Get your building in shape, then let it snow!

Snow can mean more than a temporary loss of electrical power or inaccessible roads. Unless you prepare for snow, excessive accumulation can also cause a building’s structure to fail or even collapse.

The northeastern part of the United States suffered multiple, major snowstorms in winter 2010-2011 that resulted in numerous building failures. Structural failure can occur because of drifting and sliding snow, inadequate drainage or weight of snow that significantly exceeds design specifications.


Some key factors that may overstress a building include:

  • Unbalanced snow load – Drifting and sliding leads to accumulation of different depths in different locations
  • Rain on snow load – Heavy rainfall on top of snow may cause snow to melt, saturating snow and significantly increasing the load.
  • Roof geometry – Simple roofs with steep slopes shed snow more easily. Roofs with irregularities such as flat roofs with parapets or obstructions or stepped roofs will collect snow in unbalanced patterns.

Before snow season, inspect your building structure and roof to ensure your facility is not at an increased exposure to snow loading and possible collapse. Also, during a snowstorm, facilities will exhibit warning signs that can be the difference between safely getting through a snow event and experiencing structural failure or collapse. The FEMA Snow Load Safety Guide explains what to look for. Some warning signs of overstressed roofs include:

  • Sagging ceiling tiles or boards or sagging sprinkler lines or sprinklers
  • Popping, cracking or creaking noises
  • Doors or windows that can no longer open or close
  • Cracked or split wood members
  • Cracks in walls or masonry
  • Severe roof leaks
  • Sagging roof members, including metal decking or plywood sheathing

If you see any of these warning signs, evacuate the building and have a qualified design professional engineer conduct a detailed structural inspection.


Property owners should have a contractor conduct a building inspection and vulnerability assessment before the snow season. After a snowstorm begins, contractors will be in high demand and difficult to find. It is important to have an in-house plan or a professional roofing contractor on retainer to ensure prompt snow removal.


When snow removal is necessary, here are some key tips:

  • Follow proper OSHA protocol for work on rooftops, including fall protection.
  • Confirm that no mechanical equipment is positioned where snow or ice may fall; keep foot traffic away.
  • Mark all hazards on the roof with flags, including protrusions, mechanicals and especially skylights that may not be seen under deep snow.
  • Avoid using mechanical snow removal equipment or sharp tools, such as picks, that may damage the roof membrane. Use plastic rather than metal shovels.
  • Keep snow away from building exits, fire escapes, drain downspouts, ventilation openings and equipment.
  • Inspect the roof for any signs of damage as soon as possible after snow removal.

Preparing for snow in advance is the best way to assure that things run smoothly once the snow falls.

This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. Contact your local, independent insurance agent for coverage advice and policy service.


How Candy and Halloween Became Best Friends

Wherever you turn this October, candy beckons. Americans will spend an estimated $2 billion on candy during the Halloween season this year, and here’s a fun fact from the California Milk Processors Board: “an average Jack-O-Lantern bucket carries about 250 pieces of candy amounting about 9,000 calories and about three pounds of sugar.”

Phew. My molars are hurting just thinking about it. If treats are a temptation you hope to avoid, October is the cruelest month. And I can think of only one place in America where your Halloween composure is unlikely to be ruffled by endless quantities of cheap and glittering candies: the past.

Given the ubiquity of candy at this time of year, it is hard to imagine that 100 years ago, Halloween looked quite different from the candy debauch of today.

The biggest difference was trick-or-treating. This seemingly timeless custom is actually a quite recent American invention. The ritual of costumes, doorbell-ringing, and expectation of booty appeared for the first time in different locations throughout the country in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It wasn’t until the late 1940s that trick-or-treating became widespread on a national scale. And even then, candy wasn’t the obvious treat.

Kids ringing a stranger’s doorbell in 1948 or 1952 received all sorts of tribute: Coins, nuts, fruit, cookies, cakes, and toys were as likely as candy. In the 1950s, Kool-Aid and Kellogg’s promoted their decisively non-candy products as trick-or-treat options, while Brach’s once ran ads for chocolate-covered peanuts during the last week of October that didn’t mention Halloween at all.

It took a while for candy to become what it is today, the very essence of Halloween. Going back even farther to the early decades of the century, before trick-or-treating spread across the land, candy didn’t have any special role to play in Halloween observance.

For youth, and especially boys, Halloween was the one night of the year when communities generally tolerated pranking, which might range from the clever or playful to the dangerous or destructive. Mailboxes, fences, streetcars, and gravestones were popular targets. The point was to cause mischief, not to gather treats. Halloween also wasn’t a gift-giving holiday, which in the case of Christmas and other early candy holidays provided the candy “hook.”

While the hooligans were out wreaking havoc, the more genteel would celebrate Halloween with parties. The menus and décor for these early Halloween festivities emphasized seasonal fruits. Pumpkins and apples were especially important. Making popcorn balls and fudge was sometimes part of the festive activities, but if there was purchased candy along the lines of candy corn or jelly beans, it was an afterthought, just a something over there with the nuts and favors.

