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How to Remove Snow

A Comparison Between Snow Shoveling and Snowblowing

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Picture of wide-grip snow shovel.

Don't throw away that old snow shovel just yet!

David Beaulieu

In exploring how to remove snow from a residential driveway, at most we have five basic choices:

  1. Snowblowing
  2. Shoveling the snow
  3. Finding someone else to shovel your snow
  4. Hiring snowplow contractors
  5. Installing a heated driveway

I say that "at most" there are five ways to remove snow because few homeowners would consider the possibility of having a heated driveway installed. Of the remaining four options, this article offers a comparison between the two choices that can be considered "DIY" methods to remove snow: shoveling and snowblowing.

More specifically, since most of you already know how to shovel snow and the pros and cons of that method to remove snow, the present article explores the pros and cons of snowblowing. I begin by arguing why it may not be worth your while to go out and buy a snowblower. But don't consider this a blanket indictment of snowblowers. My advice is meant to save folks who don't belong buying a snowblower from making a costly mistake. I'm in no way trying to dissuade those whom a snowblower could really help from purchasing one; if you think you fall into this group, I address your needs at the end of the article (the "pro-snowblower" section, if you will).

Will It Take Longer to Remove Snow With a Shovel or a Snowblower?

First of all, when comparing two pieces of equipment in terms of how long it takes to complete a task with them, you must take into account everything involved in the two respective processes -- and I mean everything. To shovel a driveway, all you have to do is to grab the shovel, remove the snow with it and put the shovel back wherever you store it (in my case, that's right outside my back door, so no extra effort whatsoever is required).

Compare the simplicity of that process with what's involved in using, say, an electric snowblower. To use the latter, you must:

  • Take it out of storage
  • Locate an extension cord
  • Move any cars that might be parked in your driveway
  • Plug in the electric snowblower (perhaps first shoveling a path to the electrical outlet)
  • Do your snowblowing
  • Unplug the electric snowblower
  • Clean it off
  • Store the unit and the extension cord away once again
  • Return your vehicles to their parking spaces
  • Should the electric snowblower ever need repair, that means an extra hassle

I make note of the necessity to move automobiles around in order to complete the task simply because this means extra time and effort on your part -- again, time and effort that must be considered when making a comprehensive evaluation of the relative merits of two different methods of snow removal. The fact is, when shoveling, you can easily remove snow around any cars parked in your driveway; shoveling boasts the advantage of maneuverability. But snowblowing puts you in a straight-jacket: i.e., it is best done in long, straight sweeps, for which you'll need an unobstructed path. So you will most likely have to move parked cars when using a snowblower.

Consider also that, when you're snowblowing, you have less control over where the snow will be deposited than when you're shoveling. Let's say, for example, that there's a shrub planted along your driveway that you don't want to heap snow upon. When shoveling, it's easy enough to avoid covering the poor bush. But when you're removing snow with a snowblower, it's not so easy. You have to adjust your angle, so that the snow will be blown either to the left or to the right of the shrub in question (and even then, the wind may thwart your good intentions). That's a real pain, especially if it's not just a matter of a single bush.

Taking all this into account, I would estimate that I can shovel my driveway in 1/3 the time it takes me to clear it with an electric snowblower. And that's probably an underestimation of the time savings from shoveling, since I'm not factoring in how much time is wasted during snowblowing to wait for a contrary wind to pass (so that the snow doesn't blow back into my face).

When It Makes Sense to Buy a Snowblower to Remove Snow

Of course, one size does not fit all. If shoveling is physically impossible (or at least very difficult) in your case for health reasons, then a snowblower can be a godsend, assuming you can get it to start up. Having the right machine can make the difference between enjoying self-reliance versus having to rely on someone else to remove snow from your driveway.

But the question then becomes, Would I be better off with a gas snowblower or an electric snowblower? It's important to get this decision right when buying, because the two have distinct pros and cons.

If you have a long driveway and your health isn't too bad, I recommend buying a gas-powered model. You don't want to be dragging a cord along for a great distance.

But for smaller spaces, electric snowblowers are ideal. They're easy to move around (being light-weight), easy to store (being compact), and easy to maintain (no need for oil and gas). Furthermore, I recommend them for people who are trying to avoid physical strain, precisely because they are light-weight.

If, to the contrary, you're in reasonably good health and this article has convinced you of the virtues of good old-fashioned shoveling, you may wish to proceed to my pieces on ergonomic snow shovels and aluminum snow shovels to help you pick a tool right for you.

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