Preventing Roof Tiles from Becoming Wind-Borne Debris in High Wind Regions

Guest Blogger Sam Hensen, engineering manager

This week, I’d like to introduce Sam Hensen as the first guest blogger for the Structural Engineering Blog. Sam is the engineering manager for Simpson Strong-Tie in the Southeastern United States. Sam will be posting occasionally on topics that are relevant to our work. We will continue to post on a regular weekly schedule (usually Wednesdays) to the blog. In the future, we hope to expand the voices on the blog to include more Simpson Strong-Tie engineers, along with other industry colleagues and associates.

I tend to think of designers as dealing with either wind or seismic design, yet the Southeast region contains everything that Mother Nature can throw at a building. This includes high seismic areas along the New Madrid and Charleston faults, hurricanes along the Gulf and Eastern coast, and tornado prone areas throughout the South and Midwest. Sam participated in the investigation and was a co-author of the Damage Study and Future Direction for Structural Design Following the Tuscaloosa Tornado of 2011, which gives him some very recent experience with tornado damage. This week, Sam will be discussing a topic not often thought about by structural engineers – the importance of proper roof tile attachments. Here is Sam’s post:

According to recent studies by the Insurance Institute for Business Home and Safety (IBHS), roof coverings are a major problem area in wind-related events and account for 95% plus of home claims after the event.

Roof Tile Damage

Preventing roof tiles from becoming wind-borne debris in high wind regions is essential for several reasons, and may also have an effect on insurance premiums. In this post, I’d like to discuss two reasons that roof tiles can pose a significant threat to life safety:

  1. Many designers rely on the weight of roof tiles to reduce the overall wind uplift effects on the structure. If the roof tiles do not remain in place during the wind event, then an under-designed wind uplift restraint system can exist.
  2. Roof tiles can essentially become missiles in a wind event, damaging nearby property and creating a significant and direct risk to public safety.

A Complete Load Path

Section 1604.4 in the International Building Code (IBC) requires a complete load path from point of origin to the load-resisting elements. For wind conditions, where does the wind uplift load path begin?

The roof tiles to roof decking attachment!

Designers often rely on the benefit of the weight of the roof tile to reduce uplift loads on the structure, but rarely (if ever) design or specify these connections. The code allows a portion of the roof dead load to be used to reduce uplift loads on the structure (60% of the typical 25 psf of dead load for tile roofs), so keeping it in place during a wind event is critical. Consequently, the attachment of the tile should also be included in the design by the project designer of record, or it should not be used to reduce uplift loads. This consideration is clarified in section 1605.3.2, “…only two-thirds of the dead load likely to be in place during a wind event shall be used…”.

Roof Systems

The design and construction of roof systems is addressed in section 1609.5 of the 2012 IBC. Section 1609.5.3 provides a method for determining wind loads on rigid tiles, as well as the minimum detailing and design requirements. In this section, equation 16-33 provides a means for calculating the minimum aerodynamic uplift moment, Ma (ft-lbf), acting to raise the tail of the tile.

Ma = qhCLbLLa[1.0 – GCp]

Clay Tile Roof Installation

The use of this challenging equation should only be performed by a qualified designer and it should not just be left to the installer of a roof system to ensure the roof tiles are properly attached to the roof deck. Fortunately, the Florida Roofing, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (FRSA) teamed up with the Tile Roofing Institute to create the Concrete and Clay Roof Tile Installation Manual. The appendix of this document includes simple tables that assist the designer in determining the proper attachment of clay or concrete roof tiles to resist the aerodynamic uplift moment.

Wind-Borne Debris

Improper attachment of roof tile can also create powerful missiles in wind events. These missiles can pose a significant risk to life safety as they become wind-borne, either directly to the public, or through damage to nearby occupied structures, thereby reducing the ability of that structure to remain in place during the event. Both of these reasons make it essential for proper design and detailing of the connection of roof tiles to be incorporated into the design of the building by the project designer of record.

Thrown Roof Tile

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.

