Snow Shoveling Tips

Clearing a Driveway The Easy Way

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...MORE shoveling tips below to the make the job go more smoothly -- and to make it less boring, as well.

  • 01 of 10

    Snow Shoveling Preparations: Safety, Comfort, Efficiency

    man shoveling snow
    Learn how to be safe, comfortable, and efficient in shoveling snow. knape/iStock

    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:

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

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

  • 02 of 10

    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:

    1. Bend your knees and lift with your legs
    2. As you lift the snow, keep the shovel blade close to you, to reduce back strain
    3. Switch off between snow shoveling right-handed and left-handed, so that you're working different muscles
    4. Likewise, periodically change your grip on the hand holding the bar (palm under vs. palm over)
    5. When the snowfall is...MORE 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.
  • 03 of 10

    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 clean the snow (and ice) off them. Besides, when you're done snow shoveling, don't you want a nice warm car to get...MORE 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.

  • 04 of 10

    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).

    Speakin...MOREg 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.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    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...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?)

  • 06 of 10

    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...MORE 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.

  • 07 of 10

    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.

  • 08 of 10

    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.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 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...MORE objections:

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

    Still weighing the pros and cons of buying a snowblower?  Reading my review of a Toro electric snowblower may help you make up your mind.

  • 10 of 10

    What to Ponder While You're Shoveling and an Important Safety Tip

    Dryer vent with snow around it, which is a safety hazard.
    A dryer vent with snow around it is a safety hazard. David Beaulieu

    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...MORE 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?

    What, you would prefer to keep your mind on the business at hand, namely, snow removal? OK, here is a highly relevant question to ponder while you are shoveling: "Am I missing any spots?" Some areas of the yard are easy to forget in winter but require your attention. One such area is that around a dryer vent.

    Do I Need to Clear Snow Away From My Dryer Vent? 

    Yes, you do, for two reasons:

    1. A dryer vent blocked by snow is a fire hazard.
    2. It also puts you at risk for exposure to carbon monoxide.

    So denizens of cold climates should make checking that such vents are free and clear of snow build-up part of their snow-removal regimen. When the vent is clogged, it can overheat, resulting in a fire. Besides, that vent is there for a reason: namely, to vent fumes.

    Whether you use a traditional aluminum shovel or prefer one of those newfangled plastic ergonomic shovels, be sure to remove any snowfall from the area where the exhaust comes out that is deep enough to cause a blockage.

    This precaution -- easily overlooked by the average homeowner -- could keep your home from going up in smoke.

    Your first thought in response may be, "But it never snows enough in my region for the snow pile-up around the dryer vent to be deep enough to cause a problem." Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Winds can cause snow drifts to accumulate in some spots that are much deeper than the depth of the overall snowfall level at any given time. If your dryer vent happens to be in such a spot, your dryer exhaust may be prevented from venting properly.

    Furthermore, if your dryer vent is not far from your driveway, you, yourself may inadvertently be causing blockage when you're snow blowing or shoveling snow. When your fingers are freezing, when your nose is running, when your eyes are tearing up from the cold, you may not be thinking as clearly as usual. You may be throwing snow right over your dryer vent and the surrounding area without realizing it. 

    If you can easily envision this happening to you, make it a point prior to the snowy season to delineate the path leading from your driveway to your dryer vent.

    It doesn't have to be anything fancy: perhaps just a few stakes that will serve as a reminder that you'll want to avoid piling up snow banks here. Otherwise, you may end up having to shovel the same snow a second time later in the winter in order to clear the way to your dryer vent. And if you hire someone else to shovel snow for you, be sure to explain this reasoning to them.

    Checking that your dryer vent is venting properly should be part of a more general winter checklist that would also include checking that:

    • Any other exhaust systems you may have around your home are venting properly.
    • The fire hydrant (if any) near your property is being kept clear of snow, so that the fire department has easy access to it in the event of a fire emergency.
    • Your house number can be read clearly from the street, in case an ambulance has to find your house.
    • Snow is removed from around street drains (remember, when the snowfall finally melts, the runoff can cause problems of its own unless drainage systems are kept up to par). Make sure you know exactly where the drain is before you need to get at it. Why? Because, by the end of a long, snowy, winter, a veritable glacier of ice and snow may have piled up in such an area, hiding it from view. And when you're hacking your way through ice, you don't want to have to go on an expedition to locate the drain. That would mean a lot of extra shoveling. So, in fall, take note of what feature on your property the drain lines up with. For example, our street drain lines up with the third post from the right on our chain-link fence.
    • Snow is removed from roof areas with a roof rake, as/if needed.

    But, in conclusion, let's return specifically to the issue of removing snow from around dryer vents. In addition to being a fire hazard, did you know that a snow pile in such an area can even physically damage the vent? That's exactly what happened one winter to the plastic dryer vent in the picture above. We were pounded with snowstorm after snowstorm that winter, and before it occurred to me to shovel out the vent area, a significant amount of snow had piled up there. The weight of the snow was heavy enough to cause the plastic to break at the corners, where screws attach the unit to my house.

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