PARTNERS IN CRIME — Bob Darling (left) and Jeff McCarthy have teamed up to produce and distribute a new, stronger type of snow guard. Photos by Lizz Schumer.
SPRINGVILLE — Jeff McCarthy of Sno Pro Builders began working on a new snow guard design seven years ago, on evenings and weekends, in between owning and operating his own construction business. After a long process of experimentation and securing patents, today, he has teamed up with Bob Darling to set up shop in the back of the Darling Fabricating building at 545 South Cascade Drive in Springville.
It all started, McCarthy explained, when he worked as a manager at House of Steel. “I just stared at snow guards, all day long,” he said. “And I started thinking, ‘I can do this better.’”
A snow guard is a small piece of metal that attaches to sloped, steel roofs to prevent snow from sliding off, all at once. The snow guard allows the snow to drop off in small amounts, preventing slides that can damage property or cause personal injury.
McCarthy said that, during his work on houses and construction work, he had seen many snow guards break, in a variety of ways. Some were made of materials that were too brittle to withstand the elements and would snap under the weight of the snow. Others would strip the screws that attached them to the roof and fall off altogether and still others broke along welded seams. Some, he said, were made of cheap plastic that would break down in the sun.
McCarthy said that he thought he could make something better, and began working in his garage to construct a better, more durable snow guard.
Although he said he “had never done anything like this before,” McCarthy had help from many friends and associates who contributed their individual talents to help his idea become a reality.
“It was really amazing. People kept stepping up,” he said. “And then, when that person stepped back, for whatever reason, someone else was there to step in their place.”
Unlike other snow guards on the market, McCarthy’s are made of aluminum and are bendable, so they do not become brittle in the cold, like traditional, cast-aluminum guards. They are not welded together or formed using chemicals, but bent into shape by three machines McCarthy created specifically for the guards, then fit together without any adhesive that can loosen or break apart. In order to prevent the screw stripping that McCarthy said can happen with other snow guards, he also uses special screws, made of zinc and titanium, that can withstand five times the pressure of a normal one. In addition, the screw holes are staggered, rather than arranged in a straight line, which solves the issue of stripping or splitting, McCarthy noted.
The snow guards are produced using three machines that McCarthy designed, using scrap metal that “people were gonna just throw out.
“The first time I tried this machine,” he said, indicating the machine that fits the base plate and face plate together, “it crushed [the pieces]. It’s run on hydraulics and those are really strong. We had to reinforce it and try again.”
Much of McCarthy’s process proceeded in that sense of trial and error, he explained. “I spent a long time, just thinking it over,” he said. “I went about it backwards, making the [assembly machine] first. I figured, there’s no sense in making the components if we couldn’t form them.”
He added that there was a learning curve involved in learning about the materials and how they work together, as well as figuring out the best way to make the strongest product, but at an affordable price.
“We had to really think about how to make it so people would buy it, because no matter how much better it is, people are still going to go for the cheapest option,” McCarthy said. To that end, he whittled down the production process until he could make each snow guard with 4 percent waste, compared to 40 percent in earlier trials.
“There’s really hardly any waste, at all,” he said. “I couldn’t do it if we were wasting a lot of materials; I’d be done before I started.”
All of the components and machines are made in America, and McCarthy said he is committed to keeping it that way. He has begun selling the guards at 84 Lumber, Home Depot and online, through a Pennsylvania-based company, and that he has some offers from other sources, as well. The guards are powder-coated, and come in both silver and colored versions. The guards are also guaranteed for life.
“When I went to get the patent, the lawyer asked if I had done all of these tests,” McCarthy said. “I told them, ‘I’m a farm boy from Springville. Here’s my test: I hooked one up to my Kubota© tractor and lifted it straight up into the air. How’s that for a test? I’ve never had one break, ever.”
Although the snow guards have been in production for years, McCarthy said that the space he currently works from has been in the works for approximately four months. “It got to a point where I was in so deep, I couldn’t quit,” he said, of his dedication to see the invention through from conception and patenting to opening the shop.
“This room was just a big, ugly pad,” he said, gesturing around the garage his machines now inhabit. “We removed that and built it right up. Bob has been a huge help, in that area.”
Going forward, McCarthy said that he hopes to sell more guards to local businesses, and individuals and is talking to insurance companies and building inspectors, as well.
“It’s a high-liability issue,” McCarthy explained. “The snow can come off that roof, land on cars, air conditioning units, bury people. There are steel roofs on malls, stores, hospitals and a lot of homes, since it’s really taken off within the past five years.”
Bob Darling said that he considered McCarthy’s snow guards to be “a good investment.
“I’ve been in building for 15 years, and people have approached me about things like this, all the time,” Darling said. “This is the first time I’ve gotten involved.”
Darling said that he recalled the sound of snow falling off of his father’s garage roof.
“It felt and sounded like an earthquake,” he said. “The whole house shook. There’s a real liability.”
McCarthy’s original business, Sno Pro Builders, is located at 13096 Mortons Corners Road. He can be reached there at 560-5376 or online at www.snoprobuilders.com.