With most of the country covered in a thick blanket of snow and cold temperatures, it’s essential to have a plan in place for dealing with this frozen precipitation. This includes bundling up for the frigid weather and clearing the snow from your home’s walkways and driveways.
No matter what way you look at it, the snow will need to go. This means you’ll need to make a few important decisions – namely what tools and methods you’ll be using to tackle the white, cold stuff. If you don’t already have a snow clearing routine down, or if you’d like some tips to help improve the experience, we’ll provide the insights needed to help you get through this tedious job as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Types of Snow Clearing Equipment
When the inevitable storm hits (as it already has across much of the U.S.), you’ll need to be prepared with the necessary tools to tackle it.
As more and more people are ditching their snow shovels in favor of the easier, more efficient snow blowers, it’s important to explore the differences between each to see if upgrading your equipment makes sense for your needs.
There are a variety of snow shovels to choose from. Size, handle shape and material make up the main differences between shovels. If you’re wondering which one is best for your needs, consider these options:
The debate between straight handle vs. offset handle snow shovels has been raging since the inception of the offset handle back in the 1960’s. The offset handle (ergonomic handle) was developed to decrease the amount of effort a snow shovel required to operate. It works by placing the handle closer to the ground while allowing you to stand up-right, thus eliminating back pain that results from using a straight handle.
Straight handles still do have a purpose – many folks feel that they’re better for pushing the snow than their bent counterparts. They’re also easier to use for those that need to lift snow above waist-height. But for our money, we’d still recommend the safer, newer, ergonomic handle.
One of the first things you’ll notice when shopping for a snow shovel is the variety of materials
they’re available in. Since this really is one of the cases where you get what you pay for, it’s important to understand the advantages of each.
You’ll find that most inexpensive snow shovels come with plastic handles and blades. Although they’re not too strong, plastic is one of the lighter materials and should be able to handle moderate snowfall.
Aluminum is another common material used on snow shovels. Although traditionally used on the blade of snow shovels, it’s been recently expanded to encompass the entire shovel – the blade, handle and grip. This material offers unmatched strength and durability, but it can add a bit of weight to the shovel.
One of the newer materials you’ll find on many snow shovels is a fiberglass/resin composite. This is one of the strongest and lightest materials out there. It’s also extremely durable and weather proof.
Lastly, the standard of most snow shovels for the past 100 years has been a wood handle. Although heavy, they’re durable and easily repaired if any damage ever does occur. Just make sure to watch out for splinters!
The majority of snow shovels are sized based on the width of the blade. This means that if you see a shovel advertised as a “30-inch Ergonomic Snow Shovel”, it’s referring to the width of the blade on the shovel.
The most common snow shovels come in sizes of 30”, 24” and 18”. The larger the width of the blade, the more snow that you’ll be able to push or remove in one continuous motion. However, a larger size blade also requires more strength to operate – so choosing the right one for your household can be a bit tricky. The standard for many people is the 24” shovel.
The key is finding a balance between performance and ease-of-use. Since there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ snow shovel, it’s important to test each shovel before you make your final decision – perform the same motions you would if you were shoveling snow in your driveway. Doing this will help you avoid any potential issues come the first snowfall.
Without getting into too much detail, there are three main types of snow blowers; Single-Stage Electrics, Single-Stage Gas and Two-Stage Gas. Like snow shovels, there isn’t one that stands out as “better” than the others. Identifying the correct snow blower will be dependent on your climate (annual snow fall), budget and size of your property. Let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Single-stage electric snowblowers are best suited for smaller, flat properties, with snowfall less than 5”. They’re small, light, easy to operate and easy to store. You’ll also find that these are some of the most inexpensive snowblowers on the market. However, you will have to worry about clunking around a power cord with you at all times, which may be pain for many users.
These are the most common snow blowers found in most neighborhoods around the country. They’re capable of handling a snowfall of about 8” and walkways/driveways with no more than a moderate slope. And since they’re gas-powered, you won’t have to deal with any sort of cords. It’s recommended to only use these on hard surfaces due to the auger being set so low to the ground – gravel can easily be thrown if you’re not careful.