– Sam

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Paul McEntee

Author: Paul McEntee

A couple of years back we hosted a “Take your daughter or son to work day,” which was a great opportunity for our children to find out what their parents did. We had different activities for the kids to learn about careers and the importance of education in opening up career opportunities. People often ask me what I do for Simpson Strong-Tie and I sometimes laugh about how my son Ryan responded to a questionnaire he filled out that day:

Q.   What is your mom/dad's job?
A.   Goes and gets coffee and sits at his desk

Q.   What does your mom/dad actually do at work?
A.   Walks in the test lab and checks things

When I am not checking things in the lab or sitting at my desk drinking coffee, I manage Engineering Research and Development for Simpson Strong-Tie, focusing on new product development for connectors and lateral systems.

I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and I am a licensed Civil and Structural Engineer in California. Prior to joining Simpson Strong-Tie, I worked for 10 years as a consulting structural engineer designing commercial, industrial, multi-family, mixed-use and retail projects. I was fortunate in those years to work at a great engineering firm that did a lot of everything. This allowed me to gain experience designing with wood, structural steel, concrete, concrete block and cold-formed steel as well as working on many seismic retrofits of historic unreinforced masonry buildings.

4 thoughts on “Preventing Roof Tiles from Becoming Wind-Borne Debris in High Wind Regions”

  1. If I understand you correctly, you are recommending the structural engineer specify how roof tiles are attached to ensure they remain in place during a high wind event, or else not use the tile weight in resisting uplift forces. In my opinion this is far beyond what structural engineers do, or are able to do accurately. Surely we can rely on the roof industry to provide tile attachment requirements that are sufficient so their product actually performs. That is where the burden, and liability, should fall.

    1. Thanks for your comment and I understand and appreciate your
      concern regarding liability. The issue of responsibility for connections is
      not unique to this application though. Truss anchorage is required to be
      designed by the Project Engineer as stated in section of the ANSI/TPI
      2007 reference standard for metal plate connected trusses. Often project
      engineers defer the design of the truss-to-wall uplift load back to the truss
      engineer, and just provide tables of approved connections with allowable uplift
      loads for the contractor to choose from when using the uplift reactions on the
      approved truss certificates. This process (not perfect) could certainly be
      utilized with roof covering attachment as well.

      Regardless of where the burden falls, if as
      designers we are relying on heavy roof material to assist in restraining uplift
      on our structure; then we should also provide minimum loads, details and
      general notes in our structural documents for these attachments.

  2. First, I totally agree that the loads need to be addressed and
    that attachment is the key to controlling the uplift.  But as an engineer, the architect or the
    owner is the one that chooses the roofing and it is quite often that the actual
    roofing is not chosen till after the engineering is long past done and/or not
    even chosen until the building is under construction in the case of high end
    homes.  All we know at the time of
    engineering is the general type of roofing which we then make assumptions on
    for loads.  There are so many types of
    tile alone and the attachment number and spacing, the coverage and the weigh is
    different for each style of tile even with a manufacturer’s line.  So my opinion is that the roofing
    manufacturer’s need to provide this information and I think it ought to be in
    the form of an ESR and some do.  Take for
    instance Hardie Siding (this is not a plug, just have had resent experience), they
    have an ESR for all the types of siding they manufacture and address each of
    the wall framing types and wind loading conditions and if you contact them about
    an attachment question the first they direct you is to the ESR.

    1. As you indicated, assumptions are often made on the weight of the roof tile to reduce uplift demands. Yet there are too many assumptions on the capacity side to prescribe minimum loads or details with minimum attachments required?

      Requiring roof tiles to be attached in accordance with minimum details and loads in the structural documents and that the fasteners utilized be covered under an evaluation report is certainly a good start and should be considered by designers using the dead load benefit. One could create tables of the required quantity of approved fasteners (may be many types, sizes, and quantities) to be used for fastening the tiles based on an incremental uplift demand.  The installer could then choose a product from your approved list when it comes time to choose the specific type of tile. 

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