations question – can a potential danger be anticipated, assessed, and guarded against? The answer is “yes”!

Historically, a major cause of reported falling ice and snow incidents for existing buildings was the occurrence of severe or unusual winter weather, combined with a lack of planned preparedness.

Newly completed buildings are typically the most vulnerable since the susceptibility of their design to winter weather is unknown (unless a design review for ice and snow issues was completed during the design stage), and they do not benefit from a history of experiences. However, while existing buildings have the advantage of previous experience, they too can become victim to severe weather patterns and changing climate conditions and additional risks can emerge.

Winter Operational Planning – Falling Snow and Ice

To safeguard against the risk of a problem event occurring, it is prudent that each Facility or Building Manager develop a “winter action plan” for their facilities.

This plan is intended to prepare, predict, manage and document building performance during and after winter storm events. To develop this plan, a sample list of key components is provided as a starting point for your “winter action plan”:

  • Detailed Prediction of Winter Building Performance (An assessment typically completed by an ice and snow consultant or staff member with years of building specific winter experience);
  • Descriptions of Problematic Ice and Snow Behavior (text descriptions and photographic examples of identified hazards for recognition of potential issues during inspections);
  • Staff Responsibilities (descriptions of roles and responsibilities for both storm preparedness and building observation reports and inspections);
  • Weather Forecasting Procedures;
  • Building Observation, Hazard Identification, and Inspection Methods;
  • Actions To Be Taken Upon Forecast or Observation of a Potential Hazard;
  • Restricted Access and Area Closure Procedures;
  • Documentation Procedures;
  • Pre-winter Preparations;
  • Guidelines for Snow Clearing and Removal from Building Surfaces;
  • On-going Improvement, Training, and Contact Lists;
  • Observation and Inspection Templates.

The “Fix” for Ice and Snow Problem Conditions

Once a problem condition that increases your ice and snow falling risk is identified, the following actions are often required:

  • investigation and identification of the root cause;
  • assessment of re-occurrence potential;
  • identification of mitigation options;
  • feasibility assessment of identified mitigation options; and,
  • cost versus risk analysis of short listed mitigation options.

There is a trade-off between low cost remedies that typically require long-term monitoring and maintenance compared to more comprehensive mitigation options that require less monitoring and maintenance and result in less cost and operational risk over the long term.

Mitigation Methods and Products for falling Ice and Snow

There are many commercially available products for mitigating snow and ice risk, which are typically referred to as snow guards or fences, snow clips, ice guards and heat trace.

When applied appropriately, these products can be installed to retain ice and snow or reduce ice or icicle formation, reducing the risk of ice or snow falling and the need for added danger signs or roping off danger areas in front of your building.

Suppliers of these products offer layout assistance and guidelines for application and installation of their individual products.  Be aware that snow retention products are not required to meet any recognized testing standards and are designed principally for the residential and low-rise commercial market. Consultation with a structural engineer is crucial to ensure that all snow loads are transferred through roofing material to the building’s structural system, and that the building’s structural system can accommodate the forces.

As well, commercial products do not address all aspects of a potential hazard and often have trouble integrating effectively into design systems of larger public, commercial or tall buildings. Applications requiring more stringent performance and design criteria should obtain expert design assistance to develop a custom mitigation solution, circumventing issues with overall performance, design integration, and installation.

Getting Expert Advice about Snow and Ice

An experienced ice and snow consultant can quickly and efficiently help a Facility Manager identify the cause of a problem condition, quantify the associated risk of re-occurrence, and develop effective mitigation strategies, reducing overall risk and cost of remediation.


Mike Carter, Director of Microclimate Ice & Snow

Michael Carter, CET, is the director of Microclimate Ice & Snow Inc. He has more than 20 years of design assist, consultation, field research, incident investigation, and laboratory mockup testing experience. Carter co-chairs ASTM Task Group E06.55.13 on Evaluation of Snow & Ice Accretion on Buildings & Structures, and his published works include articles and guides for: Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), Snow Engineering V & VII, the Whole Building Design Guide of the National Institute of Building Science (NIBS), and Construction Canada.

Contact Mike at mcarter@icesnowconsult.com

Roman Stangl

Roman Stangl has been actively managing and consulting within the design, construction, and existing buildings/structures field since 2005, with a specific focus on ice and snow.  He has contributed to publications with the National Institute of Building Sciences, Construction Specifications Canada, and the International Conference on Snow Engineering.  Roman is currently Co-Chair and Technical Contact of ASTM International, task group for Evaluation of Snow and Ice Accretion on Buildings and Structures (E06.55.13).

Contact Roman at roman.m.stangl@gmail.com

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3 responses to “Falling Ice and Snow – Mitigating Your Facility Risk by Mike Carter & Roman Stangl

  1. David Reynolds says:

    Mike and Roman, thanks for the thorough coverage (pardon the descriptor.) But seriously, thanks!
    Thought from a guy who grew up in New England, helped manage a must-be-available taxiway and runway in New York, and settled eventually in the Gulf South: what is your guidance to an FM in, say, Jackson MS, or Montgomery AL, or anywhere else in the Southeast between I-10 and I-20? in these areas, substantial snow and ice events are unusual. On the other hand, the (probability x severity => Risk) calculation is feasible, discrete, and a greater difficulty as our atmosphere becomes at once warmer, but possibly more kinetic as well, capable of delivering a whole lot of freezing precipitation way down South. “What”, the CFO tells FM, “you are budgeting for snow and ice preparations?” We’ll just close and ask everyone to work from home. Fire, police, airport, hospitals, etc. don’t have that luxury. What’s an FM to do?

    • Mike Carter says:

      David, Thanks for the question. In the Southeast we have worked on many projects over the years (Atlanta, Dallas, etc.), typically after significant snow/ice storms. Our advice…be prepared! The warming climate is allowing more moisture to be held aloft and what goes up must come down! Weather data is indicating approximately the same number or frequency of storms (maybe even less for some areas), however each storm has more moisture, thus the severity is going up. Furthermore, the variation in weather patterns is changing, causing more cold from the North to flow down south at times. These influences are resulting in more storms containing ice! So what is an FM to do…be prepared! At Microclimate Ice & Snow Inc., we offer building evaluations and customized Winter Operational Guidelines, providing a pro-active approach to identifying and managing potential issues, as well as, providing procedures to follow in the event of a server event. It is my experience, talking with FM and building owners over the years (often after an incident has occurred at their building), that it would not have been the crisis it was if they had only known it could have happened in the first place. Feel free to email me directly to discuss further.

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