Snowblowers 101
Person using a snowblower to clear snow

Wherever you live in Canada, chances are you’re going to do some snow shovelling at some point this winter. For most of us, winter snow storms are a fact of life, and that usually means getting up early to clear your driveway and sidewalk after an overnight snow dump. While shovelling may be a great cardio workout, it’s time-consuming and – depending on your age and health – potentially dangerous. Snowblowers and snow throwers are made to make clearing snow easier, especially after a large snowfall, and can save you both time and physical strain. Read on to learn if it’s worth buying one this season, and how to choose the right model for your needs.

Blowers and throwers

The names “snowblower” and “snow thrower” are often used interchangeably, but there can be a difference. In most cases, a snowblower has two or three impellers to move the snow through the machine, while a thrower has only one. Which one is right for you depends on how much area you need to clear regularly and how much snow you get. Snowblowers are generally more powerful and useful for bigger areas and deeper snow, while snow throwers are typically used for lighter-duty tasks.

Do you need one?

Like all appliances, snowblowers come in a range of price points, from a few hundred dollars for entry-level electric models to thousands for top-of-the-range gas-powered ones. If you live in a region that gets a lot of snow and you have a large area to clear, then it’s probably worth the investment. If you’re only going to use it a few times a year, however, it might make better sense to hire someone to clear your driveway on an annual contract. Not only will it probably save you money, but you also won’t have to worry about repairing your machine when it breaks down – or getting out of bed in the dark.

Gas vs. battery

Gas blowers were the standard until recently when improved battery technology made electric-powered models a viable option. Within the electric category are corded and cordless models at a wide range of prices, sizes, and outputs. As with power tools, cordless models are easier to maneuver but require fully-charged batteries (which don’t always last as long in very cold weather). Electric models also require less regular maintenance than gas-powered ones, which need regular oil changes and belt replacements. On the flip side, electric models are not generally designed to be repairable, while gas ones can be tuned and repaired by a small-engine mechanic.

Size and output

If you’ve decided you want to buy a snowblower or snow thrower, there are a few basic factors to consider. The first is your budget. As with all major appliance purchases, it’s advisable to choose a well-reviewed model from a reputable brand, and remember that the best value is usually found in the mid-range. Older second-hand models in good condition are also a great option and sometimes come with improved build quality over newer ones. Aside from that, you’ll need to determine which type of machine best suits the size of your driveway and normal winter conditions in your area. Sizes are measured by the width of the machine, with wider ones able to clear more area with each pass. While larger machines make quicker work, they are more expensive, less easy to maneuver, and take up more space. For most residential driveways, an 18-to 24-inch machine should be more than enough. Similarly, more power output is better for larger areas and deeper snow, as well as wet snow. 

Regular maintenance

In addition to being quieter and lighter, the main advantage of electric snowblowers and throwers over gas ones is that they don’t require oil changes or replacing spark plugs. The downside to this is that they also tend to produce less power, and are more difficult (and expensive) to repair if anything goes wrong. Gas-powered models, by comparison, need to be regularly maintained, from filling the gas tank to topping up the oil and replacing drive belts every few years. As with gas-powered lawnmowers and outboard motors, the best time to do this is in the off-season. Your snowblower won’t be much use in January if it’s in the shop, so make an appointment to have it tuned up well in advance of the first snowfall. Whichever model you choose, storing it covered in a dry place – ideally, a shed or garage – when not in use will help to extend its life.

Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.

Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.
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