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snow solar panels

Snow Guards for Solar Panels: What You Need to Know

By Laura BourlandRise Writer
Jul 27, 2019

Solar panels are gaining popularity for their ability to harness the sun’s energy to power your home. Solar energy can be collected in both sunny and not so sunny conditions—but what happens when it snows?

Believe it or not, your solar panels will still collect energy on a snowy day, but if heavy snow builds upon those panels, they’ll not only be blocked from doing their job, they can also become a danger to you, your family and your property.

Light snow generally melts off quickly as the solar panels reflect the sun, but in the north where several inches of snow can fall in a short period of time, that snow can accumulate, blocking your panels and causing dangerous snow slides.

Dangers of Snow Accumulation on Solar Panels

Most roof types are textured to allow friction to hold snowfall and release it slowly and safely; they shed snow naturally and without incident. It’s after the panels are installed that most homeowners notice a problem. But when solar panels are installed on the roof, those large panels of glass diminish friction and are rather slippery. As snow collects on your solar panels, it may become compacted. And, as melted snow slowly begins to run between your solar panels and that compacted snow, it can slide off in dangerous avalanches.

solar panel avalanche
Photo Credit: Energy Sage

Twelve inches of snow weighs about 9.39 pounds per square foot. And while the average solar panel is equipped to support as much as 800 pounds, the typical solar panel array of about 144 square feet can collect more than 1,300 pounds of snow. You certainly don’t want that much weight sliding off in one large sheet!

Heavy sheets of compacted snow sliding off your roof can:

  • Block doors
  • Catch in window wells
  • Dent your car or break the windshield
  • Snap and bend rain gutters and downspouts
  • Damage hot tubs, outdoor furniture, decks and fences
  • Injure friends, family, and animals walking around your house
  • Severely damage your landscape and crush plants and trees

Install Snow Guards WITH Your Solar Panels 

If you live in an area where snow falls and accumulates to several inches, like the north or in the mountains, you should absolutely install snow guards during the initial installation of your solar panels.

Why? Installing snow guards with your new solar panels will save you a lot of money and headache. Snow guards are easy to install and are a great addition when the installer is already up on your roof and the solar panels are clean. Installing the snow guards is simply an extra step. If you already have solar panels installed and are ready to add snow guards, they can also be installed after the fact.

Your chosen installer will also help you better plan your solar installation, taking into consideration the angle and surface area of your roof and multiple tiers. If your roof happens to be fairly flat, your installer may wisely suggest installing them at a steeper angle to encourage snow shedding. Hiring a solar installer that is already familiar with the weather in your area will set you up for the best result come winter. If your installer isn’t from the area, consider including a contractor who is.

Installing your snow guards when the solar panels are installed will also eliminate costly repairs to your rain gutters, fences, landscape, and vehicles and keep your loved ones safe from falling sheets of snow.

Solar Panel Snow Guard Options

There are a variety of designs available to help safely shed snow from your solar panels. As you choose your new solar panels, be sure to talk to your provider about complimentary snow guard options for the best result.

There are two general types of snow guards: Clamp-on guards and snow fences.

clamp on snow guard
Photo Credit: Energy Sage

Clamp-on Snow Guards

Clamp-on snow guards can be installed at the edges of your solar panels, or in between panels. These snow guards either slowly release small amounts of accumulated snow or keep the snow on the solar panels to melt naturally. If you choose the style of snow guard that holds snow for melting, keep in mind that your solar energy production capabilities will be diminished during the snowy months.

Alpine SnowGuards

Alpine SnowGuards are installed on the solar panel frame with a screw-on clamp that secures the snow guard and prevents it from moving. Alpine’s snow guards are made from recycled materials and available in two different models.

The Solar SnowMax can be installed on both portrait and landscape solar panels and maintains a low profile to allow your solar panels to continue collecting energy. This snow guard has a maximum snow capacity of 50 pounds per square foot, perfect for homes in areas with moderate snow.

Alpine SnowGuards snow max
Photo Credit: Alpine SnowGuards

The Solar Snow Pad

The Solar Snow Pad “allows snow and ice to build up, slump and slowly slide off a panel’s surface in an orderly fashion.” These snow guards prevent solar panel shading and use a T-nut clamp installed in the horizontal joints between panels for solar arrays that are installed close together. These snow guards are an excellent choice for tiered roofs and larger solar installations.

Alpine SnowGuards snow pad
Photo Credit: Alpine SnowGuards

ColorGard

ColorGuard by S-5! uses round-point screws for a penetration-free clamp that grips the solar panel securely and without damaging the finish of the panel. These snow guards are designed to seamlessly match the color and finish of your existing roof for an attractive look that won’t fade for at least 30 years.

S-5! colorgard
Photo Credit: Dimensional Metals

SnowBreaker by SnoBlox

The SnowBreaker is uniquely designed to break snow and ice into smaller pieces before allowing it to shed off the solar panel. These snow guards are forward-facing to reduce roof stress, failures, and leaks and can be installed mechanically with clamps or with snow-safe adhesive. Each individual SnowBreaker snow guard is built to hold up to 3,456 pounds when attached with clamps and up to 1,379 pounds when installed with adhesive.

snowbreaker solar panel
Photo Credit: Solar Power World

Snow Fence Snow Guards

The snow fence solution is designed to attach to the roof separately from the solar panel to minimize the impact on the panel itself. These can be installed easily after solar panels are in place and on roofs that have yet to be adorned by solar panels.

snowfence solar panel
Photo Credit: Solar Power World

The Snow Fence

The Snow Fence by Rocky Mountain Snow Guards is the most popular snow fence available. This snow fence is installed at the eave of your roof and bolted down to collect snow as it slides off the solar panels. Because they need a snow collection area, the Snow Fence requires a minimum of 18-24 inches between the lowest solar panel and the roof eave.

What Do Snow Guards Cost?

The installation of snow guards for solar panels varies widely depending on the style you choose, the size of your roof, and the number of solar panels you install. The average snow guard runs $1.50-$3.00 per foot with additional costs added for installation, which can be quite a bit extra. This home in Minneapolis, for example, paid $10 per linear foot installed, and this was after the solar panels had already been installed.

Choosing to install your snow guards at the time of solar panel installation will increase the upfront cost, but will save you considerably in getting an installer up on the roof a second time, and avoiding any subsequent damage caused by snow slides. Before signing the paperwork for your new solar panels, ask about adding snow guards.

Bottom Line

If you live in an area subject to heavy winter snows and are ready to add solar panels, ask about snow guards. Not all installers will recommend them upfront, because it increases the upfront cost and can make the economic payback look worse. But having your snow guards installed at the same time as your solar panels will save you considerably and protect you and your family from potential snow-related accidents. If you already have solar panels installed and have experienced these dangerous avalanches as the snow sheds in large sheets, don’t wait. Call an installer immediately about getting snow guards installed before winter.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2022-10-07T16:08:06+0000
Laura Bourland

Article by:

Laura Bourland

Laura grew up in the California suburbs, far removed from environmentalism, but nature always has a way. She uprooted her life in 2015, moving to the countryside of Washington to live a more sustainable and simple life on 12 acres. She and her fiancee are learning on the job as they attempt everything from gardening and natural pest control to eco-friendly building and home improvement.