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. 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. Cars would slow down as they passed mom's place, trying to figure out what those odd shapes were back off the road.
Something else I remember from winters past 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. This now protects the driveway (even better than the fence).
We planted windbreak trees as soon as we moved here, but they'll take a while to grow. Like grandma, we have a long, narrow driveway. 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 during the winter of 2013-2014 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 to put up a snow fence. 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.
How Does a Snow Fence Work?
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.
Update: This year we're shifting to the 60 foot distance, based on previous year's drifts. Putting the fence a little closer may also offer more protection to the driveway to our neighbor's hunting shack, which runs parallel to our driveway, downwind.
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 may become buried in the drifts if snow load is heavy. This 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, closer for stronger winds.
- 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 have several hundred feet of snow fence to put up, we skip the slats and use extra cable ties. So far, so good. The fence is still in good shape going into the third winter.
We install our snow fence in late October/early November. Obviously, you need to get the fence in place before the ground freezes and the snow starts stacking up.
Snow Fence Alternatives
The best snow fences are half solid and half open. The pressure variance slows the wind and the pressure changes drop the snow as the wind blows through the fence. You don't necessarily need to purchase fencing. Pallets will work, slat fencing will also, even planks staggered at roughly 50% air and board will work.
A line of staggered evergreen trees, is best at a good distance varying by height and density. Then staggered fence and/or shrubs will reduce wind also, and drop snow. Make sure you know your prevailing winds, angles and distances.
In closed in spaces like a city or subdivision you will likely need to be creative with the spacing and work with neighbors to ensure the snow drops where you want it. We have seen people extending a wall with fence to create wind barriers and drive the snow through a series of fences between houses depending on the prevailing winds.
How Well Does Snow Fence Work?
It works. In our case, I can clearly see the drifting downwind of the fence. But do note, we haven't had another Big Snow winter to test it under extreme conditions yet.
Since we first did this, I've been seeing more snow fences around. I know at least one neighbor liked the fence, because he stopped in as they were driving by to ask where we bought green snow fence instead of the orange fences they'd seen around.
Another interesting application for the fencing is to use it in combination with trenching. This catches the melting snow and directs 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.
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
P.S. – To the various fence company representatives who keep leaving comments with links back to your fence company websites, please see our Media Kit for advertising rates. Inappropriate comments will be deleted and/or marked as spam. Thank you for understanding.
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