Shoveling snow from your driveway can be back-breaking work. So when you’re charged with digging out after a blizzard strikes your neighborhood, a snow blower can be your saving grace.
Whether you’re interested in purchasing your first snow blower – or are tempted to invest in a new one – this guide offers everything you need to know.
What to Consider When Buying a Snow Blower
Like buying a car, there is a wide range of options available when choosing a snow blower – each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Buying the right snow blower will ultimately come down to finding the machine that’s best matched to your unique needs.
Here are three things you’ll want to consider.
How large is the area you want to clear? Consider the length and width of your driveway – as well as any other areas you’d like to clear, like sidewalks, walkways and decks. For small areas, a single-stage blower (we cover the stages below) may perform just fine. But homeowners with longer driveways will be happier with a larger two- or three-stage snow blower.
What type of terrain do you want to clear? If you want to remove snow from a deck, porch or patio, small single-stage blowers often feature plastic or rubber blades to prevent surface damage. If your driveway is on a slope, you’ll want a snow blower with engine-driven wheels to avoid pushing it uphill. And if your driveway is made of gravel, you’ll be limited to a large two- or three-stage snow blower. That’s because single-stage models position the auger close to the ground, which can suck up stones and gravel.
How much snowfall do you get? If your area consistently gets no more than a few inches of powder at a time, then a lower-powered, single-stage snow blower can get the job done. But if you need something capable of blasting away more than 6 to 8 inches of snow, look for a two- or three-stage snow blower with a wider clearing width.
What Type of Snow Blower Should I Choose?
In general, there are three types of snow blower designs on the market today: single-stage, two-stage and three-stage. Each “stage” represents an auger or impeller that helps clear snow away from the machine. Here’s a quick overview of each design.
Single-stage snow blowers: These small machines are generally light and easy to handle. They feature a single auger that operates close to the ground. As it rotates, the auger directs snow through the discharge chute. Single-stage machines are the least powerful type of snow blower. They can work well for clearing walkways, patios and short driveways. The wheels are not engine driven, so you should avoid purchasing a single-stage snow blower if your driveway is on a hill. And if you regularly get more than a few inches of snow – or your driveway is longer than 60 feet – you should probably step up to a larger two-stage snow blower.
Two-stage snow blowers: These snow blowers are designed to clear significantly more snow than a single-stage machine. A large intake opening clears a path between two- and three-feet wide with each pass, while handling snow depths of 20 inches or more. The intake area employs a large auger to push snow into the chute, while a secondary impeller throws snow up to 60 feet away. Because of their additional weight and power, two-stage snow blowers also feature engine-driven wheels that propel the machine forward.
Three-stage snow blowers: Three-stage snow blowers are the newest addition to the market. They are similar to a two-stage blower, but incorporate a third impeller – called an accelerator. The accelerator spins perpendicular to the main auger, working to cut through snow and ice before quickly forcing it through the chute. These machines are bigger, heavier and more expensive than a two-stage snow blower. But it may be a good choice if you face frequent, heavy snowfall.
Should I Buy a Gas or Electric Snow Blower?
Once you’ve decided between a single-stage, two-stage or three-stage snow blower, you have one more decision to make: Gas or electric. Here’s a breakdown of your power-source options:
Corded electric: Available on single-stage snow blowers, a corded electric machine is both light and inexpensive. But since it requires being plugged into a power source, it also has its share of drawbacks. Your snow-clearing range is limited to the length of the power cord, maneuverability can be a challenge, and you can’t use the snow blower in the event of a power outage.
Battery-powered: Running on battery power provides the benefits of an electric motor (quiet operation and lighter weight) without the drawbacks of a power cord. But you’ll also have to manage limited run times and less snow-clearing power, compared to a gas engine. It’s also important to note that while some two-stage battery-powered snow blowers are available, opting for a cordless electric snow blower may limit your options to a single-stage machine.
Gas: A gas snow blower offers more power and better performance than an electric model. You’ll also have better mobility and can run the machine until the job is done. However, there are some drawbacks: Gas snow blowers require more maintenance – like performing seasonal oil changes and using fuel stabilizers. And they are significantly louder and heavier than their electric counterparts.
How Much Does a Snow Blower Cost?
There’s a huge range in snow blower prices – depending on the type of snow blower you buy. On the low end, a small corded electric single-stage model could cost less than $200. But if you’re looking for a large two- or three-stage gas blower, you can easily spend $2,000 or more.
What Additional Snow Blower Features Are Available?
These days, snow blowers can be purchased with a wide range of available features. Knowing what your options are can go a long way toward picking the snow blower that’s right for you. So it’s worth taking some time to think about what’s essential – and what’s just nice to have – in your next snow blower.
