Admit it—you’re jealous when you toil away in your driveway with a shovel, clearing a path for your car and a walkway for your mailman while you watch your neighbor come out, start up a snow blower and go back inside a few minutes later with a clean drive and a smug expression. If the time has come for you to join the ranks of people who save time and effort by using a snow blower, you may be intimidated by the technology and terminology. A cup of hot cocoa and Pronto’s Snow Blower Buying Guide will have you shopping like a pro in no time so you, too, can be out in the driveway with a new snow blower.
Before you go shopping for a snow blower, examine your regional snowfall. If you have less than 8” of lightly-packed, fluffy snowfall per storm, with an annual total of around 60”-70”, look for a single-stage snow blower. For a region that regularly receives 12”+ of heavy, wet snow or ice per storm, with an annual total of 150”, upgrade to a two-stage snow blower.
Because electric snow blowers are the smallest, lightest, most maintenance-free snow blowers, they are a great choice for the elderly, the disabled, and people with limited storage space. Electric snow blowers have a clearing path of 14”-20”, and are a good choice to clear small driveways and walkways of less than 6” of light, powdery snow.
Single-stage snow blowers use an auger to break up snow and blow it out the chute in one step. These snow blowers have a clearing path around 20” in width, and are great for snow removal up to 8”, although they may clog or under-perform on heavy, wet snow. Don’t use single-stage snow blowers on gravel driveways; auger-style construction makes them safe only on smooth surfaces.
Two-stage snow blowers feature a two-stage snow removal method: the auger breaks up the snow, and then a separate impeller rotates to throw the snow out the chute. These models feature a self-propelled drive mechanism. Look for drive mechanisms that allow you to adjust power to either wheel assembly for easier turning and handling.
Look for a snow blower that features chutes with separate cranks to adjust the angle and direction of the snow leaving the chute. Also look for adjustable handle height for ease in handling, storage and transport. Headlights are valuable in regions where night falls early. Snow blowers with electric starters function much more reliably than the string-pull method.
A rotating rubber or rubber-edged blade that scoops up the snow and breaks it up. In a single-stage snow blower, the auger also propels the snow out of the discharge chute.
The width of the area that a snow blower can clear with a single pass.
The tube through which snow exits the top of the snow blower. Discharge chutes are either fixed in position or adjustable, which allows them to discharge snow in several directions.
A separate transmission that powers a snow blower’s wheels, making it easier to operate.
A spinning blade similar to a fan blade that propels the snow out of the discharge chute in a two-stage snow blower.
The first step in snow blower shopping may seem like an obvious one: figure out how much snowfall you’ll need to clear. The quantity and type of snow removed makes a big difference when shopping for different snow blowers.
If you live in a region that experiences light, fluffy snow a few times each year, an electric or single-stage snow blower is a fine choice. If you live in a heavy snow region that regularly experiences wet, deep snow, you’ll need that power that a two-stage snow blower provides. Electric snow blowers make quick work of fluffy snow that’s low in water content at depths up to eight inches. Slush, watery snow and blizzards packing 12-inch snowfalls demand a more powerful snow blower.
Electric snow blowers are the smallest, lightest, most maintenance-free type of snow blower. These snow blowers plug into a wall outlet and typically come with cords up to 100 feet in length. Electric snow blowers have a relatively narrow clearing path, typically 14”-20” in width. These small, lightweight snow blowers are an excellent choice if you have a narrow, short driveway or walkways to clear.
Elderly and disabled people often choose electric snow blowers for their lightweight construction and ease of use. These snow blowers are also extremely easy to store— helpful if you have limited storage space or need to carry your snow blower up and down stairs. However, electric snow blowers tend to have very limited snow-removal capabilities, making them a poor choice if you regularly get more than six inches of snow per storm.
Take care with electric snow blower use, remembering the dangers inherent in mixing electricity and water. It is never a good idea to plug an electric snow blower into an extension cord to reach just a little further, as water may seep into the connection and cause electrical issues.
Single-stage snow blowers are the most common residential-use models in areas that receive light to moderate snowfall. These snow blowers use an auger to break up snow and blow it out the discharge chute in one step, hence the name single stage. The auger in single-stage snow blowers comes into direct contact with the ground. Because of this construction, only use a single-stage snow blower on pavement or another smooth surface—if you use it on gravel or stone, the auger will pick up the gravel and fling it out the chute, causing damage to the snow blower and surrounding objects.
Single-stage snow blowers are not self-propelled, so they require a little more work on the part of the user than the bigger two-stage models. They typically have a clearing path around 20” in width, although you can find larger clearing paths if you’re willing to spend more. These snow blowers are great for removing snow up to 8 inches, although they may clog or underperform on heavy, wet snow.
Two-stage snow blowers are more powerful than their single-stage cousins, featuring wider clearing paths and drive mechanisms that move them more easily through the snow. With a two-stage snow blower, an auger breaks up the snow and then a separate impeller spins the snow out of the discharge chute.
In a two-stage snow blower, the snow feeds into the machine over an adjustable metal plate, or skid. Because the auger does not come into direct contact with the surface, this design is a great choice for gravel driveways. Unfortunately, this also means that sometimes there’s a thin layer of snow left behind after snow removal.
Two-stage snow blowers feature self-propelled drive mechanisms and move on wheels or on rubber treads that resemble a tank. If you purchase a model with wheels, consider adding chains for extra traction. Two-stage snow blowers are very heavy, and the increased clearing path can make them difficult to handle. Look for a drive mechanism that allows you to adjust power to either wheel assembly for easier turning and handling. Two-stage snow blowers feature clearing paths all the way up to 36” in width and are the best choice for areas that experience deep, heavy snowfall.
Look for a snow blower with an adjustable chute. Many models feature chutes with separate cranks to adjust the angle and direction of the snow leaving the chute. This is extremely valuable to avoid spraying snow on an area that you just cleared.
Not all users are alike, so having an adjustable handle height can make a big difference in ease of control. Adjustable handles also make the snow blower easier to store and transport when it’s not in use.
A headlight can be an extremely useful feature in regions where night falls early. There’s nothing like trying to clear the driveway in the dark after a long day of work. Finally, to avoid excessive frustration when starting the whole snow clearing process, look for a snow blower with an electric starter. These starters function much more reliably than the string-pull method and can spare you from sore shoulders and elbows.