Homeowners now paying for winter's record snowfall

Rachel D'Oro | Associated Press
RACHEL D'ORO / Associated Press

The record snowfall in Alaska's largest city is quickly melting, leaving scores of residents to deal with winter's lingering mean streak.

Restoration companies are getting inundated with calls from Anchorage residents reporting problems with roofs and drenched foundations.

So are insurance companies, which break the news to homeowners that problems like crawl spaces and basements with ground water seepage generally are not covered.

Those in the damage response business say they're hearing this constant refrain from clients: "This never happens to my home!"

Well, it has this year.

"It's pretty amazing," said Doug Lipinski, general manager of Taylored Restoration, which has twice the fix-it business it did at this time last year. "I've never seen this level of workload."

Lauren Horn is among the casualties of a season that brought more than 11 feet of snow -- double the average for the city of more than 296,000.

First, a spidery crack appeared in a wall of Horn's home. Then the next day he noticed a larger crevice just above a door, followed the next day by the door refusing to budge. The door frame was warping from the weight of some four feet of snow on the roof.

That was around mid-March, when Anchorage was well on its way to surpassing the record of 132.6 inches set in the winter of 1954-55. Horn, 47, has lived in Alaska most of his life and in his current home for seven years, but he's never seen this monstrous a snow load. He figured that ignoring it would subject him to a roof collapse, costing thousands to fix. The $630 invoice to clear the roof was a deal compared to that.

"My biggest fear was that the whole structure would collapse," said Horn, who has since straightened out the door himself. Here's how he sums up the season: "It was very nearly the final snow for this house."

Even by Alaska standards, Anchorage was pounded. City snow removal crews worked day and night to clear roadways and haul more than 2.5 million cubic yards of snow to the city's six snow disposal sites, which came close to capacity. One city official said that volume would almost fill the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

That didn't even include the loads disposed of by state crews.

At the height of the overload, residential streets across the city were rimmed by walls of snow. Some roofs collapsed, mostly on older commercial buildings with flat roofs. The collapse of a church's large auditorium roof near a busy intersection caught Horn's attention just before his own home started to show signs of stress.

"If you put too much weight on anything, it's going to break. If you are fortunate, it gives you warning that it's going to break," he said. "And this one warned me that it was going to break."

Restoration and insurance companies are seeing a rise of problems in Anchorage caused by roof ice dams, blockages of ice that can cause snowmelt to leak into ceilings, walls and insulation.

Country Financial has received about 150 claims for such problems as ice dams from the record-snow season, according to spokesman Christopher Brooks. The insurance and financial services company received 27 such claims locally last year and 22 in 2010.

"The 150 number isn't huge, but it's a definite increase," Brooks said in an email.

Home improvement stores are seeing a big run on sump pumps by people tackling water seepage problems for themselves. Also selling quickly are hoses to attach to the pumps.

"With record snow comes record melt-off," said Zach Greenough, operations manager of a Home Depot store in Anchorage.

Pat Reilly, president of Rain Proof Roofing, said his family-owned company is busy responding to calls about ice dams as well as holes punched into roofs by bad shoveling jobs. Like many other experts dealing with the snow fallout, Reilly has heard his share of people saying they are dealing with problems they never faced before at homes they've had for years and years.

"This is an extreme situation," Reilly said. "And an extreme year for us."

Associated Press