Battery size: For cordless electric models, take note of the battery voltage and calculate whether it can hold a charge long enough to clear your driveway. If not, consider buying an extra battery so you don’t have to abandon the job before it’s finished.
Electric starter: For gas engines, an electric starter can be a game changer. If you have access to a power source, consider this convenient alternative to yanking on a manual pull starter in the pre-dawn dark.
Clearing ability: If you need your snow blower to throw further so it can handle a wide driveway, look for a higher cubic-centimeter rating.
Clearing width and intake height: If you will be pushing the machine into deeper drifts, the dimensions of your snow blower intake are numbers you should pay close attention to.
Power steering: This option helps you move large two- and three-stage snow blowers with ease – even during tough jobs.
Tires: Large, chunky tires have better grip and do a better job maneuvering on snow and ice.
Tracks: For steep terrain, some snow blowers offer rubber tracks (like what you’d find on a military tank) in place of wheels.
Chute control: This enables you to adjust the direction in which snow blows. Some come with a joystick or a remote control to help you change direction.
Heated hand grips: They feel especially nice on those cold, blustery mornings and nights.
Headlight: An essential add-on for those dark winter mornings – especially if your outdoor lighting can’t illuminate your entire drive.
Skid shoes: These side-mounted slides help you adjust the auger height up and down, which is essential for operation on gravel driveways.
How to Safely Use a Snow Blower
Snow blowers can spare you from the strain and exertion of shoveling. But these powerful machines come with their own set of risks. To avoid injuring yourself while using your snow blower, follow these safety tips.
Never stick your hand in a snow blower. Snow blowers feature a wide-open and exposed auger system that spins very fast. So never, ever stick your hand near a running snow blower. If snow or ice gets stuck in the machine, always turn it off and use the stick that comes with your snow blower to clear the blockage.
Secure loose clothing and hair. Tie back long hair and secure scarves, pants and other loose clothing before turning on the machine. This will ensure nothing gets pulled into the spinning auger.
Watch for electric cords. If you have a plug-in model, always be aware of the cord’s location.
Clear debris. Before snow accumulates, collect any objects from your sidewalk and driveway – including doormats, newspapers, toys and pet leashes. This way, they won’t be pulled into the machine accidentally.
Keep clear of the machine. While children and pets may want to play in that shower of snow pouring out of the chute, doing so could be dangerous. Rocks, sticks and chunks of ice that are drawn into your snow blower can become dangerous projectiles. So keep people and pets a safe distance from the discharge area.
Be aware of carbon monoxide. Never start a gas-powered machine inside a garage or shed. Doing so puts you at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Always take it outdoors before starting the engine.
Put on snow boots. The right footwear can help prevent slips and falls while using your snow blower.
Wear adequate hearing protection. When working with a machine or appliance that requires you to shout to be heard, wear adequate hearing protection like quality earplugs or earmuffs (or both) to protect your hearing. At 106 decibels, a running snow blower is in the category of “extremely loud,” according to the American Speech Language Association. That means prolonged exposure could cause hearing loss.
How to Maintain Your Snow Blower
Much like your car’s engine, the engine in your gas-powered snow blower needs attention from time to time. Before winter weather strikes, give the machine a complete inspection. And revisit it with a mid-season checkup, too – just to make sure everything is okay.
Follow this checklist to help keep your snow blower in great shape for years to come:
Keep the owner’s manual handy. Following it will ensure you always use the correct gasoline, oil grade, lubricant and replacement parts.
Inspect your snow blower to make sure the belts are not worn and the bolts are tightened.
Change the oil annually.
Regularly lubricate the drive and chassis.
Change the spark plugs according to the manufacturer’s recommended timeline.
Inspect the scraper bar and starter cord for signs of damage and replace when necessary.
How to Store Your Snow Blower
During the winter months, always take a moment to clear away any snow remaining inside the machine. You can do this by running it on a cleared surface before wheeling it back into the garage or shed between uses.
When winter is over, drain any remaining gasoline and properly dispose of it. (You can skip this step if you add fuel stabilizer to the tank instead.) This is also a good time to inspect the bolts and parts for damage, and to lubricate the machine.
For summer storage, wheel your snow blower to a low-traffic area in your shed or garage and cover it with a tarp. Then, your snow blower should be ready to go when the temperatures begin to fall.
We’re Looking After You
Homeownership has many rewards. But it also involves its share of demands – like clearing that foot of snow from your driveway. As an Erie Insurance customer, you can rest assured knowing that while you’re looking out for it, we’re looking out for you. To learn more about how homeowners insurance from ERIE can help you protect what matters most, contact us today.
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