Snow Guards and Customer Expectations

One of the more common questions we’re asked here at Alpine SnowGuards is, “are snow guards necessary?” I’ve taught my staff to respond, “snow guards are optional”.

Why are snow guards optional? Let’s start with the fact that most building owners don’t want them. And why is this? It varies with construction type, aesthetics, finances, lack of understanding (we approach this issue as an opportunity to educate customers) and yes, sometimes even a lack of common sense.

More often than not, customers with commercial, industrial and institutional types of structures recognize the need to protect both people and property. These customers often have experience with, or know a building owner who has had a damage claim. Because of this, they often grasp a need for a fix but are sometimes reluctant to move forward with the best fix.

On the other hand, we’ve noticed that many residential project contractors are reluctant to utilize snow guards sometimes based on aesthetics, but more often based on added cost. I used to joke around with landscaping contractors saying that when budgets are in question, landscaping and snow guards get cut. They can always be added later, right? Yes, but at significantly higher cost than it would have been to do it during the initial construction.

So, what does the building owner need to know about snow guards?


Snow guards are designed to impeded the release of snow and ice from a structural surface. Period.


When snow and ice release from a roof surface, plumbing vents can be completely sheared off, gutters can get damaged, shrubs and landscaping can be crushed, hot tubs demolished, windshields broken, cars dented, not to mention the possibility of physical harm or death.


The quantity and type of snow guard needed depends on many factors including roof type, roof pitch, roof area, regional snow fall, points of egress and ingress, architectural style, etc…. It would be a huge mistake to choose a snow guard based on what your neighbor has on their roof. Yes, it may work for their variables, but it may not work for yours. When it comes to snow guards, keeping up with the Joneses is a moot point.


It doesn’t make sense to install 2-3 rows of pad-style snow guards around the perimeter of a building when the proper layout calls for multiple rows over an entire surface. Likewise, if conditions warrant a pipe-style system, it makes no sense to install pads just because of aesthetic concerns. We would much rather educate our customers than sell them products they don’t want to install in the necessary quantities.

It’s been our experience (particularly in residential construction) that customers expect snow guards to retain all snow and ice whether they use the recommended quantities or not. Educating customers about the need, the function, the options and the expectations gives customers the opportunity to decide what they would like to do. If a customer decides to go without snow guards, or opts for less-than-proper quantities or recommended product type, at least the roofer has given the building owner the opportunity to make an informed decision.


As we all know, the construction market is very competitive. If you’re bidding against a contractor who isn’t quoting, or even suggesting snow guards, you can lose jobs due to the added cost of the guards alone. As a result, salespeople are sometimes reluctant to talk about how snow and ice sliding off the roof can present an issue. My advice? Take the high road! Advise customers about the sliding snow issue and explain the options. If they opt out, it wasn’t because information was withheld.

If the decision to move forward with snow guards is made, don’t do it halfway just to save money. The halfway approach (like the two-to-three rows of pad-style approach from above) will likely underperform, making both you and the product look bad. This will also present a liability to fix the problem in order to meet expectations.

Let us help you do it right the first time. Protect your customers, protect your work and reputation and rest easy knowing that the projects you missed were the result of doing the right thing.

I want to be clear: If ice and snow avalanching off your structural surface is not causing damage or posing a risk to people or property, then there is no need to introduce a snow management or snow retention system. On the other hand, if the opposite of the above statement is true, the situation needs to be addressed.

Contrary to common wisdom, no snow guard should be thought of as a way to break up a sliding mass into smaller pieces (just this morning I saw an advertisement for a product claiming to work this way). Folks, if 1,000 pounds of ice slides off a building as one piece or is sliced up into many pieces, it’s pretty safe to say that the half-ton mass hitting something of value will cause the same amount of damage. It’s like the riddle about density, “Which weighs more – a pound of feathers or a pound of bricks?”

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The bottom line is customers need to know that there is a snow management device that will work on every structural surface. Some work better than others. Some are intended to function differently than others. There are essentially two different styles of snow guards; Pad-style and pipe-style, the differences of which we’ll discuss in the next 2 blog posts.

If you get nothing else out of my rambling dialogue, the importance of working with a snow guard manufacturer who also has roofing experience is key. As always, if you have any questions, please post it here or email me directly at

Until next time….

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.