What Is the Best Way to Remove Snow?
By: Douglas Trattner
When choosing a snow blower, consider the size of your driveway and sidewalks, as well as how much snow you get. Here’s how to pick the best snow removal tool for your needs.
The best way to decide what kind of snow blower you’ll need is to know the amount of snow your area gets. Find annual snowfall totals in nearby cities, or check winter storm snowfall totals at the website of your local news and weather source, such as a television or radio station.
Also, size matters. “The main thing I ask shoppers is, how big is their property,” says Andrew Kelly, department manager for Lowe’s. If you have a long driveway or more than 150 feet of sidewalk to clear, see if you can afford a heavier, more capable machine than indicated by snowfall totals.
Light Snow Removal Jobs (Up to 4 Inches Per Year)
If you live in an area that receives the occasional light dusting of snow, you can likely get by just fine with a shovel. But if for reasons of health (or motivation) shoveling is impractical, an electric snow shovel is ideal. These walk-behind tools are good for small jobs, such as front porches and walks.
Plug-in, electric snow shovels feature plastic, rotating blades that throw snow out of the front of the machine. Expect to pay about $100. You’ll need a UL-listed outdoor extension cord to power your electric show shovel.
These lightweight machines have a few drawbacks. Small front openings can handle snows of only a few inches deep, and they’ll only clear a path about 1 foot wide. Their plastic blades are prone to cracking or breaking when they come in contact with ice and stones.
Light to Moderate Snow Removal Jobs (Up to 12 Inches Per Year)
Capable of handling snowfalls up to 8 or 10 inches in height, an electric snow blower is the right choice for home owners in moderately snowy locations.
Electric snow blowers are as close to maintenance-free as possible, requiring none of the hassles that accompany gas-powered lawn equipment, such as keeping gas cans and mixing two-cycle oil with the gas.The downside, of course, is that you’ll need to drag around a lengthy extension cord.
With widths of just 14 to 18 inches, electric snow blowers are not the best choices for home owners with long, winding driveways or extra-lengthy sidewalks. Because their clearing paths are roughly half that found on many gas-powered blowers, they require twice the passes to get the job done.
Basic models are priced between $150 and $250. They lack any of the bells and whistles found on pricier gas machines that can make the job easier, such as headlamps, remotely adjustable discharge chutes, and self-propel systems.
Moderate to Heavy Snow Removal Jobs (Up to 40 Inches Per Year)
For all but the snowiest locales, a single-stage gas-powered snow blower should fit the bill. This machine features an auger or set of rubber blades that chews up snow and throws it out of a moveable discharge chute.
Single-stage gas-powered blowers are smaller and easier to handle than two-stage blowers (see below). Capable of clearing paths 18 to 22 inches wide, single-stage blowers are large enough for all but the biggest jobs.
Priced between $300-$600, most single-stage gas blowers feature push-button electric ignition, making for easy cold-weather starts. While these models lack a propulsion system found in bigger, pricier units, they do travel forward thanks to the movement of the blades.
Heavy Snow Removal Jobs (More Than 40 Inches Per Year)
So, you live in Cleveland, Denver, or Buffalo. What you need is a two-stage, gas-powered snow blower. With snow-hungry openings that devour paths 24 to 30 inches wide, these powerful machines are perfect not only for the snow-bound home owner, but also those who make a living clearing snow.
Strong auger-and-impeller systems gobble up snow as much as 20 inches deep and fling it up to 50 feet away. Joystick-controlled adjustable chutes allow the operator to control both direction and angle of the discharge with the flick of a finger.
Engine-driven wheels propel the machine both forward and reverse — some in multiple speeds — a key feature not found on smaller and less expensive models. Extras, such as headlights and heated hand grips, enable you to remove snow in severe cold and even at night.
Prices start around $600 and climb to $1,000 and up.
Home owners with gravel driveways are pretty much compelled to purchase a two-stage machine as they are the only units that can be raised or lowered to protect the auger from rocks and debris. The downside is that they’ll leave behind an inch or so of snow when in the raised position.
For electric models, a UL Listed extension cord that can handle the wet and cold is mandatory. Cost is $20-$40, depending on length.
A cover to protect your blower during the off-season will run about $35.
For really big jobs, it might be worth it to splurge on a cab enclosure to protect you from wind and blowing snow. Expect to pay at least $100.
Snow Blower Maintenance
Electric models are essentially care-free. Gas-powered blowers require you to either run the machine dry of fuel at the end of your home snow removal season, or that you add a fuel stabilizer to the remaining gas in the tank.
Oil, sparkplugs, auger belts, and air filters need to be replaced on a regular basis. Shear pins, designed to break to protect the auger from damage, cost just a few bucks for a multi-pack. You might go through a pack per season.