Autumn’s mild weather allowed maximum procrastination of this year’s snow removal decisions, but snow’s coming; so wait no longer.
Here are the key considerations for buying a new snow blower or shovel or hiring a snow removal service.
“Snow blowers are a back saver,” says Libertyville Ace Hardware Store Manager Paul LaRoche, who has worked for Ace for 39 years. “And 90 percent of the business is made up of single-stage machines. These take the snow and throw it via rubber paddles.”
Cost for the single-stage machines range from about $250 – $700 with variations including width of the machine, optional electric start, design of handles, types of snow chute controls and differences in gas and oil tanks.
“People with larger driveways, a couple hundred feet or more, might want to consider the two-stage machines,” LaRoche says. “These are larger, take the snow in grind it, and push it to the thrower. They are usually self-propelled.” They are also more costly—up to about $1,400.
Overall, LaRoche said when people come in to buy a snow blower they should know the size of the driveway and who the primary user will be. With that information, retailers can guide consumers to the correct machine.
About snow shovels, LaRoche says, “Nothing makes a better shovel. The question is, ‘What makes it easier for you?’”
Considerations include the ergonomics of various handle shapes and the materials the shovel is made from. LaRoche advises that poly (strong plastic) handles and blades and aluminum blades are lighter and easier to use than steel blades and wooden handles. But he concedes it’s typically a personal choice and the main user should choose his or her own shovel. Prices range from approximately $10-30.
While in the shovel aisle, LaRoche strongly advises two additional purchases—a small shovel for the car trunk and a roof rake to keep snow off house gutters. “That’s such an important tool that many people don’t have,” he says. “All you want to do is rake off the first foot of snow because you don’t want snow sitting on your gutter.”
A plowing service can be a winter lifesaver at an average cost of $25-35 per visit or a preset price for the entire season. But it’s important to ask a few important questions to ensure receipt of the expected service.
According to Greg Sloan, owner of Sloan’s Landscaping and Brick Paving in Libertyville, residents need to know the service provider they hire is reputable, fair, insured and will show up as promised.
“You want to know you are hiring a reputable company,” says Sloan, whose company no longer offers residential service. “Make sure you see a certificate of insurance—anyone can say they’re insured—and know when to expect the service, like when it snows two inches or more.”
In addition, he says, find out if sidewalks are included, what the company’s regular route is (“Everybody has a set route”) and where your house is on it. “Depending on your job requirements, you may need to get out of the driveway at 6 a.m.,” he says. “Also, talk to your neighbors to get recommendations or call local landscaping companies. But make sure to get three estimates.”
Sloan’s last piece of advice is reserved for people with brick driveways. “Ninety percent of the blades commercial plows use are steel,” he says. “Those will absolutely tear up a brick driveway. So if your driveway is brick, make sure you’re hiring someone who uses a poly-edged blade.”
Once the snow is removed, you may have to contend with ice—here’s a few suggestions on how to melt it.