Winter weather can take many forms from mild to windy to cold to unpredictable — yet snowfall is inevitable in most temperate areas of North America. Along with the eventual snow is the need to clear it from the driveway and sidewalks of your home or business.
That task can be much easier with the use of a snow thrower. A primary advantage of a snow thrower over shoveling or plowing is the ability to distribute snow further from your driveway. You might also reduce the potential for large accumulations of snow piling close to the road on either side of your driveway, reducing visibility or clogging ditches.
Preparation and knowledge can help make the job go smoothly and without incident.
- Preparation before snow season:
- Place driveway marker stakes at regular intervals to make your edges easier to find following a deep or drifting snow. If you travel off the driveway with the snow thrower, you may encounter items that could get pulled into the thrower.
- Prune back any dead tree branches or limbs over or near your driveway and walks. The weight of snow and force of wind can break them off. Hidden under a fresh snowfall, they potentially could clog the auger and impeller.
- Inspect your driveway, walks, and yard for any items or debris that could be pulled into the snow thrower or blown onto the driveway during strong winds. Pay particular attention to stones, sticks, sports equipment, children’s toys, pet toys, dog chains, holiday decoration cords, and other hazards.
- Relocate any items that could be struck by discharged snow, especially if you could encounter gravel.
- Familiarize yourself with all operating instructions, safety precautions, warnings, labels, and maintenance procedures. Owner’s manuals will list the lubrication points and unit controls to check as well as fuel and oil requirements, where applicable.
- Be certain units equipped with skids have the skids at proper height. This is critical for graveled areas.
- Before clearing snow:
- Keep children, pets, and people away. You will likely be more focused on the area in front of the unit than the surrounding areas. Inform family how to approach from a safe distance if they need to get your attention.
- Move your snow thrower outside before clearing any snow. This allows the engine and surfaces that contact snow to equalize to the outside temperature. When cold snow contacts warm metal, it can freeze up and diminish snow throw distance and effectiveness as well as increase the potential for clogs.
- Check oil and fuel levels and add fuel away from potential ignition sources. Immediately clean up any fuel spills. Many manufacturers recommend adding fuel stabilizers to fuels free of ethanol.
- Check controls to be sure that they move as intended and do not bind or stick. The unit drive and auger clutches should freely disengage when released and NEVER be secured.
- Apply a spray wax to help snow exit the chute more easily. Do this when the chute is dry. These sprays can be found at most retailers that sell snow throwers.
- Do a complete walk-around inspection of the unit and the entire work area before you start the thrower. By the time you return, the working surfaces should have adjusted to the outdoors, but check to be certain.
- Wear appropriate winter clothing, gloves, hearing protection, and eye protection. Footwear should be appropriate for slippery surfaces with laces tightly knotted and secured. Avoid scarves and any other loose-fitting apparel that could contact rotating parts. Remove jewelry and tie back hair.
- Clearing snow:
- Start unit per manufacturer’s instructions and be certain all controls are disengaged with the speed control in neutral where applicable.
- Note if your gas-powered unit has an electric start, connect power cord to 3-wire grounded outlet. Corded electric units may specify a GFCI outlet.
- Position discharge chute to avoid persons, structures, vehicles, and traffic.
- Engage auger and drive clutches per manufacturer’s instructions at the slower speeds with no potential obstructions in your path.
- Stop and power off the unit and turn off the fuel valve if you notice any unusual vibration, sounds, smoke or rough operation. Refer to the manufacturer’s troubleshooting guide.
- Clear snow at a speed appropriate for the depth and density of the snow. If snow pushes out to the sides of the auger opening or the unit seems to be laboring, you may need to reduce the speed.
- Throw snow only as high as necessary. Throwing it with the direction of the wind may reduce loss of visibility and keep snow from landing on the area you are clearing.
- Be mindful of traffic when clearing snow near the street. Drivers must also contend with decreased visibility. Consider wearing a fluorescent vest with reflective material. A few small clip-on lights may also help. Some units are equipped with a running light.
- Face oncoming traffic and periodically glance up. Direct chute in a manner that does not reduce your visibility or that of approaching traffic.
- Recognize that snow near the street may be heavier and contain salt and cinders. You may have to clear snow at the lowest speed, pause and avoid using the entire clearing width of the unit to prevent stalling the snow thrower.
- Consider clearing snow near the street and as far back as snow lands from the city plow once you make your first pass down the driveway. Clearing the salty snow first may reduce the amount of salt residue left on your snow thrower at the end of your task.
- Disengage the auger when traveling from one work area to another and ALWAYS turn off the unit and remove key when leaving operator’s controls.
- NEVER attempt to unclog the unit when engine is running. Many come with a clog tool.
- NEVER put your hand in the chute or auger area to free a clog. Use the tool. Even when the unit is not running, the pressure of compacted snow of a clog can suddenly release and allow an auger or impeller to move and result in severe injuries. A compacted snow plug can form in the chute and suddenly eject and cause a severe injury.
- NEVER fill the fuel tank when engine is running or still hot from operation. Fuel can ignite if it contacts a hot engine or muffler.
- Run unit a few minutes after clearing snow to remove as much snow as possible and reduce potential freeze-up of auger and impeller.
- Shut off fuel (if gas powered) and allow engine to cool before storing or covering.
- Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for storage after use as well as maintenance requirements prior long-term storage.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
If you are buying a snow thrower, consider these factors:
- Length and width of your driveway and walks– With more surface area comes the need to clear snow more quickly. A snow thrower with a wider clearing path can help you finish faster.
- Depth and seasonal duration of snowfall in your region– Smaller snow throwers at a lower price point generally have shorter clearing heights, narrower clearing paths, fewer speed options, and potentially less power.
- Type and slope of your driveway –Single-stage snow throwers are only suitable for paved driveways. Because they often do not have powered wheels and tires, the operator must push the unit to achieve the desired speed. This can be difficult and potentially dangerous if you slip while pushing on slopes.
- Method of powering the equipment – Single-stage, 2-stage, 3-stage, gas powered, corded electric and cordless electric snow throwers all have advantages and disadvantages. Do your research before you buy. Buying and selection guides are available online at manufacturer and retailer websites. Ask questions of a salesperson and research reviews on models you may be considering.
Snow throwers are time-saving devices that can reduce the back strain associated with shoveling. A snow thrower can give you many years of service if properly maintained and stored. Adhering to the manufacturer’s precautions and instructions, as well as known best practices, can significantly reduce the potential for injury and property damage to you and others.
By Jeff Heiser, Contributor to the Cincinnati Insurance Company Blog