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Friday, February 08, 2013

Snow: It sucks, but it can be conquered

Snowmageddon is upon us. Don't panic: We know how you can survive this powdery apocalypse.

Shovelling snow: Choose the right tool for the job

Lynn Greiner
Digging out after a snowstorm is always a pain, but the right tools can make it easier. Here's a look at your choices. Ready, set, shovel!
Love it or hate it, we’re stuck with winter, including varying amounts of snow. That’s fine on ski hills, but when it hits the driveway and sidewalks, we have to remove it. But how?
Well, we can wait for a thaw, but if the bylaw officers (or people who actually want to leave the house) get cranky, there’s work involved.
The hardest physical labour – and the lowest financial outlay (starting at under $10) – comes from shovelling. It’s a great workout, but it can be painful, especially if we don’t have the right shovel. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a snow shovel.
There is no one shovel that’s right for everyone. If you’re tall, you need one with a longer handle so you don’t end up in agony, looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, from stooping to get leverage. A shorter person needs a shorter handle to lift the snow and so you don’t end up bashing yourself in the chin. And there are back-saving shovels with ergonomically curved handles that make lifts easier (remember, experts recommend that you lift with your legs, not your back). Pick a weight that’s comfortable, and bear in mind that you’ll be adding a few kilos of snow to the load when you’re actually using the shovel.
There is a ton of choice in materials, sizes, and shapes of shovels, too. Have a look at what’s available at Canadian Tire and Home Depot alone. Metal blades are sturdier, but heavier. Plastic blades can be lighter, but the edges wear faster; if your shovel of choice doesn’t have one, consider adding a wear strip if possible. And, of course, pick the right blade width for the area you’re digging out. No point going for monster snow mover if you live in a 16-foot wide Toronto semi.
You’ll find more tips, and safe shoveling advice, on Yes, there is an entire website dedicated to shoveling show. Sigh.
A step up from doing the heavy lifting yourself is the electric shovel, but they only handle flurries, not serious snowstorms. And they’re no good on the ice dams left behind by snow ploughs. They cost around $100.
The heavy artillery is provided by snow blowers. They, too, come in all shapes, sizes and prices, starting around $200 for small electric units and growing to several thousand dollars for something that is self-propelled, cuts a wide swathe, and could probably eat the snow plough along with its evil driveway-blocking ice mountain.
There are three types: electric, single-stage and two-stage, which cope with increasingly more challenging conditions. If you get a lot of wet, heavy snow, or have to clear gravel paths or drives, two-stage is most appropriate. Check out the buying guide onsnowblowers for more details on appropriate terrain for each type.
Whatever you choose, look at the safety features. Consumer Reports provides a nice runthrough. Get one with a deadman’s switch that shuts down the blower as soon as you let go of the handle (and don’t promptly disable it!). If the blower doesn’t come with a clearing stick (a pole you use to clear clogs), get yourself a wooden broomstick or something – NEVER clear a clogged snowblower by poking your hand into it. You might end up missing that hand.
Above all, don’t overdo things. Whether you’re digging or pushing a snowblower, listen to your body so you live to dig another day.
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