Snow Protection: Bringing A Strategic Outlook

Lessons from outside the United States and from earlier times.
How to best protect your customers and your reputation.

A-va-lanche! It is a word no one ever wants to hear. And a word that no one ever wants to hear while standing under a metal roof, or while observing others standing under your metal roof—which now happens to be covered in 10 feet or more in snow.

It is said that strengths can often become weaknesses. When it comes to snow, ice and metal roofing, nothing could be a more perfect storm—if you do not take a strategic outlook from the start.

Metal is smooth and does not absorb water.

When properly managed, snow can become a building’s friend, helping insulate a structure.

This is among metal roofing materials’ strengths, right? Right. However, without strategic snow management, such strengths quickly become weaknesses. Without strategic snow abatement, snow and ice have no ability to grip and can come avalanching down, damaging property, landscaping, or much worse, harming—or even ending—life.

The good news? Strategic snow management is time-tested. We know how to do it. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we know how to best do it. The question is: Are we committed to best doing it, for the good of our customers, for the good of their “ecosystem,” and for the good of our own business reputations? Or are we looking for the cheapest possible products and seeming advances, vs. real solutions?

Strategic Snow Protection For Metal Roofs

For hundreds of years, homeowners and proprietors have recognized the need for snow management on metal roofs. In high-snow areas like the Alps, conscientious and smart folk placed stones and logs on metal roofs to increase friction and, thus, aid retention of the snow.

The purpose was twofold: To prevent rooftop avalanches and to intelligently, safely leverage the snow to insulate the home during cold periods.

Today, while we recognize the smarts of these time-tested solutions, many of us in the manufacturing, architecture and contracting world seem to hunger for the lowest-common denominator (LCD) for snow retention. Consider this quote from an industry executive: “Snow guards are still the last thing on the roof and first thing out of the budget.”

Truly an LCD approach to something so important.

Many snow guards and snow fences are patented and may be within code—within the United States, anyways. You need to be certain what you choose to use is the best solution for the life-critical need for snow protection. Keep in mind that you are spending tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on a roofing system.

Snow Retention: The Primary Thought, Not An Afterthought

Shown here are copper snow hooks, perfectly matching the copper diamond-shingled roof. In Europe, not just roofing contractors, but all trades rely on German-engineered snow guards for secure footing.

Circa 2010, the Smithsonian Institute came to Fine Metal Roof Tech as part of its due diligence in an extensive remodel for one of its campuses. Key to its remodel was planning snow guard protection.

If asked the hypothetical question—“Which Comes First? The Snow Guards or The Roof?” The Smithsonian, rightly—and, perhaps, to some of us, surprisingly—chose designing and engineering snow guards as their starting point for their roofing.

Smithsonian architects and property stewards were familiar with the responsibilities of designing for and managing a building in America’s capital, where normal winters are historically spiked with snow dumps of as much as 28 inches in a three-day period.

In the early 2000s, they contracted Fine Metal Roof Tech to engineer a snow guard system to effectively protect their “ecosystem”—museum patrons, employees and passerbys—in the instance of what they specified as up to 18 inches of snow. Once this ÜberGard system was designed, they tended to the roof design and specifications.

Their process in ensuring adequate snow retention paid off. The remodeled building’s metal roofing was able to adequately manage snow from the large snow dumps of the 2010 “Snowmageddon” and “The Great Blizzard” of 2016, and looks to be more than ready for the 2018-2019 winter. The building’s ability to leverage snow for added insulation contributes to the Smithsonian’s portfolio of Silver, Gold and even Platinum LEED buildings.

Let’s take a lesson from The Smithsonian: Snow-retention solutions need to be the primary thought, not an afterthought, in engineering, architecting, installing and maintaining roofing in areas receiving significant snow.

Snow Retention:
Engineered, With Cause

In contrast to the Smithsonian, let’s switch gears and move to the Intermountain West, to Big Sky Country or, as metal roofers may think of it, “Big Snow Country.”

In the late 2000s, a roofing contractor in Bozeman, Montana, contacted Fine Metal Roof Tech to purchase snow guards. Fine Metal president Erno Ovari and the contractor reviewed architectural plans and considered snow-load factors for Bozeman.

Bozeman is a place where “snowstorms can howl across this state like packs of white wolves,” according to the Distinctly Montana website. After evaluating the plans, Ovari voiced concern that the roofing contractor was not carefully evaluating the structure in terms of snow load and the ability of Fine Metal Roof Tech’s German-engineered ÜberGards to do their job—to effectively retain the snow.

The contractor was repeatedly told that the snow guards he would be purchasing were engineered to be far stronger than the specified roof, and suggested that a structural redesign was in order. The contractor thanked Ovari for the opinion, then proceeded to place an order for the snow guards.

