Winter's chill is in the air, and that means it may be time to shop for a snow blower.
There are a number of factors to consider. The first factor, obviously, is average snowfall. Light-duty electric snow blowers are perfectly suited to areas that get four to six inches of light snow during a typical snowstorm, but these models can start to bog down when snowfall is deeper and heavier.
Sidewalk and driveway width is another issue to examine, as the path size cleared by a snow blower can vary greatly. Terrain is also a concern, as areas with hills and longer pathways require more powerful equipment than flat surfaces and shorter distances.
Finally, size and weight should be taken into account, because it doesn't do you any good to purchase a snow blower that you can't maneuver.
The lightest-duty snow blowers are single-stage electric models. These quiet models are the easiest to handle, and the least expensive option. They are ideal for clearing flat, paved driveways and for shorter sidewalks. On the downside, single-stage electric models generally clear a narrower path, typically 11 to 16 inches, and require an outside electrical outlet and extension cord. Retail prices range from $150 to $300.
Single-stage gas-powered snow blowers can handle more snow and clear a wider path, typically 18 to 22 inches. These models feature an auger that draws the snow in, chops it up, and then propels it through a discharge chute. (The action of the auger also powers the wheels.) These models are suitable for flat, paved surfaces in areas where a typical snowfall amounts to six or eight inches. Retail prices range from $300 to $1,000.
Troy-Bilt Deluxe Two-Stage Polar Blast 4510 Snow Thrower; $2,299.99
Two-stage gas-powered snow blowers are heavy-duty models that can handle deeper snowfalls. These larger models typically clear pathways from 24 to 32 inches wide and can also handle packed snow and icy conditions. In two-stage models, the snow is drawn into the chute by the auger, then discharged by an impeller fan. The wheels are generally powered separately and can handle hills and non-paved surfaces. Prices range from $500 to $2,500.
Beyond these basic considerations, there are several options and extras to ponder-power steering, electric starters, heated handles, headlights, flexible enclosures and more.
Power steering comes in handy if you need to make a lot of turns when clearing a very wide driveway, or if you have a lot of curves or angles in your sidewalk. An electric start is a real plus if you don't have the strength or inclination to wrestle with a pull-start. Heated handles and a flexible, snap-on enclosure can make snow removal a much more comfortable experience, while headlights can be beneficial if you have to clear snow in the dark.
It's also a good idea to purchase a snow blower with multiple speeds as well as a “dead man's switch”, an important safety feature that stops the auger from spinning if the handle is released.
For more on snow blowers and winter maintenance, consider:
Winter Preparation Checklist
Quick Tip: Snowblower Safety
Everything You Need to Know About Winterizing Pipes