Tips that clear the way for your snowblower purchase

From gas to electric, make sure you buy the best one for your home

Go Home

December 10, 2005|By ALAN J. HEAVENS

The season's first snow has hit, meaning for many of us, it's time to start thinking seriously about a snowblower.

Here's one way of thinking: I've used my blower only three times in eight years. Why? Because it (pick one): snows too little; snows too much; the snow is too dry and blows around; the snow is too wet and clogs the machine. But that's me.

So here's another: If you buy a snowblower, make sure to get the one that will do the best job at your home. Here are the essentials.

The basics: Most electric-powered snowblowers don't have the oomph to shift great quantities of snow, though they are more environmentally friendly than gasoline-powered blowers. Going electric is an option if you live in a rowhouse with a small sidewalk and an alley, have a protected cord that is long enough and have a ground-fault circuit interrupter outlet to plug it into.

Gas-engine snowblowers come in three varieties: small, single-stage models under 5 horsepower; medium, two-stage throwers with 5 to 7 h.p.; and large, two-stage throwers that are more than 8 h.p.

How they work: Single-stage blowers use a high-speed auger assembly made from a combination of metal and plastic or hard rubber. The auger spins at high speed to chip ice and snow, collect it and direct it out a discharge chute. The machine is self-propelling to a degree, but you still have to guide the blower along.

In a two-stage blower, the auger breaks up the snow, then feeds it into a high-speed impeller that throws it out of the chute. Two-stage blowers are wheel-propelled, meaning that if the auger gets clogged with snow, the machine will continue to move forward without your having to stop, shut it off, wait a few minutes, clean the auger, restart it and get moving again. Some two-stage blowers let you apply power to each wheel independently to aid turning; others require you to turn the blower manually.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, an auger-driven blower is fine; it can clear paths 12 inches to 22 inches wide. Heavier snowfalls will take a bit more effort and several passes.

Key question: How far does the blower blow the snow? Many models have multidirectional discharge chutes that can be aimed while the blower is in use. These models typically have wheels and can throw snow 25 to 35 feet.

The big don't: Don't buy too big - keep in mind both the weight of the machine and its maneuverability. If you don't, you might throw your back out as easily with a snowblower as with a snow shovel. Single-stage gasoline-powered models are good for sidewalks and small driveways. Driveways that are two car widths or wider and four cars long need a two-stage machine, which also can handle snow depths exceeding 6 inches.

What you'll pay: Gasoline-powered snowblowers go for $150 to $1,200. Electric models cost less than $80.

Think ahead: If you already own a blower, get it out and start it up before the first big snowfall to make sure it works properly. Then you should have enough time to have it repaired before you need it.

Last word: Each year, thousands of people are injured because they handle snowblowers improperly. Never put your hand down the chute or near the blades. Turn the machine off, then use a stick or broom handle to clear a clog.

Alan J. Heavens writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Whether you shovel or use a snowblower, dress warmly and cover your extremities. Wear a turtleneck sweater, cap, scarf, face protection, mittens, wool socks and waterproof boots.

Tips for safe snowblowing:

Before snow falls, inspect area to be cleared and remove any objects that might damage the snowblower or cause damage if ejected from the snowblower chute. Check the area again before operating the blower.

Keep the snowblower in good condition. For gas blowers, check the engine oil level before starting; for electric, make sure cords are undamaged.

Check the adjustment and operation of the clutch, blower system and chute positioning before each operating session.

Keep hands away from chute and blades. Know how to stop the machine quickly and shut off the engine.

Tips for safe snow shoveling:

Go slow. Shoveling can raise your heart rate and blood pressure drastically, so pace yourself. Be sure to stretch and warm up beforehand; rest as needed.

Shovel fresh snow to avoid lifting heavier, wet, packed-down snow.

Push the snow as you shovel. It's easier on your back than lifting the snow out of the way.

Don't pick up too much at once.

Lift with your legs bent, not your back. Keep your back straight.

[Sources: National Safety Council; North Dakota State University Extension Service]

Alternatives to snowblowers

We salute all of you who shovel your walkways and driveways the old-fashioned way - with a shovel. But if back strain has you considering the purchase of an ear-splitting, fume-making, neighbor-waking snowblower, consider the Wovel (rhymes with shovel).

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.