Snow blanketing the home and yard is the best part of winter. Snow days are all about hunkering down and getting cozy. But eventually, you have to go places, and that makes shoveling snow a stark reality. Learn valuable snow shoveling tips to clear the pavement of snow and ice easier, faster, and safer.
Pick the Best Time to Shovel the Snow
Shovel snow after 2 to 4 inches of snow has fallen. Do so before the snow has been walked on or driven on to avoid compacting the snow into ice on the pavement.
While you may need to shovel snow early in the morning to get to work or school, the best time to shovel snow is during the warmest part of the day.
This time will vary according to the location, but it will usually be in the few hours after noon during winter. By this time, the pavement may have warmed up enough so that the snow isn't sticking or icing up.
Choose the Right Snow Shovel and Tools
A snow shovel is the main tool for shoveling snow, and you have a choice of at least three types: standard, ergonomic, or pusher.
Standard Snow Shovel
Standard shovels have straight shafts made of wood, metal, or plastic, with blades made of metal or metal-edged plastic. The rectangular, curved blade scoops up snow from the pavement without having to bend down too far. Economically priced, most standard snow shovels cost between $15 and $35.
For easier lifting, ergonomic snow shovels take on different shapes. Some ergonomic shovel shafts curve up in the middle, so your lifting hand doesn't have to reach down so low. With others, a second shaft sprouts up from the back of the blade for the lifting hand to grab.
Ergonomic snow shovels are best for anyone with back, neck, or arm mobility issues. Since they are designed to make snow shoveling easier, they can help anyone.
Pusher or Wide Shovel
With widths up to 24 inches, pusher or wide snow shovels are meant mostly for sliding along the pavement and pushing the snow out of the way. While you can pick up small amounts of snow, their blades are too large for lifting and throwing most snow.
It's always good to have a standard shovel on hand for places where you can't plow the snow out of the way.
Helpful Extra Tools
- Snow brush: Hand-held brushes capable of telescoping from 2 to 4 feet help you brush off vehicles.
- Spray lubricant: Spray water displacement (like WD-40), silicone, cooking oil, or wax applied to the snow shovel's blade help it to shed stuck snow.
- Roof rake: Dedicated roof rakes that extend up to 30 feet will pull snow down from roofs. Push brooms or rakes can be recruited as alternatives to remove snow from the gutters.
- Vehicle cover or tarp: If you don't keep your car in the garage, keep snow at bay with a vehicle cover or tarp.
- Ice melt: Granular ice melt will melt away thin ice or compacted snow, plus it may prevent new ice from developing during the next freeze cycle.
- Clothing: Wear thermal work gloves, a hat, and layered clothing that you can peel off as your body heats up.
Develop a Snow Shoveling Plan
Before you start shoveling snow, briefly form a plan. By planning, you'll avoid moving the snow more than once. Ask yourself where you will walk, which sections need to be cleared first, and where the shoveled snow should go.
- Clear pathways the width of the snow shovel to access areas around the yard.
- Avoid walking on or driving on the snow, if possible. Compacted snow is harder to remove.
- Pick a few locations to toss the snow, not just one central location. The lawn and the edges of the driveway work well. Favor areas that get the most sunlight, since snow mounds take a long time to melt.
How to Shovel Snow the Right Way
Layer up your clothing, wear gloves, and put on boots with good traction to help with pushing snow. Wear clothing that will wick away the sweat. Place a bottle of water just inside the door to the house so you can easily access it.
Push the Snow
Starting with the pathways, use the pusher shovel or the straight shovel to push snow out of the way from pathways, driveways, and decks to access other areas of the property without walking on the snow.
Clear the Highest Levels
Clear off the snow on the highest levels first, then work downward. Start with cars or fragile foliage. Likewise, if you need to clear snow from the edges of single-story roofs, reach up with a snow rake or push broom and drag the snow down. Clear while standing on the ground. Never stand on a snowy, icy, or wet roof.
Clear Critical Places
House inlets and outlets might be blocked with high snow. For safety reasons, these must be cleared. This includes dryer vents, wall-mounted exhaust vents, HVAC drip pipes, basement windows, and doors. Use the snow brush or angled broom to lightly brush away the snow.
Clear High Snow and Drifts
Avoid pushing or lifting snow more than four to six inches high. Clear high deposits of snow and drifts by turning the shovel backward and slicing down on the snow. After loose snow has fallen, scoop it away.
Lift Snow Correctly
When lifting snow with the shovel, fill the blade to a quarter- to half-full or about the size of a basketball. Keep your back straight. Hold your lifting hand as close to the blade as possible. Then, lift the shovel with your legs, not with your back. Walk the snow to its location so that you can toss it only a short distance. Do not twist as you lift or throw the snow.
Chop Thin Ice
Thin compacted snow and some ice can often be broken up to accelerate the melting process. Turn the snow shovel backward. Chop the snow or ice several times, each slice about an inch away from the next one.
Add Ice Melt on Stubborn Ice
For compacted snow or ice that cannot be easily chopped, apply snow melt. With a gloved hand, spread the ice melt at the rate of about 1/4-cup per 25 square feet (5 feet by 5 feet). Give the snow melt sufficient time to work—about 20 to 30 minutes—and then gently chop the ice again.
Add Ice Melt on Clear Areas
Spread the ice melt across areas that you have cleared of snow and ice. This will prevent hard ice from developing under new snow and will make it easier to shovel snow the next time.
Prepare for Additional Snow Shoveling
When you expect more snow to fall, prepare for that eventuality. Place the snow shovel upright against the side of the house, outside of the snowfall. Or put it in a mudroom on top of an old towel.
Seal the top of the ice melt bag with a spring clamp. You can also pour the ice melt into an airtight plastic container and include a scoop. Be sure to clearly label the container and keep it away from children and pets.
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Flakes are Falling Again: Here's the Safe Way to Shovel Snow. UC San Diego Health.
Shovelling: Snow. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
Snow Shovel Safety: Why do People Die Shoveling Snow? National Safety Council.
Prevent Electrical Problems. Town of Mansfield Fire Safety and Prevention.
Snow Density and Volume. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).