Using the Correct Snow Management System for a Given Project

Fusion-Guard snow guard: aluminum with added rod and brackets

When I first started putting slate roofing on in the Northeastern United States, customers would ask if they need snow guards. Most of the projects I helped repair or salvage did not even have gutters attached. So, snow guards weren’t even a consideration. When I encountered my first customer asking for snow guards, I went to my local roofing distributor. When I arrived, in a simple question I asked, “Do you have snow guards that are used on slate roofs?”

His reply was, “Yes, we have two options. We have these butterfly looking things or wire loops (referred to as pigtails). Which would you prefer?”

 I then asked, “Which works better?” The response seemed logical.

He said, “Look man, I’ve never installed these things but obviously the butterflies are heavier than the wire so they must be better. Maybe that’s why we sell so many of them and so few pigtails.”






That made sense to me; if the roofing distributor said that the heavier guard was the bigger seller they must work better.

I could have saved a trip to the roofing supply company if I had just taken a drive around the neighborhood to see what other local slate roofs had on them. It became apparent early in my roofing career that function followed a desire to avoid being the outcast of  the neighborhood trend. The consensus seemed to be that, “if the Jones’ had a particular device, we’d better match it.”

It didn’t occur to me that one of the “Jones” homes was the next stop on my repair circuit to fix slate that had been broken off because of the snow guards.







After a couple of Springs were spent repairing slate broken by “off the shelf” snow guards I had installed the previous year, I knew there was a better solution. It was a necessity to better understand snow guards and snow retention systems; driven by a demand to stop absorbing the cost of seasonal slate roof repair. This realization drove me to dig in and figure this out.

Fusion-Guard snow guards: cold rolled steel








The use of the proper snow retention device for a given project is a highly debated topic. This being my blog, I will share my observations, backed by my roofing experience that started in 1978. The best approach to snow retention is always a pipe, bar, fence, or a rail style approach. In my previous blog I suggested that pipe style systems relate to dams; while pad style systems relate to scattered obstructions, slowing the movement, similar to river rocks that disrupt the water current. This is true regardless of roof type.

Fusion-Guard snow guard: aluminum with added rod and brackets











So, what is the best or proper solution? Well, it depends upon the intended results. If the intention is to protect people or animals from falling masses, the best approach is always a “pipe style system”. If the intention is to protect your gutters, shrubs, lower roofs, etc., “pad style” guards may be acceptable. Yes, it is that simple. So why does it become so complicated?


PD10-CU snow guard







The type of snow retention device needed for a given project will vary with roof type, desired aesthetic, cost/budget, geographic region and related snow fall anticipated. Other variables include, the roof pitch, isolated areas vs the entire length of the building, height of the guard, width of the guard, strength of the guard, longevity of the roof, and other independent variables such as “Mother Nature”. Most snow guard customers want the functionality of a dam or barricade, but they don’t want to see it, pay for it, or oppose neighborhood trends. (See blog: “Can a Snow Guard Manufacturer Guarantee that their Snow Retention Device will retain all Snow and Ice on a Roof Top?”)

PP235LS snow guard at Alvernia University, Reading, PA











Now knowing some of the variables involved with choosing the correct devices for a given project; you also know that the type of device varies for most project. Through 40 years of research and development, trial and error, success and failure, I am still learning. The construction industry is constantly evolving, and as new roofing materials enter the market, we develop solutions to meet those new challenges.

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 facility in Morrisville, VT. We work closely with leading roofing contractors, engineering firms, developers, solar installers 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.