Snow Removal Equipment: Choices for Homeowners

Shovels, Snowblowers, Snowplow Trucks and More

Picture of ergonomic snow shovel.
Picture of ergonomic shovel. David Beaulieu

Before I launch into my assessment of the various options for snow-removal equipment, let me assert what gives me the right to supply tips on this subject. I am a life-long New Englander. I have been removing snow from around my home and/or hiring someone else to remove it for the better part of 50 years. And during many a winter's day when I have not, myself been shoveling, snowblowing, etc., I have listened to other folks talking about how they deal with getting the white stuff off their driveways, walkways, etc.

In other words, I have more than a passing interest in choices for home snow-removal equipment: this is nothing less than a quality-of-life issue for someone who dwells in a part of the country where a snowstorm is possible at any time from November to April (speaking conservatively).

There are a number of different options for homeowners snowed in, and each has its own set of pros and cons. I provide some tips that will help you choose between the various options and find one that is right for you.

You can, of course, use snow shovels as your snow-removal equipment. In fact, to remove snow in areas such as around dryer vents, you almost have to shovel.

  • But this method of snow removal may not be an option for those with weak backs.
  • Nor is it as easy as it once was to find someone to shovel snow for you (that eager kid with a shovel in the neighborhood who'll take care of snow removal in your yard in exchange for a reasonable pay).
  • One alternative worth exploring for those with strong backs -- but who are just plain out of shape -- is the ergonomic shovel. And my snow shoveling tips can help you work smarter, not harder.

Or you can blow the snow away, using a snowblower as your snow-removal equipment.

  • But snowblowers take a bite out of your pay, and they require maintenance. It can be particularly irksome to have to work at getting a gas-powered snowblower to start up before you can even begin to clear snow away. Snowblowers also require storage space. For those without garages, this may be a tough requirement to meet. Ditto for those who do have garages, but who can never stand to throw anything away, preferring instead to just toss everything in the garage ("You never know, I might need this someday...").
  • Remember also that there's a reason this beast is named a "snowblower": It blows snow, not slush. Many people who pay for a snowblower thinking that they're purchasing a device that will solve all the problems caused by winter precipitation fail to take into account that Old Man Winter doesn't always serve up the powdery version of the white stuff. Stickier, slushier versions may pose problems for your machine.

If you don't have the storage space to house a snowblower, one alternative is to enter into a sharing agreement with neighbors.

  • In an article appearing in "The Wall Street Journal Online" ("Choosing Your Weapons For the Winter Season," filed January 29, 2002), Jeff Zaslow reported on the phenomenon of "plowsharing," or using a community snowblower to serve the snow-removal needs of a number of homes at once. Zaslow noted the complaints of snowplow truck drivers that business had dropped 15% to 20%, because more people were taking snow removal into their own hands again.
  • Sharing is a great tip, if your neighbors are pals of yours; otherwise, difficulties can arise here, too.

    If you have a truck, you could consider buying your own snowplow and attaching it to your truck, so that you could have your own snowplow truck. But for those who do not have a truck, the question is: Can you afford monthly bills to pay for a truck? Ford, Chevy and Dodge might approve of this snow-removal equipment, but your bank account might raise objections.

    On Page 2 of my snow-removal tips, we'll look at a couple more equipment options....

    Having already explored a few snow-removal options on Page 1, let's get down to the nitty-gritty and ask, What about the "old reliable" method for snow removal? No, I'm not referring to heated driveways; that technology, which I mention below, is too new to receive the "old reliable" tag. Instead, the method to which I refer entails standing in a snowbank up to your thighs at the front of your driveway, a sullen look on your face and a banged-up shovel slung over a drooping shoulder, waiting for drivers in pickup trucks with snow plows to drive by and make you an offer.

    The drawback here is obvious: If you need to get your car out onto the roads in a hurry, then this method just won't do. But if time is not a concern for you, then you can find some cheap snow plowing rates this way -- with or without the sullen look. Truck drivers with snow plows who are on their way home (after taking care of regular customers) are sometimes not averse to picking up a few extra bucks, if you're willing to keep the snow plowing simple.

    There's some new snow-removal equipment on the market now that's anything but simple. You don't operate this equipment; rather, it lives under your driveway. I'm referring to snowmelt systems, also called "heated driveways." For an introduction to this new technology, please consult my FAQ on Heated Driveways.

    But heated driveways come with a hefty price tag. If you still think hiring snow plows is your best snow-removal option, continue on to Page 3.

    We'll discuss a more reliable way of obtaining snow plowing help than the "old reliable" method....

    I was, of course, being facetious in referring to the "old reliable" method for snow removal on Page 2. It is anything but that. You can, however, simply take this snow-removal method to the next level: Strike a deal with a local snowplowing contractor to pay for snowplowing after each snowstorm, as part of a regular route. But be careful: Some of these snowplowing contractors like to conduct business on an informal level....

    If you are going to enter into verbal agreements with snowplowing contractors, then specify firmly and in great detail what you want done, and make sure you're convinced that the snowplowing contractor seems responsive to what you're saying. There are some considerations to be mindful of that may not be immediately apparent. For instance, if the entry to your garage parallels the run of your driveway, will the snowplow leave a snowbank piled up in front of your garage door after making its pass? If so, and if that snowbank is not cleared away as part of the snow-removal operation, then what? The rest of your driveway may now be clear, but your car will remain barricaded within the garage.

    To eliminate such potential problems, it is best to move not one, but two levels up beyond the "old reliable" method of snow removal. And this means taking the name "snowplowing contractor" seriously....

    After all, if snow-removal is to be done by a snowplowing contractor to your satisfaction, with no surprises, shouldn't there be...well, a snow-removal contract? The snowplowing contractor should come to your property to scope it out, sit down and talk with you about your snow-removal needs, and put it all in writing.

    Beyond that, consider the following tips when interviewing people for the job of snow removal:

    • Ask for an estimate from each snowplowing contractor whom you interview, since the bill for snow removal can vary greatly.

    • In addition to having the driveway snowplowed, some (the elderly, for instance) may need paths and stairs cleared. This is the time to talk about it. Such work can be more time-consuming than the snowplowing itself, so expect to pay dearly for it. Time is money.

    • The snow-removal contract should spell out whether there's a flat rate, or the bill is calculated based on the size of the snowstorm.

    • If the snowplowing contractor has to dig you out twice for a big snowstorm, is there an additional bill?

    • Get the total bill that you can expect to be charged for dealing with a snowstorm, so that you have something solid on which to base your comparisons. If one snowplowing contractor's estimate is higher than another's, you just might find out that it's due to honesty: perhaps the cost for salt and sand has been included in the bill, whereas the "cheaper" service is simply keeping quiet about it, waiting to nail you with a hidden cost afterwards.

    • The snow-removal contract should show evidence that the service has insurance against damage caused by snow removal. A snowplow can easily damage driveways, buildings, fences, etc.

    • Before you sign a snow-removal contract, find out the conditions for terminating it, should the need arise.

    • As always when hiring to have work done, ask for references and check them out. Snow-removal services who do good work won't have anything to hide -- word of mouth is their best advertisement.

    Research the various types of snowblowers on Consumer Search.