Snow Guards for Residential Construction: The Do’s, the Don’ts and the Dilemma

Leading into future blog content; I would like to revisit an important concept as to why people make decisions on certain snow guards. Reiterating the “Do’s”, the “Don’ts”, and the “Dilemma”.

To those of you who’ve been following/reading my blogs, thank you. Over the course of the next several postings, I’m confident that as a reader, you’ll begin to understand that the snow management industry, although hundreds of years old in practice, is in many ways still in its infancy. Today we face many of the same issues as we did 100+ years ago (I won’t quote Yogi Berra, even though I really want to).

Among the recurring themes snow guard manufacturers face is the ongoing debate about snow guards for residential projects.

PP235LF (Ludowici Flat) three-pipe system installed on a private residence. Image from Midland Engineering.

Let’s start by agreeing that there’s a real need for managing rooftop snow and ice. The issues that need to be solved vary greatly depending on the roof type. For example, composition shingle roofs have built-in friction, making them less slippery than a material like slate or clay tile. Concrete tile has greater surface texture/friction than metal shingles, standing seam metal, corrugated metal panels or synthetic products (plastic, rubber, coated cementitious or fiberglass, etc.) and I’m sure anyone living in regions with snow and ice accumulation will agree that even on composition shingle roofs, avalanche events still happen and still need to be managed.

DO set out to find a solution.

What to do? Well, we could start designing homes with flat roofs that pitch to interior drains or carefully plan points of egress so that people and property are not impacted by falling snow and ice. If you’re an architect reading this (I’ll wait until you’re done laughing), think about it. It’s actually very simple. It just isn’t realistic or practical.

So, what do you do? Well, if you’re like me, you set out to find a solution. As I’ve stated previously, there are basically two types of snow management systems: pad-style (individual guards that are typically installed in alternating patterns) and pipe-style (fences that are intended to function as barricades rather than as deterrents).

The discussion should stop right here. This is your home. Your family, friends, pets, door-to-door salespeople, delivery drivers, cars, patio furniture, landscaping – all of the things that make your house your happy place, are at risk. Why would you consider anything but a barricade?

  1. Don’t expect the snow guards your neighbor has above their door on a composition shingle roof to work the same way on your new synthetic slate roof. It’s similar to the difference between cars and motorcycles. Either will get you there, but one has greater limitations, especially in snow and ice. Look at the photo below – 2 houses, side by side, both with different snow management needs and roof types.                                                                                                                                                                                   
  1. Don’t assume that snow guards are a “one size fits all” solution – you can’t just run to a local distributor, grab something off the shelf and expect it to work. Alpine SnowGuards manufactures over 50 models of snow guards as standard products, and over the past 25 years we’ve made countless custom designs….and we continue to respond to this demand on a weekly basis (below are a couple of custom snow guards we’ve manufactured).                                                                                                                                                                                                 
  2. Don’t work with a manufacturer who isn’t reputable and who can’t provide guidance when it comes to proper layout and product density. It’s common for distributors to either guess at the quantities needed or to defer to the roofer. It’s also common for roofers who are transitioning to using new roofing products, such as synthetic shingles, to completely miss that this new roofing product has an issue that needs to be solved. The added cost often comes out of their pockets, and as a result, they often use as few snow guards as possible (and not what’s recommended), creating a false sense of security. We see this every time a new roofing product is introduced to the market.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Snow guards are designed to protect you and your property. Understand what you’re buying and what it will – or will not – do. Work with a reputable snow guard company whose ownership is rooted in the industry through many, many years of hands-on roofing experience. Several companies have popped up over the years that have nothing but sales reps who need something to add to their line card of product offerings. That’s not us.
  4. Don’t be afraid to use pipe-style systems on residential construction projects. Alpine offers multiple designs, we can powder coat our products to match the roof and we’re always willing to discuss custom issues and solutions.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         


Homeowners aren’t used to pipe-style snow guards. They don’t want to see the snow guards (pipe or pad) on their roofs, and convincing them that pipe-style snow guards will work better than pads, when their neighbor has pad-style snow guards, is next to impossible (until that first heavy snowfall occurs, the pads don’t retain all of the snow and the snow guards have allegedly failed).

Having said this, it’s important to note that I own a home with a synthetic slate roof (it’s a long story, but the abbreviated version is that the roof wouldn’t have supported the weight of natural slate). My roof has pad-style snow guards instead of pipe-style. The pads adequately manage the snow most of the time, but not always. I understand this, I accept it and I’m careful with property and points of egress to work within the constraints of this system. I’ll add that after a late, heavy, wet snow last April, I now plan to add some sections of pipe-style snow guards above our garage doors and three points of egress – I won’t be putting pipes everywhere (once my wife gets used to the look, I plan to put them in additional areas related to valleys).

The dilemma is the desire to keep all the snow and ice on the roof until it melts and comes off as water while the customer is saying, “I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to pay for it, but I want it to function perfectly and then I want to forget about it”.

Most roofing contractors and snow guard manufacturers strive to provide a snow management solution that meets the needs of the project, however, when the project needs dictate a solution that doesn’t meet the aesthetic desire, it turns into a real dilemma. If the project owner’s expectations dictate a less than adequate solution to meet the aesthetic appeal, they may indeed be sacrificing function and safety.

And no one wants that.

Brian Stearns

President & Founder, Alpine SnowGuards

We keep snow in its place


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