roofing and roof specialties

Solving the Snow Problem

Three manufacturers discuss snow-retention products.

Click here for a list of manufacturers of snow-retention products.

All the Polar Blox snow-retention products, including this model for standing-seam roofs, are made of UV-protected polycarbonate plastics. Photo: courtesy of Polar Blox, Inc.

By Nicole V. Gagné

In most areas of the world, a sloping roof has always brought with it the problem of snow retention. But it was not until the early 19th century that metal pad-style snowguards replaced such impromptu solutions as hanging logs by chains from the roof peak (they eventually rotted) or piling rocks on the roof (when they came down, it was a lot worse than the snow and ice). In the early 21st century, with winters becoming more brutal and widespread, the need for snowguards is more urgent than ever. The major suppliers of snow-retention products include Alpine SnowGuards of Morrisville, VT; Polar Blox, Inc., of Hollsopple, PA and Sno-Gem, Inc., of McHenry, IL.

One thing all three firms agree upon: The demand for snowguards has increased. Brian Stearns, president of Alpine SnowGuards, defines their market as, "Wherever there is snow and ice. We're pretty much nationwide and into Canada." Misty Widmar, director of marketing and sales at Polar Blox, has seen changes over the years. "It's gone further south," she says. "North Carolina, South Carolina – and those areas are now starting to get ice on the roofs." Jim Carpenter, director of sales and marketing at Sno-Gem, concurs: "Over the years, inclement weather has become more common in other areas of the country. Every year it seems that someone else gets hit with a different snow or ice storm. We do business in almost every state, including Texas and Florida, believe it or not."

These pipe-style snow-retention systems from Alpine SnowGuards clamp directly to the seams of this standing-seam metal roof and are installed with no penetration of the roof itself. Photo: courtesy of Alpine SnowGuards

These products are also not quite as seasonal as one might expect. Carpenter speaks for all three firms when he acknowledges, "Demand is very consistent. The busiest is the third and fourth quarters, when people are gearing up for winter, but in the spring, we tend to hear from people who realized their need for snow retention during the past winter. In either case, we are able to stay busy year-round."

Snow-retention systems are most familiar in metal and plastic, and products in both materials are available from Sno-Gem. "We've definitely seen an increased demand for our Sno Barricade clamp-to-the-seam system," says Carpenter. "However, our current residual market for plastic has not really decreased. We maintain relationships with a lot of contractors who are qualified and familiar with the installation of our Sno-Gem polycarbonate snowguards and prefer the product. That product is also, at times, more cost effective, and that is most definitely a factor these days." Alpine SnowGuards, however, is phasing out its plastic line, according to Stearns.

Sno-Gem offers snowguards in metal and polycarbonate (shown); the different snow-retention systems can be attached with adhesives, screw-on deck mounts for bar systems or clamps. Photo: courtesy of Sno-Gem, Inc.

"Plastics came on the market because they were cheap, but UV light breaks down plastics. We offer a plastic piece, but as of this year, I'm probably going to stop offering it. We pride ourselves as being the highest-quality product in the marketplace, and the plastics don't fit with that." Polar Blox, however, works exclusively in UV-protected plastics, which they assert will not fade or break down from sunlight or harsh weather. "All our products are polycarbonate plastic," Widmar explains. "It's economical, and it's one of the strongest plastics manufactured. Also, once the guards have reached their lifespan, which is about 10 to 12 years, they can be recycled, so it's a green product, too."

Alpine SnowGuards specifically designed its #225 three-pipe system for slate, flat-tile and shingle roofs. Photo: courtesy of Alpine SnowGuards

The two main types of snow-retention systems are the pad style, with individual snowguards laid out across a roof, and the bar- or pipe-style, where lengths of pipe block snow and ice from falling. "Polar Blox started with the Universal guard, and now we carry six different models of snowguards," says Widmar. "We have the type that clamps onto a standing seam and works with an ice bar. We have a U-shaped one that helps cup the snow, which can also be reversed to help divert or break up the snow. We have one that straddles the stiffening rib, and we have one that works on slate and shingle and tile roofs."

The purchaser's choice, according to Stearns, is all related to aesthetics. "Alpine SnowGuards has a pad-style solution and a pipe-style solution for any type of roof," he says, "but we find that, on residential construction, 90 percent or more want pad-style snowguards; on institutional and government-type of work, 90 percent or more want pipe style. The pipe-style system is more of a barricade and will hold back a greater mass for a greater amount of time, but homeowners don't like the appearance."

The Sno Barricade system from Sno-Gem uses a unique bar design to hold back snow and ice. Designed for standing-seam metal roofs, this system features an innovative universal clamp and requires neither adhesives nor any penetration of the roofing material. Photo: courtesy of Sno-Gem, Inc.

Carpenter has seen other factors affecting the customer's choice of snow-retention system. "A lot of the roofing panels on agricultural-style buildings – storage facilities, horse barns and other similar buildings – are not conducive to our clamp-to-the-seam Sno Barricade for standing-seam roofs, unless you're going to fasten down a special bracket, which we offer, too," he says. "So we tend to sell our Sno-Gem adhered product for those projects. For standing-seam roofs, we still sell quite a bit of both, but our Sno Barricade has grown in demand because you have the ability to install it at any time of the year. Our Sno-Gem adhesive-style snowguard, however, still remains popular because no one wants to put a hole in their roof. However, installation proves more challenging because there must be an effective seal around the perimeter, and the seal will require regular and ongoing maintenance."

Who does the installation, according to Widmar, depends on the size of the job. "We normally recommend that a contractor do it," she says. "But we offer technical schematics and assistance with layouts, and if it's a smaller job on a residence, which the homeowner is capable of doing, then there's no reason why they can't." Although Alpine will provide a recommended layout based on test results for the strength of their products, Stearns recommends that a person with some experience really should be doing it. "It's not a do-it-yourself kind of thing," he says. "They need to have some kind of mechanical understanding. We're finding that there are people with very little experience who are trying to do this, and they're running into problems." Jim Carpenter says that all of his company's products are shipped with detailed installation instructions, and a stamped layout can be purchased for a relatively nominal fee. "But Sno-Gem strongly recommends that installation be performed by a qualified roofing contractor," he says. "An effective installation, together with an accurate layout, is crucial to the long-term success of the product."

The #40 half-round copper snowguard from Alpine SnowGuards is intended specifically for shingle roofs. Photo: courtesy of Alpine SnowGuards

Snow-retention systems can be installed with clamps, screws, solder or adhesives, and all three firms sell a full range of products. However, Stearns notes that while Alpine does offer an adhesive solution, it is a three- to five-year solution. "The clamp-on or solder-on or screw-on are going to last as long as the roof does," he says. Widmar says that Polar Blox has systems that can be either adhesive mounted or screw down mounted. "We also have the type where there's no panel penetration or adhesive used with it," she says, "because they clamp onto the seam of standing-seam roofs." Carpenter says that his company offers the Sno-Gem adhered or pad style and the Sno Barricade bar-type system. "We also offer a separate line of Sno Barricade for slate and shingle roofs, along with individual Sno-Gem snowguards that are nailed down to the deck itself," he adds. "They're made of copper or any type of metal, including pre-finished steel or aluminum in color to match."

Custom colors are also available from Polar Blox and Alpine SnowGuards. All three firms also back up their products with warranties. 

Click here for a list of manufacturers of snow-retention products.