How Roofing Codes Compare to Snow Guards

July 11th, 2022

Right now, our homes are comfortably situated in the summer heat that’s keeping the usual mountain snow at bay. But in six months, we’ll all be under the usual, familiar white covering that can cause so many problems for our roofs and homes in general. And, like it or not, snow with all its magical qualities isn’t great for you as an individual, either, unless you have snow guards for your metal roof.

The Scenario: No Snow Guards

Snow falling might be a beautiful sight, but if it doesn’t melt completely on your roof type with the help of snow guards or another snow guard-like retention system, keeping snow from hurting you and your family in the winter months can prove to be difficult. To prevent damage, you need to make sure the snow stops compressing on your house to avoid a sudden release of an avalanche below. Different snow guards can be used on different roofs, but all snow guards designed to help your roof will get the job done. Snow guards will keep snow from compressing and snow guards will keep your house safe.

But maybe you’re not sold on snow guards just yet. Why aren’t snow guards included in every home design then? Why do you need snow guards? Are snow guards expensive?

snowy suburban roofs need snow brackets

Let’s make this more personal, so you can see the benefits for you and your home of installing a snow guard system on your metal roof. Picture three feet of snow and ice sitting on the metal roof above your front porch.  The sun is heating the frozen snow, and your four-year-old son is riding the brand new bike he got for Christmas and shivering at the temperature outside. 

You let this happen because you trust your metal roof. Metal roofs are prepared to protect against a roof avalanche, you’ve been told. The codes that were followed when the roofing contractor installed roof will protect you and your son from being hurt by snow that might fall off the roof, right? 

Whether you’re working with a metal roof, slate roofs, a steel roof, or a standing seam metal roof, you’ll be protected from extensive damage when it comes to snow. That’s the trust you have in your contractor and your community. There are ordinances and codes keeping you safe.

That’s your government’s job and the job of any individual whose resources you purchased for a price while building your home. They sold you a great product, and, as part of the job and your construction project, they made sure that each shingle was safe. Right? They followed the codes.

The Truth

Except there aren’t any codes referring to house protection from snow or installation of snow systems on your roof. Thousands of codes have been developed for construction all over the country.  However, roof snow retention to keep dangerous snowfall from affecting your daily life has never been addressed.  As a result, individuals who trusted the people building their house have neglected installation of snow protection for their roofs and suffered the consequences every year.

Why do we stand by and allow millions of dollars of property damage and even deaths to occur every year from sliding snow when adding snow guards to your building could easily solve the problem?  Codes governing products, installation guides, and standards are not in place to protect the consumer.  In fact, currently, anyone can cast a wax snow guard, spread some cement on the bottom, tell the consumer how to install it without any testing whatsoever, and then market it. Your roof isn’t tested and tried against falling snow or the issues that are caused when snow can melt and cause problems when you don’t have snow guards in place.

Snow weighing down roof

Inferior products are out there with no consumer protection in place.  Roofers and roof consultants are left with the daunting task of judging whether or not what they are specifying and installing will provide adequate safety and effectiveness in snow areas.

As a roof consultant, what methods should be used to determine which types of snow guards to recommend?  Are you assuming that the snow retention manufacturers have engineered their snow retention products from the fail point of the roof system?  Are the current U.S. codes providing the standard to assure safety from sliding snow? Installation of snow systems to stop sliding snow on slate and other roofs aren’t regulated. But you, as a homeowner, can control the installation that will protect you this upcoming winter.

The Research that Led Us to Snow Guards

Brand new house with snow guards

Architects, roof consultants, builders, and roofing contractors make a lot of assumptions concerning snow and ice, and, as they are not guided by a consistent system process, they often fail. Our trial and error process hasn’t worked perfectly.

The simple truth is that most snow retention manufacturers do not design their products from the fail point of the roof system, resulting in many failures.  There are no ICC codes for snow retention.  The standard for the roofing industry is to just do what you have done in the past or guess that three rows at the eave of the roof will be just fine. Is this what our customers deserve for their roof systems?

Since the government isn’t protecting your roof, it’s up to various industries who have installed these systems in the winter for years. There is another industry that one would think ought to have taken a lead in this life-threatening concern.  The insurance industry is often expected to pay for failures in adequate systems.  In the state of Utah, children have been killed from snow and ice falling off roofs.  Snow avalanches have caused death, vehicle damage, and roof and gutter damage.  Since there’s no regulatory process that demands a house have protection against snowfall installed, insurance companies refuse to pay for these damages because they’re labeled as an “act of God”.

death by snow roof incident

It is true that we don’t have control over snow movement on roofs. Small amounts of snow, when left on your roof for long periods of time, can create pressure so great it can tear through even the best roof. But refusing to acknowledge that a simple project with a verified contractor can improve the quality of your roof’s protection from snow is an outdated idea.

Comparing how Europeans and Americans design their snow retention systems explain some reasons why the standards in America are not working.  In America we have no standards, whereas in Europe, designers look at the potential fail points of the roof and then design the system from the starting point.

The Questions to Answer When it Comes to Snow Guards

There are six key questions to ask when planning a roof snow retention system:

  1. What is the sheathing type and thickness and how is it attached to the substrate?
  2. How is the snow bracket attached to the sheathing?  How many fasteners per bracket are required and what is the pullout load of each fastener in the particular type of sheathing?
  3. What are the fail point loads of the snow bracket?
  4. What is the slope of the roof?
  5. What is the ground snow load?
  6. Where and how might ice dams occur?

After they have gathered all this information, European engineers develop layout charts using all the data.  These charts include specific types of roof and snow brackets and snow guards installed on different sheathing types and thicknesses, snow load, roof slopes, and the number of snow guards needed per roofing square. 

Then snow guards are placed according to the layout charts from eave to the ridge, which eliminates all snow and ice movement.  This protocol of snow guards placement results in placement of snow retention devices from eave to ridge, never just along the edge.

The snow and ice is restrained in place across the entire roof.  It just melts in place in the spring, eliminating damage to people or property and so-called “Acts of God.”

Until a comprehensive standard is accepted and approved, all roof consultants would be wise to work with manufacturers who will provide them with this type of comprehensive data and then design roofs in accordance with the six suggestions above. 

This will help ensure customers are getting a quality design and protect consultants from lawsuits if someone is maimed or killed or property is damaged by falling snow and ice.

unsafe roof with snow that could lead to death