Roofs Collapse, Questions Remain

The snow that has blanketed Sweden the last few months has conquered building codes, turning the roofs of sports halls, farmhouses, schools, and many other buildings into piles of twisted metal and snowy wood. On Friday, a man was killed when a machine shop roof fell in on his head, and many animals—from cows to chickens to pigs—have died when the roofs above their heads buckled.

On Friday night, the roof of a sports hall collapsed on over 1,000 rabbits gathered in a national exhibition, but their owners were luckily not in the building at the time. Most of the rabbits were later recovered alive, but other animals weren’t so lucky. Over 3,000 chickens froze to death on Saturday night after a roof collapse trapped them in freezing temperatures.

Roofs across the country just can’t handle the weight of the snow.

But why can’t they? Snow isn’t exactly an endangered commodity in this Nordic nation, although this winter may be harsher than most. Why are so many buildings collapsing?

Nikolaj Tolstoy, head of the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning, told Swedish Radio News that the snow doesn’t cause the collapse. Bad construction—and lack of upkeep—is to blame.

“It’s very important that property owners survey and inspect their buildings. If they know that they have a low capacity for the weight of snow, then they should be shoveling it off.”

Tolstoy doesn’t think that the building codes are too lax. He says that such snow-filled winters happen every ten years or so, and that the buildings are meant to withstand even heavier loads.

“All roofs should be built for a snow load that occurs every fifty years or so," he told Swedish Radio News on Saturday. "So we haven’t gotten any extreme amounts of snow compared to what they should have the dimensions to withstand.”

Until the 1980s, all roofs had to be inspected by an independent authority. But now, the building's own contractor carries out the inspection. Although Tolstoy does thinks that a return to an independent inspection could allay future problems with buckling roofs, he’s not convinced that such a step should be taken.

“We always have to weigh in costs and we don't want to create too much bureaucracy. But if that's the only way to take care of the problem, then maybe we have to do it," he said to news agency TT on Saturday.

In the meantime, he told Swedish Radio News, property owners should be wary if the roof starts creaking in a way that it usually doesn’t.