The Best Way to Clear the Snow Pile at the End of Your Driveway

Here's how to attack what the municipal snow plow leaves behind

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Nothing is more frustrating than clearing snow from your driveway only to have the municipal plow leave a wall of dirty snow, blocking your access to the street.

Argh. But where else is the snow supposed to go? Fortunately, there are a few strategies you can use to avoid a big pileup and to remove the crusty line of snow and ice the plow leaves behind.

Removing stubborn plow piles is part of Consumer Reports' tough snow blower tests. But because we test in the off-season, we use wet sawdust instead of snow. "We create a block of sawdust by packing it into a mold and then test how long the snow blower takes to remove the pile, how well it cleans the surface, and how far it throws the snow," says Dave Trezza, who oversees our snow blower tests.

Most three-stage and two-stage snow blowers are pretty adept at this test, but less powerful machines, such as some compact two-stage and all of the one-stage models in our tests, struggle to get the job done. So if you're plagued by plow piles, check our full snow blower ratings and recommendations for machines that ace the test.

How to Tackle a Snow Pile

Watch the weather. Don’t put off clearing away the pile if the temperatures are dropping and the wind is blowing the snow into drifts. But if the day is getting warmer and you have no place to go, you can wait to take advantage of better conditions. Keep in mind, however, that melting, water-logged snow can be heavy.

More on Snow Blowers

Start with your shovel. If you have a snow blower, you shouldn’t have a problem blowing away soft, fluffy snow. But once it’s crusty and frozen, you’ll need to change tactics. Use a shovel to break the mound into smaller chunks that you can toss aside or that will fit into the snow blower’s intake more readily. This is especially important if you have an undersized snow blower, such as a single-stage gas or battery-powered machine, that doesn’t have the power to crush crusty snow on its own.

Less is more. Even if you have a beefier snow blower, take care that it doesn’t become clogged by chunking up the job. Take smaller passes at about half the width of the intake. It may take more time, but you’ll have fewer interruptions stopping to unclog the machine, and it will throw the snow you do attack faster and farther.

Plan ahead for the next storm. Homeowners who live in regions that get one snowstorm after another have developed a technique that minimizes the amount of snow a plow can shove into an open driveway. Facing the street, use a shovel or snow blower to clear a space to the left of your driveway that’s 10 feet long and at least a car width wide. That way, when the plow comes down the street, it pushes most of the snow into that area and not into your driveway.

Be kind to the plow operator. As annoying as the plow pile may be, don’t give in to the impulse to hurl the snow back into the street. According to the snow plow pros we talked to, that just prolongs the problem, causing them to make more passes to clear the road. The result? Another plow pile.

3 Snow Blowers That Destroy the Plow Pile

To earn a top mark in plow pile removal, a snow blower must clean well, throw the snow far, and do both quickly. Here are three models of different sizes that aced our tough plow pile test.

Snow Business

Mary H.J. Farrell

Knowing that I wanted to be a journalist from a young age, I decided to spiff up my byline by adding the middle initials "H.J." A veteran of online and print journalism, I've worked at People, MSNBC, Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and an online Consumer Reports wannabe. But the real thing is so much better. Follow me on Twitter.