Do you need snow guards for solar panels?

Updated

A solar panel snow guard holding back a few feet of snow on a roof
Solar snow guards protect your house from a small avalanche of snow by holding back the snow to melt slowly. Image source: Ace Clamp Roofing Solutions

When homeowners initially think about buying solar panels, winter weather typically isn’t the first thing that might come to mind. But, if you live in an area where snow is common, adding snow guards to your solar panel installation can help you avoid damage to your gutters and roof. 

In this article, we will explain why you might need snow guards, how well solar panels produce solar energy in the snow, and which snow guard options are best to buy.  

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    Why would you need snow guards?

    First off, yes, solar panels do work in the winter and can even work when there is a light dusting of snow on them. Cold weather is not what stops panels from working - it is when they do not have access to the sun. If there is a few feet of snow buildup on your panels, they will not be able to absorb the sun, and therefore, they won’t generate power

    You could climb on your roof to brush off the snow, but we recommend just relying on the grid for a few days for your energy production. Or - you could invest in snow guards. 

    The guard will hold back a snow slide so that it does not fall off of your panel all at once. If that happens, it could break your gutters, ruin your landscaping, crash into your car, or fall onto an unsuspecting passerby. 

    The snow guard allows snow and ice to melt slowly and fall off your roof like it normally would. Solar panels are an incredibly smooth glass surface, compared to the roof type and shingles you have, which can allow a better place for snow to stick. 

    For example, asphalt shingles are designed so that your roof has some friction and that anything that lands on it does not immediately fall right off. Alternatively, some roofs will need snow guards even without solar panels, such as metal roofs, because they have a smooth surface that snow would fall right off of. 

    Find out if going solar is worth it where you live

    What snow guards are the best?

    There are a few brands to pick from that make snow guards specifically for solar panel arrays. 

    Note: Pricing is hard to pinpoint because each roof is different and would require varying amounts of snow guards, but you can expect to spend $1.50-$3.00 per square foot, plus more based on local installation costs. 

    1. Alpine SnowGuards 

    snow guards on a copper roof

    Image source: Alpine SnowGuards

    The Alpine Solar snow pad for solar panels can be added to your solar panel installation. These work by breaking up the snow as it slides down your panels so that they are in more manageable chunks and can therefore melt quicker.

    Alpine offers various snow panel guard options, like the one above that is just one metal bar, or options that are small metal clamps that can be installed between solar panels. You can work with an Alpine installer to determine which type is best for you. 

    2. Rocky Mountain Snow Guards 

    rocky mountain snow guardsImage source: Rocky Mountain Snow Guards

    If you want a little more protection, consider the Rocky Mountain Snow Guards 3-pipe snow fence style snow guard

    This is a good option if you live in an area that gets significant snowfall throughout the winter, prompting the need for extra snow retention. The fence will hold back the ever-accumulating mound of snow on your roof. 

    Are solar snow guards right for you?

    If you live in a location where it snows often, snow guards are a worthwhile investment. They can help your home stay safe in the winter by reducing roof avalanches and the damage they cause. But if you live in a sunny location that is not snowy, or you have a flat roof with no pitch, you can skip snow guards. 

    Another thing to consider is the fact that solar panels are dark, which helps snow melt faster when the sun hits them. So light snow can melt before accumulating enough to cause an avalanche and they can quickly get back to producing solar power. 

    Adding snow guards to your solar system is not very expensive, so an easy install can help keep your mind at ease. Your solar installer will be able to help you determine whether you need them based on your roof and the climate in your area. You can also install snow guards after installing panels if you later decide you need them. 

    Either way, an experienced solar panel installer will help you get the answers you need to make sure your home is weather-ready.

    Find out how much you can save on your electric bill by installing solar panels

    Key takeaways

    • Snow and wintry conditions do not necessarily mean you need a snow guard, heavy accumulation of snow is what makes them necessary.
    • Solar panel snow guards hold back the snow that accumulates on your solar panels so that it does not fall off in one big avalanche.
    • You can install solar panel snow guards with a new solar system or on an already-existing solar array.
    • If you live in a location where you consistently get sudden, heavy snow accumulation that can result in many inches or feet of snow in a short time frame, get snow guards. If you usually don’t get much more than light snow dustings, it is safe for you to forgo them.
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Ana Almerini

    Web Content Specialist

    Ana is a web content specialist at SolarReviews. She has 5 years of marketing experience blended with 2 years of experience in climate communications and holds a master of arts degree in climate and society from Columbia University. Ana frequently volunteers for environmental causes ranging from oyster reef restoration in NJ to expanding bike sharing in Naples, Italy.

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