Within a few months, just after early snowfalls, the contractor sent photos telling the story: Ovari had been right—the Bozeman snow had been properly retained by the ÜberGards, but the metal roof’s poor engineering had shorn the roof right off the structure.

Let’s take a lesson from the white-wolf howling snow of Montana: Snow-retention solutions need to be the primary thought, not an afterthought, in engineering, architecting, installing and maintaining roofing in areas receiving significant snow.

The Difference Between
Products & Solutions

Extremely steep metal roof surfaces require a snow-rail system. Strategic snow management needs to be planned from the outset and must help guide roofing and cladding decisions.

Snow-retention solutions need to be thought about as more than a budget-line item. Are you offering a solution to preserve your customer’s investment and protect them? Or are you providing a product to simply meet code, conclude the job and move onto the next project?

The first thing to realize: Snow can actually be a building’s friend. Europeans have long understood this concept. Snow is comprised of 98 percent air. So rooftop snow helps insulate the building, providing comfort for those inside and offsetting energy costs and waste. Our goal with snow retention is to not just avert disasters, but to leverage the energy benefits of snow.

With this in mind, rooftop snowmelt systems which are so popular in America are not only unattractive and invasive, but wholly counterproductive: Why would someone spend money to make their metal roof less attractive, compromise the integrity of the roof and lose energy savings? Our goal with snow retention is to not just avert disasters, but to leverage the energy benefits of snow.

Copper Uber Guard snow hooks complement copper shingles. A double-rail copper snow guard system provides the best snow retention possible. The role of snow hooks is to keep the snow in place.

Walker Lane lies below the ski slopes on Salt Lake County’s East Bench. Walker Lane is one of the state’s snowiest addresses. It also boasts a home (honored in 2010 by the Copper Development Association) where the combination of a metal roof paired with an ÜberGard system shaved utility costs as much as $400 per month in winter.

In Europe, the rooftop snow guard solutions are so strong that maintenance contractors from other disciplines rely on the guards as anchors to navigate their way across rooftops to service chimneys, skylights, or other aspects of the building. Holladay, Utah’s Walker Lane installation, like the Smithsonian, like the improved Bozeman and hundreds of other Fine Metal Roof Tech customers, are protected (and insulated) by snow guards that offer that same strength.

Fine Metal Roof Tech president Erno Ovari is considered a go-to expert for the design, manufacturing and installation consulting required for a world-class metal domes and turrets.

Snow guards that have to support tons of snow need to be trusted to withstand a few hundred pounds of pressure, true?

Pictured here are stainless steel snow guards, atop a standing-seam steel roof.

Snow guard design practices offered by Fine Metal Roof Tech are certified by the TÜV (Technischer Überwachungs-Verein), a worldwide group based in Hanover, Germany, renowned for validating safety claims. TÜV is renowned for imposing the strictest standards. The Fine Metal Roof Tech ÜberGards offered here domestically are among the few in the world, which meet and exceed their expectations—the highest standards in the world.

Solutions For Metal Shingles & Standing Seam Roofs

ÜberGard Snow Hooks for Interlocking Shingles: Fine Metal Roof Tech is the exclusive North American provider of the TÜV-approved system for interlocking shingles. These snow hooks come in copper or colored steel and can be matched to any color desired.

These are the very same, time-tested systems that we have installed on castles, cathedrals and Europe’s most important buildings. Customers can benefit from this same engineering for any roof project. These snow hooks are a budget-conscious and smart choice regardless of the size and scope of your building.

ÜberGard Snow Guards for Standing-Seam Steel Roofs: Standing-Seam snow-retention systems are offered in copper, aluminum, colored aluminum (to match roof) and stainless steel. They are offered as single-rail, or for the heavier-duty system, as a double rail with a heightening system to accommodate more snow management.

Stunning copper snow guards are as beautiful to look at, as they are supperior in snow abatement for fine metal roofs.

The system comprises brackets, stainless steel hardware, heightening elements, ice stoppers and one-inch pipes and pipe connectors. Contractors, customers and passerby can have peace of mind with a roof protected by not just metal, but solid, strong, thick metal. (The bracket is 3/16 of an inch.) As with the Bozeman case study cited above, the stainless-steel nuts and bolts, when tightened to 115 NM (85 foot pounds), will never unfasten. This is an engineered safety feature.

Whatever you decide, you have unbelievable resources to help you plan your snow abatement solutions.

This article was provided by Fine Metal Roof Tech, a manufacturer of artisan metalwork for roofing, rainscreens and exterior/interior wall cladding. Author Jennifer J. Johnson is the director of marketing for Fine Metal Roof Tech and and can be reached at 801-322-5526. MR

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