When I was a little girl up in northwest Wisconsin, we had a lot of Big Snow winters. The snow started early and lasted all winter long. (Sound familiar?) The country roads cut through massive snow banks that my friends and I would build tunnels through. (We always used the buddy system so someone was on the outside to watch for the plow or dig you out if needed.) One year I made several snow carvings of different animals, each about 5 feet tall – a duck, a horse, a swan – it seems there were others, but I can’t remember now. Cars would slow down as they passed mom’s place, trying to figure out what those odd shapes were back off the road.
One of the other fixtures I remember from years ago was grandma’s snow fence. Grandma had a fairly long, thin driveway, and without the snow fence, I’m sure it would have been blown shut more often than not. When my brother bought grandma’s place, he planted a treeline where the snowfence had been, which now protects the driveway like the fence protected it for grandma – probably even better.
One of the first things we did when we moved here was to plant windbreak trees, but they’ll take a while to grow. Like grandma, we have a long, narrow driveway – except it’s even longer than grandma’s was. Unlike my brother, Rich, we can’t plant trees parallel to it along the whole length, because part of the land upwind from it belongs to our neighbor.
After spending many days last winter literally stuck at home because the driveway drifted shut almost as soon as it was plowed (see the driveway in the post, ‘The Long Winter“), we decided that this year we were going to put up a snow fence in an attempt to keep the driveway passable. Since my husband will be home again this winter instead of working out of town (yeah!), he needs to be able to get out reliably to get to work. Our neighbor used a short section of snow fence for one of his worst drifting spots last winter and it worked well, so he was cool with us running fencing through his field just for the winter. (He does our plowing, too, so I know he’d appreciate it if the driveway stayed plowed for a while.) In this post I’ll discuss why and how snow fence is used, so you can decide if you’d like to use it for your home.
Why Do You Install Snow Fence?
First off, the goal of a snow fence is not to stop snow, it’s to redirect where the snow piles up. If installed properly, a snow fence can significantly reduce the need for plowing, and keep roadways safer by reducing blowing and drifting onto the road.
A properly installed snow fence will slow down the wind, causing a drift to pile up on the downwind side of the fence – instead of in your driveway. You can see in the top photo of the post how a sizable drift had formed downwind of the fence last winter. The photo was taken in late winter after the snow had started to melt. Other areas had cleared, but the drift was still intact.
Where Should You Install Snow Fence?
Snow Fence should be installed upwind of the area that you want to keep clear. For instance, our winds come mostly out of the west and north. Our driveway runs mostly north to south, with a bend that angles southwest. We put the snow fence parallel to the driveway to the west and northwest along the path of the driveway.
We found some disagreement as to how far from the road the snow fence should be. The Strategic Highway Research Council, U.S. Fence, Iowa DOT and Ohio State University say the snow fence should be placed 35 times the height of the fence away from the road, which would be 140 feet for a four foot tall fence. The roll of snow fence we bought at the local home improvement store said 60 feet. We went with the online references since we had the room.
Ideally, there should be a gap underneath the fence of at least 5 inches. The higher the fence is off the ground, the further away the drift will start. If the fence is directly on the ground, it will likely become buried in the drift, which will reduce its effectiveness. It’s hard to see the gap in the top image because the grass is so tall, but you can see it better in the image below.
How Do you Install a Snow Fence?
Remember, this fence is meant to be load bearing, so use enough posts, set the posts well in the ground and make sure the fence is well-secured to the posts. Use t-posts, not metal u-posts, because they are stronger. For areas with very heavy wind and snow loads, you can secure the ends of the fencing with additional support wires as detailed at the U.S. Fence website.
For a 4 foot tall fence with 6 foot t-posts:
- Place fence posts no more than 8 feet apart.
- Drive posts in approximately 1.5 feet deep.
- Line up fence on posts, leaving a gap below the fence.
- Tighten fence and secure with 10″ cable ties to post. In high wind areas, it is highly recommended that the fence be sandwiched between the flat side of the metal posts and a 1″x 2″ wood slat. (See below.)
Because we had several hundred feet of snow fence to put up, we skipped the slats and used extra cable ties. The snow load was not exceptionally heavy this past winter and the fence held up just fine.
Luckily, we installed our snow fence on what might have been the last warm weekend of the year in late October. Obviously, you need to get the fence in place before the ground freezes and the snow starts stacking up. Another interesting application for the fencing is to use it in combination with trenching to catch the melting snow and direct it to specific areas. Since part of our fence goes through the neighbor’s field and part is in a marshy area, this isn’t a very practical option for us, but I could see where it might be useful. I’ll give an update in spring to let you know how the great snow fence experiment worked out. I know at least one neighbor liked the fence, and stopped in as they were driving by to ask where we bought green snow fence instead of the orange fences they’d seen around.
Have you used a snow fence? How did it work out for you?
Related posts you may also find useful:
- Winter Vehicle Maintenance Checklist and Preparing a Winter Vehicle Emergency Kit
- Winter Storm Survival – Keeping You and Your Home Warm When the Power Goes Out
- Emergency Cooking – 10 Ways to Have a Hot Meal When the Power Goes Out
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