Should you install snow guards for solar panels?

When you install rooftop solar, you save thousands on your electric bill, but if you live somewhere that gets lots of snow in the winter, you may also be at risk for a winter-specific side effect. Sometimes, large amounts of snow will slide off your solar panels all at once, which can damage your property. This article will discuss solar snow guards, what they do, and why you might want to ask your solar installer to include them in your solar array.

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Most North American residential roofs are made from asphalt composition shingles. These shingles are constructed with a rough surface designed to ensure your roof surface has friction.

Solar panels can cause snow to slide off your roof in sheets.

As snow falls on asphalt composition shingles, snow and ice will tend to accumulate and cling to the shingles' rough surface. The water runs down the roof below the frozen mass when it melts. This roof design can prevent snow from catastrophically falling off your roof all at once by removing meltwater and introducing friction, which keeps the snow and ice from sliding so it can melt away gradually instead.

When you install rooftop solar panels, you replace your typical high-friction roof surface with the smooth glass surface of solar panels, which is very low-friction. Unlike the textured surface of asphalt shingles, the glass face of a solar panel creates a situation where melting snow and ice act as a lubricant (instead of trickling off the roof), causing the panel surface to become frictionless and releasing the entire snow load at once. This can create dangerous situations where passersby can be hit by big chunks of snow falling from your roof. Additionally, falling snow can damage your landscaping, outdoor furniture, gutters, and vehicles.

Solar panel snow guards are typically installed at the edge of a panel with brackets.

A solar panel snow guard is a physical barrier you can install in between or on the edges of your solar panels. It's designed to prevent the mini avalanches that can occur when you install rooftop solar.

Solar snow guards catch snow sliding off of your panels, which keeps them from falling all at once. Instead, systems with snow guards release small amounts of snow at a time or hold snow on the roof to let it melt. Snow guards are usually simple to install with screw-on clamps to keep the guards in place. Companies like Alpine SnowGuards offer several guard variations, letting you match to your aesthetic preferences.

For two main reasons, most rooftop solar customers won't need to worry about solar snow guards. Rooftop solar is becoming increasingly popular nationwide, and many installations are taking place in states with little to no snowfall, like Florida and Arizona.

In addition, even in areas with snowfall during winter, there's often not enough snow to cause a large avalanche. Because the surface of solar panels is dark, snow will usually melt quickly and not last long enough to accumulate and cause a catastrophic release. Only in places where you are likely to have large snowstorms that drop several inches of snow during a short period will you need to worry about snow buildup and dangerous snow release.

However, snow guards for solar panels are a relatively low-cost upgrade. Ensuring your system is safe if you experience a large snowstorm may be enough incentive for some homeowners to invest in snow guards. After all, it can be better to pay extra upfront to ensure that none of your property is damaged and that you don't put anyone at risk of being hurt by snow and ice falling from your panels.

Compare personalized options for solar.

On the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can solicit quotes for solar projects from qualified, pre-vetted installers in your area. If you have a question or concern about snow or snow guards for your solar panels and home, you can leave a note on your profile outlining your question, and installers will know that you want more information about what they can do to make your solar array efficient and safe in the winter months.

Find out what solar panels cost in your area in 2024
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