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Snow Shoveling Tips

Clearing a Driveway The Easy Way

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Snow shoveling isn't fun, but it's often unavoidable. In my part of the world (New England, U.S.), it's ill-advised to allow even the most meager snowfall to go unshoveled in your driveway, lest it later melt and refreeze. The resulting sheet of ice becomes a slipping hazard. And while, yes, you can apply ice-melt products to it after the fact, why waste the money?

Even those who use snowblowers often have to "touch up" later in certain areas with a shovel. Consult the snow shoveling tips below to the make the job go more smoothly -- and to make it less boring, as well.

1. Snow Shoveling Preparations: Safety, Comfort, Efficiency

Man shoveling snow on driveway
Philip and Karen Smith/Photodisc/Getty Images

As for any yard maintenance job, priority #1 in snow shoveling is safety, followed closely by comfort and efficiency. Consider doing the following before you even step outside:

 

  • Stretch your muscles to prevent injury
  • Dress in layers to stay warm
  • Vow to take breaks: Continuous snow shoveling can be hazardous to the health of those in not-such-great shape
  • "Wax" your shovel blade

 

The idea behind waxing your shovel blade is to make it slippery, thereby preventing snow from sticking to it. But don't take "wax" literally: Although candle wax, floor wax or car wax may be used, Pam spray works fine, too.

2. Staying Safe

The stretching I had you do above is just step #1 in snow shoveling the safe way. Once you step outside and start wielding your shovel, remember the following:

 

  • Bend your knees and lift with your legs
  • As you lift the snow, keep the shovel blade close to you, to reduce back strain
  • Switch off between snow shoveling right-handed and left-handed, so that you're working different muscles
  • Likewise, periodically change your grip on the hand holding the bar (palm under vs. palm over)
  • When the snowfall is heavy (1 foot in depth, let's say), don't try to clean right down to the ground with a single scoop. Instead, skim the top 6 inches off, then scoop up the bottom 6 inches. Otherwise, you could be hurting yourself by lifting too much.

 

3. Snow Shoveling Tip for Those Who Park in the Driveway

Save yourself some time and trouble by clearing a path to the driver's door of your car first. Once inside, start your car and turn on the defrosting mechanisms (front and back). Crank the heat full-blast, even though only cold air will come out initially (it will have a chance to warm up while you're snow shoveling).

By defrosting your windows, you make it easier to clear snow (and ice) off them. Besides, when you're done snow shoveling, don't you want a nice warm car to get into?

By clearing a path to your car first, you avoid trampling down snow on the way. Trampled snow has to be removed later, anyway, and it's tougher to remove than unpacked snow.

4. Have a Plan Before You Start Snow Shoveling

Leave 2 areas for last:

 

  1. Don't fuss about the rest of the snow around the car just yet. More snow will accumulate there when you clean the car, so you might as well wait till then to clean up around the perimeter of the car.
  2. Hold off on snow shoveling (with any degree of thoroughness) where your driveway meets the street. As plows go by, they'll be barricading that area with more snow. Save this area till you're ready to pull out with your car (or till after you've rested up).

 

Speaking of resting, if you can afford the luxury of clearing a driveway in stages, that's the way to go. If the storm's over, divide the workload into sections; if the storm's still in progress, make a preliminary sweep, then go back after the storm.

5. Snow Shoveling the Same Material Twice Doesn't Make Sense

Here's another tip that falls into the "planning" category.

When you're snow shoveling, don't create huge piles right along the edge of your driveway. For one thing, some of the chunks will end up tumbling down back into your driveway, meaning you have to remove them twice. Instead, heave each shovel-full a decent distance away from your driveway.

You'll be glad you did when the next storm makes its deposit: because, when that time arrives, you'll have a little more room to play with.

Likewise, before you start making piles, take into account what areas should be left open. For example, don't dump the white stuff in front of the door of an outbuilding, especially if you plan on clearing a path to it later (why move the same material twice?)

6. What to Ponder While You're Snow Shoveling

Because snow removal is about as boring as mowing the lawn, it's a good idea to have a few things to ponder, so as to keep your mind busy. You could always contemplate the meaning of life, but since this is a landscaping site, I'm going to give you something plant-oriented to ponder.

As you're wielding your shovel around, do you find that some shrubs you've planted are in your way? If a shrub you've planted close to the driveway becomes a nuisance in winter when you're snow shoveling, now's the time to make a note to transplant it in spring.

Likewise, what better time to size up your winter landscape than during the mindless task of snow shoveling? Do you have enough evergreen shrubs in your yard to create winter interest?

7. Snow Shoveling Tip: The Icy "Mulch"?

Jack Frost may be nipping at your nose while you're snow shoveling, but there's no reason for your mind to become as numb as your nose! That's why I'm determined to keep your mind busy while you're slinging Old Man Winter's refuse around.

Here's something else to think about: Since snow is a great insulator (sort of a "mulch," if you will), why not direct some of your tosses into a planting bed? Just be careful on 2 scores:

 

  1. Keep your tosses low: Shrub branches brittle with the winter cold can easily snap off
  2. Keep the snow from nearest the road away from your plants: It may be laden with road salt

 

Some plants are more salt-tolerant than others, but there's no sense in taking a chance.

8. Don't Forget Your Shrubs While Snow Shoveling

While on the subject of plants, keep an eye out for shrub branches that are groaning under the burden of excessive snow. To prevent such branches from snapping, gently brush the snow off them.

I mentioned above the insulating value of snow for plants, but it can insulate your foundation, too. Consequently, I line my foundation with shovel-fulls of the white stuff wherever I can. Of course, this isn't a good idea if you have any drainage issues with your foundation.

9. Create a Windbreak When Snow Shoveling

Along the same lines, a big snowfall can be turned into a nice windbreak, if you aim your tosses properly. I have a chain-link fence along the north side of my house, which also happens to be near my driveway. So when I'm clearing the driveway in winter, I make it a point to heave some shovel-fulls up against this fence. This windbreak does double-duty, since it also protects some shrubs on the house-side of the fence from wind damage.

10. Would It Be Better to Use a Snowblower?

What better time to evaluate your current snow shovel than when you're out snow shoveling? If you find yourself in pain, it may be due to your equipment. Should you switch to an ergonomic snow shovel?

Another thought they may enter your mind when snow shoveling is, "Should I buy a snowblower?" Don't jump to any hasty conclusions. Old Man Winter may have you pretty depressed at the moment, while you're in the process of cleaning up after him. But consider the following objections:

 

  • You may not receive enough snowfall in your area to warrant the investment
  • Likewise, if you have a small driveway, a snowblower may not be worth the bother
  • Snowblowers take up storage space year-round
  • Snowblowers are noisy and require maintenance and fuel

 

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