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Blowers, throwers offer convenience, long-term savings by Paul Bianchina
If you live where it snows, moving that white stuff off the driveway or the front walk is not exactly the most enviable of tasks. But it has to be done, both for safety and accessibility.

In many areas of the country, snow removal is even necessary in order to comply with local laws and ordinances. So your choices are a back-breaking shovel, an expensive snow-removal service, or some mechanized help in the way of a snow blower.

If you’re like most do-it-yourselfers, you probably hate hiring things out. But if the alternative is a snow shovel, what you’re asking for is a sore back — or perhaps a lot worse. So maybe it’s time to consider a snow blower.

Snow blowers may seem like an expensive investment, but there are a lot of nice ones on the market at very reasonable prices. Snow blowers also save money in the long run over the ongoing cost of a snow removal service. They also offer the convenience of being able to clear your driveway as soon you need it cleared, without waiting.

Gas-powered snow blowers

Gas-powered snow blowers vary widely in price, depending on the size of the engine, the amount of snow it can handle, and whether it’s a single-stage or a two-stage model. Single-stage models have fast-moving augers that contact the ground and scoop up the snow. They usually have two-stroke engines, less power, and are less expensive. Prices for singe-stage blowers are typically in the $350 to $650 range or higher.

Two-stage models have a slower moving auger and an impeller, which lift the snow and discharge it through a chute. Guide plates hold the auger slightly above the ground, and as long as the guide plates are correctly set, a two-stage snow blower can be used on gravel driveways as well as over concrete or asphalt. Two-stage snow blowers utilize a more powerful four-stroke engine, and can clear a path up to about 30 inches in width. Prices for these types of machines are usually around $700 to $1,300 or more.

A good example of a heavy-duty, two-stage snow blower for home use is the Snow Joe Pro, ($899). This happens to be the one I use at home, and it’s actually turned what used to be a very tough task into something approaching enjoyable.

The Snow Joe Pro has a four-stroke, overhead-valve gas engine, and will cut a path 26 inches wide through snow up to 20 inches deep. It has both an electric and a recoil (pull-cord) start. The electric start utilizes a power cord, which connects between the engine and an electrical outlet, so there’s no on-board battery to worry about; once the engine is started, the power cord is removed and the choke and throttle are set back to the run positions.

Two-stage snow blowers are self-propelled. You simply walk behind it, and guide it where you want it to go — although some strength and effort is still required. The Snow Joe Pro has six forward speeds and two reverse speeds, allowing you to set it to whatever the snow conditions are. Like all newer snow blowers, there are manual safety interlocks on the handles that have to be depressed before the machine will move, so it can’t go anywhere on its own.

The snow is discharged through a top-mounted chute, located behind the auger. The chute can be rotated to the left or right and angled up or down, allowing you to control where the snow is thrown. Different snow blowers utilize different types of controls for rotating and angling the chute. The Snow Joe uses a simple up-front control lever, while others utilize a hand crank or other mechanism.

In addition to Snow Joe, other top manufacturers of two-stage snow blowers include Ariens, Craftsman, John Deere, Toro and Troy-Bilt.

Electric snow throwers It used to be that if you had a walkway or a set of steps to clear, a snow shovel was your only alternative. Regular gas or electric snow blowers were simply too big and too cumbersome to maneuver into these tighter spaces. But there are a couple of alternatives out there that are well worth considering. They’re called electric snow throwers, and you can think of them as kind of an “electric snow shovel.”

Electric snow throwers look sort of like a cross between a vacuum cleaner and a push broom, with an upright handle and a wide head at the bottom that’s in contact with the ground. A small, powerful electric motor turns an auger in the head, which breaks up the snow and throws it out and away from you. You use the snow thrower like a vacuum cleaner, back and forth in short strokes. As you push it into the snow, it clears whatever’s in its path, right down to the pavement.

Two examples of electric snow throwers are the Snow Joe Plus and the Toro Power Shovel. Both weigh just 12 1/2 pounds, have 7.5-amp motors and will cut a path 12 inches wide. Amazingly, these lightweight machines are capable of throwing snow up to 20 feet.

The Snow Joe has a curved handle with a nice ergonomic feel, and an adjustable auxiliary side handle. Retail price is $99. The Toro has a straight handle and also has an adjustable side handle, with a retail price of around $120. Both machines offer a very affordable alternative to shoveling your walkway!

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at

Copyright 2010 Inman News
See Paul Bianchina’s feature, Finding Fix for Frigid Rooms.
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