Kristen Hicks on January 3, 2017 2 Comments Table of Contents Types of Snow Blowers Factors to Consider While Shopping Reviews of Popular Brands There’s a lot to love about the winter season. You’ve got the holidays, evenings next to the fire, the pleasure of a mug filled with hot cocoa. But then there are those mornings when you face a driveway covered in snow. Before you can even leave the house someone has to do the grueling work of shoveling snow. Unless, of course, you invest in the tools to make that job easier. Snow blowers do a lot of the work of clearing out your driveway or sidewalk much for you. For anyone with a bad back, they’re an essential tool. For everyone else, they’re still pretty nice to have. If you’ve been pondering how much easier life would be with a snow thrower, this guide will help you figure out which types and models are most worth the investment. Types of Snow Blowers Snow blower manufacturers helpfully categorize their products for you based on how heavy duty of a job they’ll do. As such, one of the first decisions you should make is which type of snow blower to go with, and whether or not it’s worth investing in more than one type for the different levels of snowfall that occur throughout the winter. Electric Snow Blowers Electric snow blowers are the most affordable type available. They’re more lightweight and smaller than gas snow blowers, which makes them easier to use, especially for spots like decks or steps where a larger snow blower won’t fit easily. They’re also your best choice if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of using a snow blower. As an added benefit, they require much less maintenance than gas models, you really just need to make sure they’re charged and press a button to use them. The downside to electric snow blowers is that they’re simply not as powerful as gas-powered model. They won’t do much for you in a blizzard or if you have a particularly large driveway or yard to clear. For smaller jobs, they’re ideal. Once you’re faced with a bigger job though, they won’t come through. In Summary: Affordable. Easy to use. Quiet. Easy to maintain. Great for tight spaces. Environmentally friendly. Not especially powerful. Gas Snow Blowers If your area regularly gets pretty serious snowfalls, then a gas snow blower will make your life much easier. They’re powerful enough to tackle larger areas and deeper snow than electric snow blowers, but they’re much more expensive and involve more work and maintenance. With gas snow blowers, you need to regularly check on and replace a long list of parts including the oil levels, the spark plugs, the air filter and the augers. They’re heavier and thus more work to push along the drive. And they’re loud. Gas snow blowers come in three different types, each one more powerful than the last. Single-Stage Snow Blowers — These are the most affordable of the gas-powered snow blowers and are good for snow of up to about a foot deep. They’re called single-stage snow blowers because they throw the snow out of the way once. You have to be careful with single-stage snow blowers not to use them on gravel, or you’ll end up throwing small rocks instead of snow and will wear out the machine fast. Two-Stage Snow Blowers — Two-stage snow blowers scoop up the snow then throw it, making them more powerful for larger quantities of snow than single-stage models. They’re larger and more expensive than single-stage snow blowers, but more affordable than three-stage ones. They’re good for soft snow that’s up to about two feet deep. Three-Stage Snow Blowers — Three-stage snow blowers are the most powerful of the three and, as such, also the most expensive. They scoop up the snow and ice, chop it up, and then throw it. Like two-stage snow blowers, they’re good for snow that’s up to two feet deep, but much better for any snow that has icy patches. In Summary: Loud. More powerful. Come in three different types with varying costs and levels of power. Capable of handling deeper snow. More expensive than electric. Factors to Consider When Buying a Snow Blower The variety in what different snow blowers have to offer is significant enough that choosing one is inevitably a bit complicated. You want to settle on the snow blower that’s the best fit for your needs in a number of different categories. Here are the most important factors to consider in your search. Typical Weather Snow blowers are the kind of purchase that’s all about the weather. It’s right there in the name. Most of the year you don’t need them at all, but once it snows they make all the difference in the world. That being the case, picking out the right snow blower has everything to do with what types of weather patterns are normal where you live. If you only ever get light snowfall, then an electric model is your most convenient and practical choice. If you regularly encounter serious blizzards – or even just get big snowfalls once or twice a year – then having a powerful gas-powered snow blower when you need it will feel worth it on those days. For some people, having both is worthwhile since electric snow blowers are easier to use on the light days, but you still want the bigger option for backup on the bad days. If you’ve been living in the same area for a while, then you know what to expect. If not, ask around or check the weather patterns for the past few years to get an idea. Power The reason to buy a snow blower is to save you from having to do more difficult work. If the snow blower you buy doesn’t turn out to be up to the task, you’ll find yourself still stuck doing some of the work manually to get your driveway or yard fully cleared. Electric snow blowers are only mildly powerful, although likely to save you the trouble of shoveling on many days. Gas snow blowers, particularly two and three-stage ones, can tackle much more heavy-duty tasks and save you the effort on the worst of snow days. In general, more power will mean less work you have to do manually, but how much you need really depends on how big of a job you’ll be typically faced with. Size Garages and storage sheds have a way of filling up with stuff. If you’re like a lot of homeowners, you may have a hard time finding the space for an item as large as a heavy-duty snow blower. Before making a purchase, you should figure out where you’ll be storing your snow blower. You can’t leave it out to the elements, so make sure you can clear out some space in a contained storage area at your home for it. Size also affects ease of use. A narrow, lightweight electric snow blower is easy to push along a light bed of snow, whereas bigger and heavier models require a bit more strength and effort, but are required for bigger jobs. Cost Good, powerful snow blowers are a big investment. Any snow blower that you can count on for serious snow