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How to clear snow: do you need a shovel or blower?

How to clear snow: do you need a shovel or blower?
(Image credit: True Temper)

Annoying weather is a fact of life, but snow - with its ability to pile up in deep, heavy drifts - is some of the worst. While it may not appear that treacherous at first, it can quickly become a hazard. Snow left uncleared can melt, then refreeze into a solid sheet of ice that’s dangerous to anyone who steps on it. Equally, if it piles on a roof, it can cause weaker structures to collapse under the weight. So, knowing how to clear snow effectively is vital.

The absolute best way to clear snow from your property is to get someone else to do it. This method is fool-proof, assuming the other person involved actually turns up to do the job, and a handy neighbour or their teenage son armed with a stout shovel or powered blower can make all the difference. 

All joking aside, this is how it's done. Clearing a path from your door to the driver’s side of your vehicle is the first thing you should do, rather than walking all over the snow and compressing it with your footprints. Making sure your car or truck is prepared for the winter weather is essential too. Start it before you begin shovelling in earnest, and it will be defrosted by the time you finish. It’s best to be prepared for snow too, keeping removal options at hand rather than having to walk in deep drifts to an outbuilding to collect them even before you begin clearing. It’s also a good idea to have a plan before you begin, as high winds and a runny nose can scupper your ability to think clearly.

True Temper snow shovel

(Image credit: True Temper)
True Temper Snow Shovel
True Temper

If you're looking for the right shovel for the job, we recommend the True Temper Ergonomic Mountain Mover snow shovel, which you can pick up from Home Depot for around $26 right now.

Shovels are the cheapest option, the traditional large-bladed plastic or aluminum type able to clear a surprising amount of the powdery white stuff while being light and easy to store. We have a guide to the best snow shovels for you to browse. A wider, two-handed snow scoop can move even more, and there are push shovels too that move the snow to the side rather than picking it up and dumping it in a pile. A shovel with wheels may make sense if you need to move a lot of snow, as it simplifies the process and can speed you along. Smaller, collapsible shovels are really meant for storing in your car if it’s likely you’ll be snowed in while out driving.

Proper technique is essential while using a snow shovel, and it’s worth doing some stretches first too - you’ll be working in a cold environment while encumbered by heavy boots and gloves, so a warmup is required. Remember not to lift with your back, bend your knees instead, and switch between lifting with your right and left hands periodically to decrease the strain put on any one group of muscles. Don’t try to remove more than six inches of depth at once, instead skim the top off and come back to finish the rest. You should also be aware that overexerting yourself can be very dangerous. Shovelling snow is far harder than you might think, and you're doing it in the cold, when your arteries are more constricted, putting you more at risk of a heart attack. This article from the Cleveland Clinic is an essential read if you're worried about your heart health, and need to shovel snow.

Make sure you know where you’re going to drop or push the snow, as you don’t want to be moving the same snow twice - putting it in front of a door or path just means more work. And try not to create large piles, as the tops can fall down over the area you’ve cleared. If you have plants alongside your driveway, try to avoid burying them too deeply so sunlight can still penetrate and the weight doesn’t push down on them too much. If the street outside is regularly plowed, beware the snow that’s thrown up from it - it can be heavy with salt from gritting, and many plants cannot tolerate this.

How to clear snow: do you need a shovel or blower?

(Image credit: CubCadet)
Cub Cadet snow blower
Cub Cadet

If you absolutely need a snow blower, you'll need to spend big on it. This Cub Cadet two-stage snow blower is one of our top picks, and you can pick it up at The Home Depot right now.

If you have a particularly large area to clear, or you have difficulty handling a shovel, then it can make sense to buy a powered snow blower. Again, we have a guide to the best snow blowers for your reference. There are both gas and electric models, with the latter being more convenient, lighter, and smaller, but coming with the caveat that you need to trail a cord behind you. Owners of long driveways are going to want a gas-powered blower, which must be properly stored and maintained along with its fuel supply. Check it earlier in the season to make sure it starts first time.

Using a snow blower is similar to a shovel, especially if you’re using a heavier model. Be sure not to strain yourself, and ensure that the piles of snow you create aren’t going to inconvenience you further along the line. Snow blowing is less accurate than shovelling, so you may need to designate larger areas for your piles. You’ll still need a shovel to get into some smaller areas that you can’t clear with the blower, but when clearing a large area the blower will be faster and less strenuous. If you have other debris in your yard, it may be advisable to clear it with a good chainsaw, as you may accidentally jam up a snow blower with loose branches.

Blowers are, however, considerably more expensive than a shovel, so evaluate how much snow you get, to what depth and how frequently, before you make the investment.

Ian has been a journalist for 20 years. He's written for magazines and websites on subjects such as video games, technology, PC hardware, popular (and unpopular) science, gardening and astronomy. In his spare time he has a pet tortoise and grows his own vegetables.