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What is Snow Load?

Meaning of Snow Load

A snow load is the load placed on the ground or a structure by snow, frost, and ice that has accumulated.

Snow load is generally calculated using equations that determine the amount of water present in a given type and the depth of snow accumulation. The snow load on the ground is first calculated, based on an average sample of flat terrain, and the load carried by roofs is normally derived from that figure.

Building codes require structures to be able to comfortably support the highest snow load that could reasonably be expected to accumulate in the geographic area where they are located.

The load placed on a particular roof is influenced by the design of the building and other environmental factors.

Snow tends to accumulate on the ground and on structures in cold climates during the winter. Snow drifts are often measured in terms of depth. This can give a rough idea of ​​the actual weight of snow present, but the actual weight of snow varies widely, with light powder snow weighing very little and dense, wet snow weighing a lot.

The snow load calculation is based on the weight of water in the snow in a given area, rather than the depth of the snow.

The weight of water in a particular snowpack can be determined by measuring the depth of the snow and then applying formulas based on the composition of the snowpack.

These formulas are based on experimental evidence collected over many years and are quite accurate. This calculation method is preferred because actually melting and weighing a representative sample of snow cover is a difficult process.

Ground snow load refers to the weight of water per square foot that the snowpack exerts on the ground. This statistic is often not directly relevant, although heavy snowfall can damage some landscaping features.

Roof snow load is a much more important statistic and is calculated from the ground load in a region.

The load placed on a particular roof is influenced by the design of the building and other environmental factors.

Sloped roofs, especially steeply sloped roofs such as the A-frame styles common in very snowy climates, shed snow very efficiently and carry much less load than flat roof structures. Melting can also lessen or redistribute the weight of snow on a roof.

Building codes require that structures be able to support the increased snow load that is likely to accumulate. Code requirements vary widely from region to region.

Homes in Florida are not expected to withstand a snow load, while homes in areas that experience a great deal of snow, such as Alaska or the Rocky Mountains in California, may be able to withstand loads of more than 300 lbs. per ft. square (61 kg per square meter).

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