When candy makers in the 1910s and 1920s looked for ways to grow their fall sales, Halloween barely registered as a potential marketing opportunity, even though they were already using holidays as opportunities to sell seasonal confections. Christmas and Easter were big candy events, already established with their candy traditions by 1900: boxed chocolates and hard candies for Christmas, jelly eggs and molded bunnies for Easter. Lagging not far behind in importance on the candy holiday calendar was Washington’s Birthday, to be celebrated with special marzipan cherries and cocoa-dusted logs. But special candies for Halloween? Not a one.

It was during the 1950s that candy made decisive inroads in dominating Halloween. The rise of trick-or-treating made the holiday the perfect occasion for marketing a product associated with children and fun. But the push from candy sellers was met with equally enthusiastic demand. Candy was easy to buy and easy to distribute, making it a convenient choice for Halloween hosts. And as the numbers of trick-or-treaters swelled, candy was also economical. Small, inexpensive candies became popular, and major candy manufacturers began making smaller candy bars or bags of candy corn.

Through the 1960s, it was still conceivable that some other treat might be offered. It wasn’t until the 1970s that candy came to be seen as the only legitimate treat. And while the candy industry reaped the benefits, the immediate impetus was not brilliant marketing so much as rising fears that unwrapped or homemade Halloween treats posed risks of tampering and poisoning. Commercial wrapped candy was the only safe choice.

All of which raises the question: What was the candy industry up to during all those years before we had the license and opportunity to indulge in enormous quantities of Halloween candy? It turns out that in 1916, candy promoters did come up with an idea to launch the fall candy season and boost sales and consumption, but it wasn’t Halloween. It was a new holiday invention, uniquely American in its entrepreneurial spirit: Candy Day.


8 items for your autumn home project list

Steps you take this fall to maintain your home can keep you warm this winter and protect your property from loss.

As you take advantage of fall weather to work on projects around your home, pay special attention to these potential trouble spots:

  • Clean out your gutters. Remove leaves and other debris from your gutters first by hand to get rid of the large particles, and then with a scraping tool and water hose before cold weather arrives. This helps to prevent overflows and ice damming. Ice dams are caused when snow melts on a heated part of the roof, then refreezes on a colder portion of the roof.  This creates a dam and allows water to back up under the shingles, causing damage to insulation and interior ceilings or walls. The University of Minnesota Extension Service has more information about preventing ice dams.
  • Make sure downspouts properly guide the water away from the home. Direct downspouts at least 6 feet from the foundation.
  • Use door sweeps and caulk to block drafty areas of the home from the winter cold. Common areas for these are recess lighting areas, electrical outlets, door frames and windows.
  • Have your furnace and chimney checked and cleaned annually. Change your furnace filter regularly; every three months is typical.
  • Vacuum out your air ducts. Every few years, the air ducts should be vacuumed to help make sure that heated air passes through with no obstacles.
  • Remove screens and put up storm windows. Add weatherstripping to seal out cold air, increasing your furnace’s efficiency.
  • Reverse the circulation of your ceiling fans. As you fire up the furnace for the heating season, reverse your ceiling fan blades to rotate clockwise, creating an updraft that forces warm air down into the room. This can provide additional energy savings.
  • Winterize your pipes. Adding insulation now can help prevent pipes from freezing later and causing breaks and water damage.

home tips

Buying wine for fun—or profit?

Wine is no longer simply something you drink; wine has become a serious investment commodity, increasingly so in the past decade. More than ever, wine has the capacity to appreciate in value to the point where the current value of certain wines can far exceed their original purchase prices.

Not every wine, however, increases in value. Some believe that as fine wines age, they become more valuable, but that is not always the case. For instance, the 1999 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, a First Growth Bordeaux, cost $140 upon release and currently sells at auction for around $374. By contrast, the 1999 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages, a Bordeaux blend from California, sold for $80 upon release and currently sells at auction for $33. Both have matured well and are drinking better than upon release, yet one has appreciated while the other has decreased in value.

So why did one wine more than double in worth and the other lose half its value? Basically, a small number of wines in the world are deemed collectible, and they are the ones most likely to increase in value. Most are classified Bordeaux, but can include top Burgundies and Champagnes. Some select wines from other parts of Italy and from California can appreciate as well. These are often from wineries with long histories and track records for quality, and always of relatively limited production.

But mostly wines appreciate because they have a history of appreciating. It is somewhat circular, but the past success of these wines at auction breeds future success.

When assembling a wine collection, should you buy from or shun this select group of investment grade wines? It depends largely on your intentions. If your collection is meant solely for personal consumption, you can enjoy countless excellent wines, such as the St. Jean Cinq Cepages, that will provide years of drinking pleasure, but represent a questionable investment. Of course, this lack of collectability can make them relatively good values. If, however, you might be interested in selling your collection at some point, you might want to protect yourself by focusing on the wines with a history of appreciation. Just don’t expect to find bargains. A certified wine appraiser can help you make an educated choice.