Snow Guard Evolution from 1981-1985: Part 2

As a slate guy in the early 1980’s, it was my job to find and install snow guards. But, where to start? The internet had not yet been created by Al Gore (who?) and local roofers weren’t interested in helping out a competitor with material sourcing needs. So, I did what so many roofers do when they need help. I went to a roofing supply house in northern New Jersey and asked if they had snow guards.

This should be a study and discussion unto itself: Relying on help from a guy behind a counter who you hope knows what he’s talking about….The issue was that I didn’t know that the guy didn’t know. I’m guessing that most distributors now have a screen that pops up and says, “save yourself some time and give them Alpine SnowGuards’ contact information.”

I eventually found a supplier who could get copper or galvanized steel snow pads, as long as I bought them in quantities of 50. Okay, no biggie. I was sure to need at least that many on the average McMansion of the era.

Related imageBack then, a typical conversation with homeowners and builders went something like this: Brian, we’re installing beautiful copper gutters on our beautiful home and we need to protect them. We want some of the snow stopper things we’ve seen on other slate-roofed homes but we really don’t want them to be visible on the roof. We feel that they distract from the aesthetic appeal of the facade. So please take care of it as inexpensively and unobtrusively as possible, guarantee that my gutters won’t be damaged, take full responsibility for the proper use and installation of the snow guards, and do this as inexpensively as possible. (I’m sure conversations exactly like this happened often during the late 1800’s – history repeating itself once again).

One time I remember asking, “do you want something more substantial above the garage doors to protect cars and people?” This was usually met with, “no that’s the roof that we’ll see every time we pull our cars in or out. That would be ugly.”

The point I’m trying to convey is that, in the early 1980’s, just like in the 1890’s, a need for snow management was recognized – but no one – not builders, roofers, architects, roofing suppliers or even manufactures of the era, understood the need, the function or the best solution for a given situation. A new “practice” was evolving (we saw this happen again in the early 1990’s with metal roofing, then in the early 2000’s with the use of modern membranes on sloped roofing and even today with synthetic shingles that are seemingly frictionless).

This past winter brought heavy, late-season snowfall in the upper Midwest. Many synthetic shingles have entered the market over the previous couple of years, due to their ability to resist hail that’s common in that region. History repeated itself again! Here was a new product, with new installers and new customers who were familiar with mostly composition shingles or cedar shakes that don’t typically need snow management in that region. Can you guess where this is headed? Yup….snow guards added cost to the installation and the homeowners didn’t want to see something they weren’t familiar with – and that’s not even mentioning paying for it!

New installers wanted to keep their customers happy by minimizing the aesthetic appearance while saving money (essentially adding something on a reroofing project that had not been there before). Just as I had encountered in the early 80’s, distributors who sold the snow management devices didn’t understand snow guards any better than these new installers. They would therefore sell whatever the installer asked for. Ultimately, both distributor and installer placed blame on the manufacturers when the two tiers of pad-style snow guards didn’t perform the way the 8 tiers (or more, depending on the situation) recommended by the manufacturer would have. I saw it the 1980’s, the 1990’s, the 2000’s and even as recently as last year.

If there is one clear message here it’s this: HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF.

Maybe we could fast forward and agree there’s a problem, agree there are solutions and agree that all of the solutions available will work if they’re used properly. It took from about 1880-1920 to manage the problem the first time. Technology and innovation have given us some great roofing products. The same is true of snow management devices.

That being said, it does no good to install the roofing material properly and then guess at the snow management installation. Find a reputable snow guard manufacturer (there’s no replacement for experience). Talk with the manufacturer. Read the install instructions and use the products as they were intended to be used. Don’t cut corners to save cost! This is a safety product, not an ornament.

The innovations of the early 1980’s came mostly in the form of practice and testing to determine how to use and specify snow guard layouts.

Speaking of layouts, make sure to read my upcoming blog(s), where we’ll talk about just that.

Until then….

Brian Stearns

President & Founder, Alpine SnowGuards

We keep snow in its place


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Alpine SnowGuards designs, engineers, and manufactures snow management systems from our facilities in Morrisville, VT. We work closely with leading roofing contractors, engineering firms, developers, and roofing manufacturers to ensure we deliver quality products that do what we say they’ll do. Alpine SnowGuards can help a building qualify for LEED® credits.

(Images from: stockimages, thoughtco,