What you should and shouldn’t worry about as the snow piles up

A maintenance worker for Goodwill Industries of the Columbia tapes the electrical connections Monday morning for lighting to an awning that gave way under the weight of drifting snow from the weekend’s winter storm.
A maintenance worker for Goodwill Industries of the Columbia tapes the electrical connections Monday morning for lighting to an awning that gave way under the weight of drifting snow from the weekend’s winter storm. Tri-City Herald

There’s a reason kids love snow: No school, snow angels, hot chocolate, screen time.

And there’s a reason adults are less enthusiastic: School closures, shoveling, straining roofs, rising utility bills.

The National Weather Service reports 6.1 inches have fallen on the Tri-Cities for the month to date, though drifting makes it seem like far more in many spots.

Here’s what property owners need to worry about and keep an eye on as winter weather continues.

What to watch

Your roof

Good news: The Tri-Cities hasn’t received anywhere near enough snow to overwhelm a properly built roof.

Bad news: More snow plus drifting could push some sections into the danger zone.

Here’s what the professionals have to say.

“Trusses are constructed to allow for moderate weight increases such as snow. The two to four inches of snow on our roofs is nothing to worry about,” said Troy Hendren, building official and fire marshal for the city of Pasco.

Harvey Lighthouse, a structural engineer with Harms Engineering Inc. in Pasco elaborates on how roofs are designed to handle snow.

Modern building codes are designed to support 20 pounds per square foot, or 20 to 24 inches depending on the moisture content. So far, the Tri-Cities has received light, fluffy snow.

“We aren’t anywhere near the 20 pounds,” he said.

Design loads coupled with safety factors means it would take far more snow to cause a roof to collapse.

“You’d have to have three to four feet of snow on there before you’re having a problem,” he said.

The one caveat: A poorly built roof could be at risk.

As snow piles on, Tri-Cities should keep an eye on drifting snow, said Tony Ostoja, Kennewick’s building official.

The official inch count may remain low, but the notorious Mid-Columbia winds mean some piles in some areas, particularly roof valleys.

“The trusses we have are designed for it, but at two feet, you should have someone clean it off,” he said.

Ostoja said homeowners should watch for damaging ice dams forming as snow melts and refreezes. Create a channel to allow water to escape and remove them.

Do worry about ...

Your heating bill

It may seem obvious, but yes, electric and gas bills go up as furnaces work harder to keep you warm.

Benton PUD advises its customers to maintain their usage through its SmartHub app.

Keep bills down by taking shorter showers, running full loads in the dish washer and clothes washer and turning off unnecessary lights, TVs and other electronics. Thermostats should be lowered when the home is vacant.

Turn off ventilation fans as soon as they have done their job.

HVAC units

Tri-Cities Insurance Professionals advises homeowners to clear around their outdoor heating and cooling units. Update: A Herald reader advises walking around your house every few hours to make sure drier and other vents are clear and ice isn’t forming against exterior walls.

Space heaters

Keep space heaters at least three feet away from bedding, clothing, draperies and other flammable materials.

Power outages

If the power goes off, turn off appliances and electronics to prevent fires and to help crews as they work to restore power.

Downed power lines

Stay away from downed power lines. A power line can deliver a lethal shock even if it’s not giving off sparks.

Portable generators

Only connect portable generators through an approved transfer switch that is isolated from the utilities system. NEVER plug the generator into a wall outlet. That can cause “backfeeding” that endangers utility linemen. Operate generators in dry, open areas.


Businesses and residents are responsible for maintaining the sidewalks adjacent to their properties.

The city of Kennewick advises neighbors to lend a hand to those who are unable to clear their walkways or driveways themselves.

Looking for someone to hire? You’ll find plenty of people will to do the job on neighborhood online pages, such as Facebook, NextDoor and other social media sites. Also, many landscaping and lawncare services offer plowing services.

Worried about something that’s not on the list? Let us know and it will be updated. news@tricityherald.com

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.