Managing the PROPER Use of Solar Snow Management Systems

It seems that at least once a day, Alpine SnowGuards’ guidance on the proper use of solar snow management systems is ignored or overlooked by installers (integrators). And so, while I know many of you are tired of me droning on about managing snow on solar, I feel the need to keep beating that drum. Bear with me.

Like most of us during the COVID-19 shutdown, I found myself with ample time for self-reflection (not to mention, binge-watching TV, cleaning the garage, hours of walking, and yes, drinking more than my fair share of wine). During one such reflective walk, I asked myself, “why is it that solar integrators don’t seem to understand the proper use of our snow management systems?” Is it because:

  1. It’s not that important to them?
  2. They don’t want to be bothered?
  3. It’s an expense they didn’t anticipate?
  4. They didn’t realize the risks of sliding snow and ice from solar arrays?
  5. The project owner said they didn’t want to pay for anything “extra”?
  6. The corporate office said if they mention this issue, the building owner may decline the array all together?
  7. If they mention this issue, they may not be competitive in the bidding process?

I’ve heard it all. And then some.

Recognizing the Problem AND the Solution

Based on daily feedback we receive at Alpine SnowGuards, I’ve come to believe that the issue of managing snow on solar, and our simple solution, Solar SnowMax, may have fallen on deaf ears.

So, on one very long reflective walk along the shores of Lake Geneva, WI (if you’ve never been, add it to your bucket list), I asked myself, “what am I missing in educating these solar integrators? And how can I get them to better understand the problem as well as the solution?”

Many of you already know that our former sister company, EcoFasten Solar, grew directly out of Alpine SnowGuards. In the early 2000’s, solar integrators recognized that Alpine’s snow management devices were designed to hold the weight of snow and ice on rooftops without causing leaks. These solar integrators started asking Alpine if they could use our hardware for solar panel installation. With some innovative adjustments and about 40 patents later, EcoFasten dominated the solar racking market.

Why is the EcoFasten connection important? I took the time (had plenty of it) to reflect back on the early days, when EcoFasten was a solar start-up. Picture this if you will: I come from the roofing industry, and here I am, fielding calls from these “solar integrators” who make statements like, “I’m looking for a roof attachment device that I can use to install solar panels on a rooftop, but I don’t want to penetrate the roof”.

In pretty short order, that statement turned into, “I realize that I have to penetrate the roof, but I want to minimize penetrations” (okay, logic is starting to kick in). And then, and this was the “ah ha” moment for me as I reflected, “I get what you’re saying about the engineering requirements showing the need to install these brackets 4 feet on center (o.c.), using lag bolts, properly flashed with a waterproofing detail, but there’s no way that I’m putting that many holes in the roof. You guys know what you’re doing, but come on….4X o.c. could destroy the roof!”

Do you all see what I’m saying here?

People Don’t Want to Hear What They Don’t Want to Hear

In the early days of the solar boom, what the integrators wanted and what was physically/structurally possible, were two very different things. The kicker is, and this is my favorite because history is repeating itself, after sometimes hours of phone calls, emails, exchange of drawings, site visits, etc., we would get statements like “yeah, we get what you’re saying, but we’re not going to do that. So, we’re going to use 6’ or 8’ o.c. bracket spacing, and if you want our business, you’ll still need to provide stamped engineered details”.

Case in point, what the industry wanted wouldn’t work from an engineering perspective. The math/physics don’t lie.

To circle the wagons (can you tell that this was a really long walk? I would’ve stopped at Pier 290 for a beer with Bill, but, you know, virus shutdown), I realized that what the solar industry wants from a snow management system and what actually works, are also two very different things.

It comes down to some pretty basic physics:

  • The system will hold back X amount of weight
  • The roof area you’re looking to protect happens to have 3X potential snow accumulated weight
  • Therefore, you need 3X of the system to manage the snow properly
  • Using 1X in this example ensures that the snow management system will fail

The guys I mentioned earlier? The ones who stretched the recommended attachment points for their solar arrays? Well, they learned some costly lessons. Many, if not all of those integrators are no longer in business. The solar companies that have survived, have trusted that the rack manufacturers they work with will provide them with the best, most cost-effective system possible. If the rack manufacturers want repeat business, this is basic logic. The same is true for Alpine when we recommend the best use of our snow management systems.

We’ve Been Doing This for Almost 30 Years

We want you to install a system that works based on the project-specific physics. If this isn’t what you want, we understand where you’re coming from (see examples A-G above) and we want you to be aware that the system just isn’t going without following those project-specific physics.

I’m guessing that the understanding of managing snow on solar will evolve, but probably not before a couple more integrators suffer the financial consequences of doing what they want, instead of what they need.

If anyone has questions about managing snow on solar, please feel free to reach out to me directly at brian@alpinesnowguards.com

Until then….

Brian Stearns

President and founder, Alpine SnowGuards

We keep snow in its place

www.alpinesnowguards.com

info@alpinesnowguards.com

888.766.4273

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Alpine SnowGuards designs, engineers, and manufactures snow management systems from our facility in Morrisville, VT. We work closely with leading roofing contractors, engineering firms, developers, solar installers and roofing manufacturers to ensure we deliver quality products that do what we say they’ll do. Alpine SnowGuards can help a building qualify for LEED® credits.

(Images by: Headspace, howcommunicationworks.com and Alpine SnowGuards)

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