If you live in an area that receives a lot of snow every winter, you know that the first snowfall is a fun novelty. Every one after that is hard work! The biggest job that needs to be done is clearing the driveway and sidewalk--and the best way to make this tough job easier is with a snow blower (or snow thrower, as they're more accurately called). Get tips to find the best one for you.
- Do you need a single-stage or two-stage snow blower? There are many differences between the two types. Single-stage snow blowers have a metal and rubber auger that spins very quickly, contacts the ground and scoops up the snow, directing it into a discharge chute, which throws it out of your path. Single-stage snow blowers are also lighter and generally require less maintenance than two-stage blowers. The drawbacks of single-stage blowers are that they have two-cycle engines, which create more emissions and require you to mix oil and gasoline before filling the tank. Also, because the auger contacts the ground, you cannot use them on gravel surfaces, unless your goal is to have small rocks flying toward you and the windows in your home. Single-stage snow blowers do not have as much power as two-stage blowers, so they're not appropriate for areas that receive more than six inches in one snowfall or that receive heavy, wet snow.
Two-stage snow blowers are heavier and more expensive than single-stage blowers, but the clearing path is wider, usually between 20 and 31 inches. Unlike a single-stage blower, two-stage snow blowers have a slow-turning metal auger that scoops up the snow, which is then sucked up by an impeller and thrown out through the discharge chute. The auger on a two-stage blower doesn't touch the ground, so they can be used on gravel. You will need to be sure to set the scraper bar high enough that it doesn't contact the gravel.
Two-stage snow blowers will handle most wet, heavy snowfalls with ease, as well as deeper snowfalls of up to twelve inches. In addition, two-stage blowers are self-propelled, so you only need to guide them. This doesn't necessarily mean they're easy to handle, as anyone who's ever been covered in a mountain of snow tossed by his own snow blower can attest! Most two-stage blowers have at least two forward speeds and one reverse speed. They also have a four-cycle engine, which is cleaner and doesn't require mixed fuel. One disadvantage is that they do not provide as clear a path as a single-stage blower, since the auger never touches the ground.
- Once you've decided which kind of snow blower is right for you, you'll need to decide how wide its clearing path should be. As mentioned before, single-stage blowers have a narrower clearing path than two-stage blowers, although within these general guidelines, there is a lot of variation. Some factors to consider in this decision are: How much space do you have in which to store your snow blower and how comfortable are you in handling it? A machine with a wider clearing path will obviously take up more space in your garage and be more difficult to handle, especially when turning.
- Next, decide which options are most important to you. You'll probably want a discharge chute that can be adjusted while the machine is in use, so that you don't throw snow onto an area that you just finished clearing. Some machines have a manual crank which is located on the handle. Others have a joystick, which mechanically controls the direction of the chute. Either one will work just fine for most people--it's simply a matter of personal preference. Another option that's very useful during the short days of winter is a headlight. If you find yourself spending a lot of time clearing snow in the dark, this can be a worthwhile investment. If you do not enjoy the thought of standing around trying to get your snow blower started in the cold, you may want an electric start. Some snow blowers also have heated handgrips as an option!
- If you receive only occasional, light snowfalls or have a very small space to clear, you may want to consider an electric snow blower. You will have to contend with a power cord if you choose an electric snow blower, so you'll need to make sure you have both a long extension cord and a nearby outlet. Another option for very light snowfalls is a power shovel. These look like a combination of a weed trimmer and a scoop shovel. They have an auger in front which blows the snow in your path ahead of you. These do not have wheels, so they are not appropriate for heavier snowfalls.
Now you can pick the best snow blowers for your needs. With a little bit of planning, these tools will turn a tedious, time-consuming task into a quick, (almost) easy job!