Overall, the single-stage gas snow blowers are perfect for the average American home. They’re also available in multiple swath/engine sizes to fit your specific needs.
These are the largest class of snow blowers. Their two-stage system means that they use a separate mechanism to scoop the snow up (auger) and a mechanism blows it out the machine (impeller). This two-stage approach allows the auger to be set up higher, which allows you to tackle any sort of surface, including those pesky gravel walks.
These models require much more maintenance and storage space than their single-stage counterparts, but the extra power and features can make up for the trouble.
Choosing the “right” snow blower isn’t an exact science – it takes research and time to find something that satisfies all of your needs at the right price. Look around, read reviews, talk to your neighbor about his snowblower; do whatever it takes to feel confident with your final decision. After all, it’s meant to be a long-term investment.
Plan Your Attack
Believe it or not, clearing the snow isn’t as easy as simply suiting up and heading into the winter wonderland; it’s necessary to always put safety as your first priority and have a plan in place to clear the white stuff.
Prepare the Area
Before you even pick up your snow shovel or blower, you’ll need to prepare your walks for the job. Move anything that’s blocking the surface from being completely cleared; this includes vehicles, debris, garbage cans, etc. This prevents any objects from being in the way and cluttering up the process.
Since snow and overcast conditions can actually add a bit of warmth to the air, you never want to overdress when clearing your property. This may cause you to sweat, which works against your internal thermometer. Instead, dress in layers to allow yourself the ability to quickly peel clothing off if necessary.
Plan your Attack
Many people don’t realize there are proper methods to clearing the snow from your property. Your goal should always be to clear the snow in as little time as possible, with as little effort as possible. This means you’ll need to do a bit of preparation before you even step outside.
When it comes time to step outside and get to work, you should always have a tentative snow clearing route planned out. If you’re lucky enough to be working with a snowblower, use long, straight passes to clear the property. If you’re using a snow shovel, you’ll need to put a bit more thought into your route. Since most of the areas you’ll be working with are shaped like rectangles, you can simply start shoveling from the center point and move outwards towards the edges. This also helps you avoid moving snow more than once.
Not sure where to start? Try this method from our in-house expert, Mark Sodja:
- Start at the center of your driveway and shovel the snow horizontally to the edges, each direction.
- Use multiple passes to work your way down the driveway.
- When you’ve reached the bottom, clear the vertical strip of snow that runs up the middle to complete the job.
Every winter countless people hurt themselves while using a snow shovel. While these injuries are usually minor, they can be serious if you don’t take the necessary precautions beforehand.
Always start by stretching your arms, legs and back before going outside – this will help prevent any strains while moving around heavy snow. Also, keep some water nearby when shoveling to help you stay hydrated.
The single most important safety step you must take while using a snow shovel is maintaining proper posture. Here are some tips to avoid muscle strain injuries:
- Avoid ‘twisting’ motions when throwing snow.
- Always lift with your legs and not your back.
- Move your hand close to the snow shovel when lifting heavy snow.
- Muscles starting to ache? Take a break.
Maintenance & Storage
One of the biggest downfalls to owning a snowblower over a snow shovel is the amount of work, time and money it takes to maintain it and store it over the course of a year. But luckily for you we’ve got the parts and repair guides you’ll need to get them ready for winter and stored for summer.
How to Tune-Up a Snowblower:
How to Fix a Snowblower Carburetor:
At this point, we’d normally give you our suggestion for the best product out there, but the fact is that snow shovels and snowblowers both have their own rightful place in the snow clearing equipment hierarchy.
To put it simply; snow shovels will save you a lot of money, but will also require more effort and time to use. Snowblowers will tackle your property quickly and effortlessly, but they’re quite expensive and require regular tune-ups and maintenance.
So what product do you prefer? Do you have any good tips that we missed? Let us know in the comments!