Carports and Snow: What You Need to Know

Parking your car in the open over the winter often leads to long mornings of scraping and shoveling to free the vehicle from its icy and snowy cocoon. Even powerful snowblowers leave you getting up an hour early to have time to clear your driveway. While a metal carport won't necessarily leave you a free path to the roadway, it will at least keep the snow and ice from gathering on your vehicle. However, snow is also one of the biggest risks to an improperly designed metal carport. Dozens of these structures collapse each winter due to heavy snow loads and undersized structural supports. If you're considering a metal carport in an area that even occasionally gets snow, you'll need to pick a design that can handle the weight.

The Risk of Snow Loading

With individual flakes floating through the air so slowly, it's easy to think that snow is very light. But the weight of each flake adds up quickly when you're dealing with the accumulation of more than an inch or less. Snow weighs 20 lbs per cubic foot on average, which results in 1.25 lbs of force per inch of depth over a square foot. If you have a metal carport with 200 square feet of roof space and two inches of accumulated snow, you could be dealing with 500 lbs or more of snow on the roof. The weight of snow varies depending on the shape and style of the snowflakes, so the weight of the same depth of snow can vary between storms.

Complete and Partial Collapses

With all that weight accumulating on the roof, metal carports can suddenly collapse at any time, even after hours or days of standing under the weight. Some carports will only partially collapse, leaving just one corner crumpled or the supports bent without completely dropping the roof. In worse cases, the carport will completely collapse and may crush anything stored in or underneath it. Many homeowners have lost family heirlooms, collectible vehicles, or farm equipment after their carport collapsed due to snow loading.

Damaged Property and Liability

Don't assume the metal carport supplier or home insurance company will automatically pay for the damages either. In many cases across the country, homeowners have gone to court only to find out they are completely liable for the damages themselves due to having chosen and installed the particular design. Unless the manufacturer in some way misrepresents the strength of their designs, you're the one who must decide if they're strong enough to handle local snow conditions. Home insurance companies often exclude these structures since they're separate from the home and usually installed after it's built rather than during the initial construction. If your metal carport collapses and affects a neighbor's property or causes an injury, you could be held liable and end up paying out-of-pocket for the repairs or medical bills.

What to Look for in a Metal Carport

Most carports sold in temperate areas where snow is a possibility list their snow load capacity as part of the building's features. Estimate the heaviest possible snow your area has had in the last 50 years, then aim for a carport that exceeds that amount by at least 10%. This ensures that even surprise snowstorms that are a once-in-a-lifetime event won't damage your carport and leave it flat on the ground. In addition to stronger framing, the carport should also have thicker metal roofing if it's designed to hold up snow weight. The roof can still collapse partially if the frame holds but the individual roofing panels rip or bend under the weight. Don't be afraid to install a metal carport just because you get a lot of snow in the winter. It's possible to design a carport to handle practically any amount of snow weight with the right supports and thick metal roofing. Discuss your concerns about winter conditions with your metal building supplier to see what they recommend to keep your vehicles and other belongings safe during a surprise blizzard that dumps multiple feet of snow at once.

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