All you need to know about clearing snow

Get the most from your snow blower by working with the weather

Published: January 21, 2015 06:00 PM

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You can count on Consumer Reports for advice on how to choose a snow blower that’s right for the snow you typically face. Our snow blower Ratings tell you which models get the job done, and your product manual will help you master the snow blower’s controls. What you won’t find in the manual, however, is anything on the best strategy for clearing the snow itself once you’ve got your machine all fueled up and ready. Here are some tips:

Assess the job. Your driveway won’t change, but anything in it will complicate the job. This includes everything from the morning newspaper and stray branches or leaves to cars you can’t fit in your garage. If your town lets you park exposed vehicles in a municipal lot during snowstorms, consider it. Besides having a clearer path for your snow blower—with fewer occasions to change the chute’s direction—any snow you push off the car stays there, not in your driveway.

Exploit any sunlight. A driveway with a southern exposure will clear faster, even in the winter, just from the extra sunshine. For a northern exposure, much of your driveway may be in the shade when the sun is strongest. Here’s where you’ll need to work the hardest to clear the snow to the pavement, following up with a shovel and salt.

Work with the wind. You’ll learn quickly not to blow snow over parts of the driveway you’ve already cleared. After each storm, however, you’ll need to assess which way the wind is blowing—and how hard—and adjust the snow blower accordingly. Have neighboring properties close by? The harder the wind blows, the lower you should adjust your chute opening, or else you’ll be sending your white stuff next door. A high chute opening could also mean snow blowing back to parts of your own driveway or a walk you’ve already cleared.

Watch the forecasts. Keep in touch with what’s coming, and you can save yourself a lot of work. If the next day will be in the 40s, for instance, don’t knock yourself out scraping down to the bare pavement; just throw down some salt. But if the next day will be in the 20s or colder—high winds also tend to follow a storm—understand that whatever you don’t clear will freeze. This could mean using a pick rather than a snow blower for the plow pile delivered by your town’s snow plow. Another tip: Clearing a few small, fresh plow piles as the plow comes by is much easier than dealing with one that’s two feet high and compacted.

Be proactive. Working proactively could also save you some even harder labor. Two winters ago, this reporter could not sleep and at 4:45 a.m. looked out the window to see a layer of sleet had fallen. By daylight, neighbors had a sheet of ice more than an inch thick on their driveways, walks, and decks. Mine were clear because I’d gone out and shoveled everything off to the side while it was still mushy.

There are other tricks, such as using your snow blower to remove snow in the street, in the direction the plow comes, before the snow plow can return and pile it up in your driveway. Depending on the orientation, grade, and other characteristics of your driveway, you’ll learn a little bit more each winter.

Need a new snow blower?

A few models are still out there, but don’t hit the road before you read our snow blower buying guide—and check out our Ratings of more than 110 models. Our top-scoring models include the two-stage, 30-inch Cub Cadet 31AH57S, $1,500, and Ariens 921032, $1,300, and the single-stage, 21-inch Toro Power Clear 721E, $570. No corded-electric or battery-powered models made our list of picks; they’re suitable only for accumulations of about four inches or less.

—Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

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