falls will cost around $1,000. Snow blowers that work all right for lighter days usually fall somewhere in the $250-$600 range. The price of snow blowers frequently corresponds to how powerful they are. Snow blowers that can handle deeper snow with chunks of ice in it are going to cost you a good amount, while snow blowers that simply make your life a bit easier on a mild snow day are much easier to afford. In addition to power though, a few other factors influence cost. Brands that have a solid reputation for quality will predictably charge more for snow blowers than those that sell snow blowers that are more cheaply made (and thus less durable). Some snow blowers come with nice-to-have features like heated handles and power steering that bump up the price a little, but make using them that much easier. Spending more money now can mean you get a snow blower that bails you out more often, lasts longer, and works more consistently. If you need something that will just help you get by, a more affordable model might do. If you want a machine with lasting power that really helps out in a pinch, then it’s likely worth spending more to go with something more reliable. Ease of Use Shoveling is a lot of work, it’s unpleasant, and it’s bad for your back. Snow blowers are supposed to correct at least some of those problems, although they still require you to do some work to clear out your yard or driveway. Any snow blower will be a big step up from shoveling, but if you really want to find something that minimizes the effort you have to expend as much as possible, then you should look for some key features. First, you need a machine that’s powerful enough to handle the worst snow days that come your way – if your machine can’t cut it, you’ll be stuck shoveling after all. Next, you should consider the weight of the machine and how involved pushing it around your yard will be. Many of the more powerful machines are heavy, so there’s not a great solution here, but if you’re trying to decide between a couple of options that both look like they’ll do the job, but one’s lighter, you’ll likely have an easier time using it. While they’re not powerful enough in every scenario, electric snow blowers are much easier to maintain long term than gas ones. If you aren’t too concerned about serious blizzards or deep snow, then you may be able to stick with an electric snow blower and save yourself a lot of trouble when it comes to ongoing maintenance. Finally, many handy features can make snow blowers easier to use. When you’re stuck doing work in the extreme cold, anything that lightens the load will make a difference. Heated handles will help keep you warm. A headlight will make sure you can see what you’re doing on overcast days or if you have to get out there in the early morning. Power steering lends itself to easier control of the machine. And with an electric starter you can get the machine started faster each time you use it. Maintenance While they’re not powerful enough in every scenario, electric snow blowers are much easier to maintain long term than gas ones. If you aren’t too concerned about serious blizzards or deep snow, then you may be able to stick with an electric snow blower and save yourself a lot of trouble when it comes to ongoing maintenance. If you do need to go with a gas machine, then be prepared to put some effort into keeping the machine in working order. You’ll need to replace the oil when it gets low. You should keep an eye out for when key parts are getting run down and need to be replaced, like the spark plugs and augers. And you’ll likely have to do some troubleshooting now and then as issues arise. Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and set whatever reminders you need to stay on top of the maintenance required. A gas-powered snow blower is too big of an investment to let fall into disrepair due to simple oversight. Cord Many electric snow blowers must be plugged in to work. If your driveway’s at all sizeable, that means you’ll need an extension cord long and flexible enough to handle the full length. That’s not very convenient. Luckily, you can also find cordless electric snow blowers that make it much easier to handle a larger space with ease. If you don’t have a conveniently located outlet or simply hate the idea of dealing with a cord while you do the work, then make a point to go for a cordless model. Yard Size In addition the type of weather that’s typical to your area, the other big contextual factor to consider is how big your yard or driveway is. If you’re dealing with a driveway or yard that’s pretty big, then a more powerful snow blower will serve you better, since it will be able to maintain performance for longer. If it’s a pretty small yard you have to deal with, then a simpler snow blower may well suffice or even be easier to handle than a large, bulky model. Noise Like a lawn mower or chain saw, pretty much all equipment for your yard is going to be loud. This includes all snow blowers. Sorry, that’s just part of the deal. Electric models are much quieter than gas ones and the more powerful gas models tend to be louder than the milder ones. While it’s not a hard and fast rule, typically you’ll have a choice between noise and power. If you want a machine that can get the job done well and quickly, you’re going to have to put up with some noise. That said, some manufacturers have done their best to provide options that minimize noise. You can find gas-powered models with engines designed to be quieter than average. If you expect to have to do much snow blowing in the early morning or late at night and want to save your family and neighbors from the cacophony that usually accompanies a snow blower, look for a model that’s marketed as being quieter than usual. Features: Cordless — A cordless electric snow blower will save you the trouble of having to find a long enough extension cord that’s also flexible enough in the cold to let you do your work. Electric Starter — An electric starter makes it much easier to get the machine going for each use. Speed Controls — Speed controls give you more power over the pace you use the machine at in different parts of your yard. Power Steering — Power steering makes your turns much easier. Headlight — If you’ll ever be clearing your driveway in the dark, a headlight will provide you the illumination you need. Heated Handles — Heated handles are a nice feature to keep you just a little bit warmer during the cold work. Conclusion Buying the right snow blower will make your life much easier and may save you from back injuries as you age. Consider your particular needs and desires to identify the best snow blower for the jobs you’ll have to face this winter (and for those to come). The next time you face a driveway covered in snow, you’ll be glad you did.