There are a number of features to consider when you shop for a snow blower. Before you begin shopping, it is important to have a good idea of what size and type of surface you will be clearing. Some snow blowers are more appropriate for wide and steep driveways and walkways. The makeup of the surface you will be clearing is also important, as some snow blowers are better suited for clearing snow from gravel while others work well on stone, concrete, and asphalt. When selecting a snow blower, there are multiple options for power sources, snow clearance stages and ability, starting devices, and safety features. Depending on the type of snow blower you wish to purchase, there may also be options related to clearance chutes and gear selection. This guide will help you understand the many features snow blowers offer as you enter the marketplace.
There are two general categories of snow blowers: Single stage and two stage. The stages refer to the mechanism through which the machine clears snow. Single stage blowers have an auger, while two stage blowers have both an auger and an impeller. In single stage blowers, the auger is a rotating cylinder with angled metal blades that lift snow and ice off of the ground and force it up and out of the clearance chute. In two stage blowers, the auger is identical and functions the same way, except it pushes the snow towards the impeller rather than directly out of the machine. The impeller is similar to a fan with horizontally oriented blades that launch snow out of the clearance chute at a high speed. The impeller helps throw a greater volume of snow a farther distance than the auger of a single stage snow blower. In general, the single stage machines are recommended for use on lighter snowfalls while the two stage is favored for deeper snow.
Electric snow blowers are cleaner than their gas counterparts and typically start with the flick of a switch. However, when using an electric blower, you must be careful to avoid driving the machine over the attached power cord. The cord will also restrict mobility, depending on its length and the proximity of power outlets. Recently, battery powered snow blowers (both single and two stage) have appeared in the marketplace, but their charge has a limited life. If the battery dies, it may be a number of hours before you can continue clearing snow since it will take time to recharge.
Gas powered snow blowers come in a variety of engine types. Some are two stroke motors, which require a combination of gasoline and oil to run and may create more exhaust and smoke than a four stroke engine. The four stroke engine runs on gasoline, but is a more complex piece of machinery and may require regular maintenance such as oil changes. Most two stage snow blowers are powered by gas engines and come with multiple gear settings. Lower gears give the machine a better ability to clear deep snow and better traction on steep and slippery slopes, but it also slows down forward motion. Two stage machines are also heavier and less maneuverable than single stage blowers.
The starting mechanisms on gas powered snow blowers vary. Some (typically older models) require a pull-start to get them going, which can be both difficult and unreliable. Most new models have an electric starting mechanism, though some need to be plugged into a wall outlet to use this feature.
The width of the front end of the snow blower, where the auger is mounted, is another aspect to consider. If you plan on clearing large swaths of snow, the wider models are the better choice. However, for clearing narrow or angled paths, you should consider getting a snow blower with a smaller opening for better maneuverability. The size of the opening and the auger, as well as the engine strength and size, will determine how much snow the machine can efficiently clear. For people who live in areas with heavy snowfall (over four inches at a time) it’s a good idea to purchase a two stage snow blower that has the power to get through deeper snow drifts.
Another feature to consider is the maneuverability of the clearance chute. The clearance chute helps direct the snow that is launched out of the machine. On higher end models, the chute is usually controlled by a joystick mounted by the throttle. Other models are equipped with a hand crank that will rotate the chute from left to right. The joystick is faster than the hand crank and can also be used to control elevation, though both devices serve the same purpose.
Some of a snow blower’s safety features depend on the number of stages it has. Single stage machines are pulled forward by the rotating auger, which also launches the snow out of the clearance chute. This mechanism is engaged by holding down a handle with a dead man’s switch, which stops the auger when released. The two stage blowers usually have two handles (also dead man’s switches), one for the wheels that propel the machine, and one for the auger and impeller. Also consider the type of surface you plan on clearing. For pavement, stone, and concrete, a single stage snow blower is appropriate. However, keep in mind that the auger completely touches the ground on a single stage blower, and will pick up and launch any loose debris. For this reason, it’s a good idea to use a two stage snow blower on surfaces such as gravel because the auger will not be in direct contact with the ground (the wheels will propel the machine). On both types of machine, make sure there is a built-in headlight for use at night or in inclement weather. Remember, there is less daylight in the winter, so there’s a good chance you’ll be working in the dark. Keep in mind that snow blowers can also jam. To clear blockages, it’s a good idea to have some sort of long pole on hand. Be sure to turn the machine completely off before attempting to clear any blockages.
Snow blowers can be found at most hardware stores and even through online retailers. The price range will vary greatly depending on what features you choose, with the single stage blowers at the bottom of the price spectrum and the two stage at the top. Also note that two stage blowers tend to be larger and heavier than their single stage counterparts, so make sure you have plenty of storage room before you invest in one. Now that you have a better understanding of snow blowers, go out and start comparing prices and features, and get ready to clear some snow!