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Editorial: Escape winter damage, unethical contractors

A winter without thawing means every bit of snowfall stays on the ground for the entire season.

That’s been the story this winter. It’s not that every time snow has dropped from the sky, it’s come in heavy doses. It’s just that ongoing cold with very few mild breaks has resulted in the area hanging on to the total supply.

Repercussions occur because of that, not the least of which is strained roofs. The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) has offered four steps to prevent costly roof damage, the product of long stretches of extreme winter weather. It’s also important to inspect the roof of a garage, shed, porch or any other structure required to carry the weight of this season’s snow load.

The four prevention steps are:

—Evaluate the risk. Ice and snow tend to more readily accumulate on low slope and flat roofs over porches, lanais or parts of a home that are next to a taller section of the house, especially during high winds. Melting snow tends to more quickly run off of steep sloped roofs with slopes greater than three inches of slope in 12 inches of horizontal distance, particularly the steeper ones that are typically found on houses in northern climates.

—Estimate how much weight the roof can support. Unless the roof structure is damaged or decayed, most residential roofs regardless of the location of the house should be able to support 20 pounds per square foot of snow before they become stressed. If living in an area known for lots of snow, check with the local building department to find out if higher loads were used at the time the home was built.

—Estimate how much the snow on the roof weighs. If it’s fresh snow, 10-12 inches of new snow is equal to one inch of water, or about five pounds per square foot of roof space, so there could be up to four feet of new snow before the roof will become stressed. If it’s packed snow, three-to-five inches of old snow is equal to one inch of water, or about five pounds per square foot of roof space, so anything more than two feet of old snow could be too much for the roof to handle.

For total accumulated weight, two feet of old snow and two feet of new snow could weigh as much as 60 pounds per square foot of roof space, which is beyond the typical snow load capacity of most roofs. As for ice, one inch of it equals one foot of fresh snow.

—Remove snow from the roof. If in a “danger zone” according to the above, or if the loads estimated based on the thickness of the various types of snow and ice exceed 20-25 per square foot, consider removing snow from the roof. For safe removal not endangering anyone or damaging the roof, use a snow rake with a long extension arm allowing for removal of the snow while standing on the ground or hire a snow removal contractor.

When dealing with contractors, Wisconsin residents have new protections. Effective the first of this year, a new “Storm Chaser” law is intended to help prevent dishonest contractors from taking advantage of homeowners in storm-damaged areas, according to information from the Professional Insurance Agents of Wisconsin (PIAW).

Storms and other catastrophic events can provide opportunities for unethical practices, including offering to pay for insurance deductibles, or making unneeded repairs or improvements. The new law specifies:

—No deductible payments or rebates. Contractors cannot promise to pay or rebate any portion of a property insurance deductible as an incentive to enter into an oral or written contract for exterior repair.

—Homeowners have three days to cancel contracts based on insurance claims. A homeowner who has signed a contract for exterior repairs has a right to cancel with the contractor within three days after the customer has received notice from an insurance company the work has been denied in whole or in part. Any deposits of money paid must be returned within 10 days. However, the contractor is entitled to compensation for authorized emergency services preventing further damage to the home or property.

—Contractors can’t negotiate with the insurance company. The act prohibits a contractor from negotiating on behalf of the homeowner regarding a claim. However, with a customer’s permission, the contractor may discuss the damage, estimates or options for repair work with the insurer’s representative.

The penalty for violating these requirements is a fine of $500 to $1,000 for each violation.