How to Choose a Snow Blower

Welcome to winter and the land of snow removal. If you are a homeowner that lives in a snow belt, that is, any location that typically gets far more than the annual snowfall of a few inches each winter, you can save a lot of snow shoveling and exhausting work by utilizing a hand- operated snow blower. Under some conditions, there can be many tons of snow on even a short driveway; a hundred-foot driveway may have 20 tons or more of snow waiting to be removed. If you do not have a truck plow or a tractor, a walk-behind snow blower can be a real time-saver.

A snow blower is a motorized, mechanical means of removing snow, and models vary from small power snow shovels that will throw snow off of the back steps, to large, tracked machines that will clear a 48″ to 60″ wide path of deep, heavy snow , removing 20 or 30 tons of snow per hour or more. Most people do not require a machine that large, but how do you choose a snow blower that is right for your application?

Follow these general principles and tips to choose a snow blower and make your snow-handling job much easier this winter.

1. Choose appropriately sized machinery for the task. Do you wish to remove snow frm steps, deck, and sidewalk only, or a long driveway? What type of snow removal are you intending to do? A small power snow shovel is fine for clearing a tiny area or removing snow from steps, but it will not handle clearing heavy, wet snow 3′ deep from a 100′ long double driveway. If clearing short sections of sidewalk only, choose a smaller 26″ wide snow blower; if you clear sidewalks and a driveway, choose a blower that is 36″ to 42″ in size. For very large areas and very long driveways, choose a higher-powered 48″ blower or even bigger to save time. Consider this, though, will that machine be too big for you to handle? Consider your physical ability, and select the machine size carefully. Do try a snow blower out, by rental or demonstration to be better informed as to what any specific model can do.

2. Gasoline or Electric? A gasoline-powered blower is generally far more convenient but noisier than an electric unit. In small areas, such as on a back deck or a short sidewalk along a house, an extension cord on a blower can be manipulated easily and carefully, much as is done with an electric lawn mower. Electric units are usually suitable for small areas only. Battery operated machinery is more maneuverable, but must be recharged.

3. How big should the motor be? Is bigger better? Blowers range from 4 h.p. to 20 hp or larger in size. For any specific sized unit, however, as a rule of thumb, choose the bigger motor for optimal use. For example, in blowers equipped with a 26″ wide auger, identical models may be offered with either an 6hp or a 8 hp motor. Choose the larger motor in the same model if you are in an area that usually gets a lot of snow, or very heavy, wet snow. In locales with less serious snow conditions, the smaller engine will usually suffice. The larger motor will throw wet snow more easily, and ultimately, there will be less wear and tear on the machine. If in doubt, check out the units other consumers use in your locale. If they have heavy-duty 16 hp snow blowers, there must be a reason for it. If the machines are too big for you to operate, or if a machine is too heavy for you to handle, safety becomes an issue, no matter what the hp rating is Consider other options including a smaller machine.

4. Electric Start or Rope Pull starter? If you intend to keep your blower under a cover out in the yard in sub-zero temperatures, or if you are physically unable to pull the starter cord on a heavier blower with a very large gasoline motor, consider a blower model with a starter that plugs into a standard exterior 120v house receptacle. Electric starters turn frozen motors over easily and there is no fear of battery failure when you need the machine most. The colder the temperature is, the harder it is to pull a rope starter as the oil in the motor thickens. The disadvantage of a plug in starter is the possibility that you may have to start the machine manually at the far end of the driveway if you run out of gasoline.

Alternatively, as a minimum, select a model with a battery-operated electric start and the heavy-duty battery option. The benefits of plug-in starters, however, do quickly become obvious when weather is severe and a battery may have frozen up or lost it’s charge.

5. Single-stage, or Two-stage? A single stage blower uses the momentum of a single, fast-running auger to cut, collect, and blow the snow out of the chute. Suitable for locales with minimal snowfall, these units will satisfactorily remove 6″-10″ of dry snow with little problem, but do not generally work as well with deep, heavy wet snow. A two-stage blower has an auger which cuts and collects the snow, forcing it into a second rapidly-rotating fan and chute assembly, that will propel snow great distances, as much as 50-75′ away. Extremely wet, sticky snow is very heavy and a challenge for any but the most powerful machines. Do choose the more powerful two-stage blower for heavier snowfall areas, particularly if heavy wet snow is commonly experienced.

6. Should I buy a machine with small wheels, big wheels or tracks? Some sidewalk models are gasoline powered, but have very small, 4″ wheels that are not power driven. These units must be physically pushed into the snow by the operator and are suitable only for smooth surfaces of decks or the sidewalk. They can be used on rougher areas and uneven surfaces, but with a great degree of difficulty. Choose a blower equipped with larger, power-driven tractor-style cleated wheels for bigger jobs, deeper snow, and rougher areas. In slippery conditions, cleated drive wheels may require chains for satisfactory performance. For the optimal snow-moving machine, particularly where your driveway or snow removal area is sloped, choose a machine with a tracked drive that will go anywhere, uphill or down, and like a bulldozer, is seldom stopped by bad conditions.

7. About controls, what should I look for? Choose a machine with controls located handily, logically, and safely. You should not have to lean over the machine at any time to change the position of a chute or control. The manufacturer should provide a decibel noise rating on the machine ( hint: in decibels or dB, remember, lower is quieter and better) An emergency shutoff should be provided, and a keyed ignition should be provided for security. Look for electronic ignition, suitably sized grips, individual wheel brakes on very large models to assist steering. Overall, a machine should have a very high “fit and finish”, meaning no parts with sharp metal edges are exposed, parts are well fitted together, and the unit has a high- quality paint finish. A cover should also be provided for the unit for exterior storage.

8. Miscellaneous factors: Is the motor a generic run-of-the-mill Briggs and Stratton, or the high-quality industrial version, or a high-grade Honda or Koehler engine? Is the motor two-cycle requiring mixed gasoline? Are parts easily available? How long is the warranty offered? Can it be exchanged for a different model at no cost immediately if it proves to be unsuitable? Does the price seem comparable to other makes and models, and if not, why not? Machines with tracks are more expensive, but are easily worth the extra cost. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples.

9. What brand should I buy? Are they all the same? Brand is not nearly as important as choosing quality, and like all products, snow blower brands are not all built to the same standards of quality.Some brands are indeed better built and of superior design while some are poorly built. Equipment quality, reliability, warranty, efficiency, operating specifications and offers of dealer service should be carefully compared . Compare the operating capacity, the controls, the quality and make of engine, noise levels expected from it’s operation, and all design features. Several blower manufacturers have attained very good reputations for reliable, quality snow blowers. If there is any doubt, always buy the best quality unit that can be squeezed into the purchasing budget. Remember the old adage, “quality does not cost, it pays”. All brands are not available everywhere, nor are service networks.

Honda, Ariens, Cub Cadet, Sears, and many others offer highly different grades of equipment in numerous models and sizes. My personal preference for snow removal is the tracked Honda blower, which is a premium, quiet, and powerful machine, but choice is a personal matter, so regardless of brand selected, choose your new snow blower carefully.

Now you know what to look for, and how to choose a new snow blower. As an important aside, safety is always an issue with powered equipment of any kind, so DO exercise caution when operating snow blowing equipment. Follow the equipment manufacturer’s recommendations for operation, and most importantly, keep curious children out of harm’s way at all times. Ensure the area is free of trash and stones before snow fall, and do not try to unplug any snow blower while the engine is running .

Now maybe it will snow so you can try out that new machine. Think safety, and move that snow!

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