If you're looking for a snow blower that's inexpensive and doesn't take a lot of muscle to move, consider a top-rated electric thrower. Lightweight, easy to handle and the lowest maintenance of all types of snow blowers, most electric models are single-stage, costing around $100 to $300. A few brands offer two-stage units for around $1,500.
In the long run, electric snow blowers are less expensive to operate because they don't require oil, fuel or an annual engine service. Most use a power cord, which must be purchased separately and adds about $100 to the initial cost. Your extension cord should be 100 to 150 feet long (depending on the requirements of your property and blower), but it must be a heavy-duty 12-gauge cord rated for outdoor use. Snow blowing attached to a power cord isn't as difficult as it may sound -- one owner at Amazon.com explains it's easy "once you set up a pattern to work."
According to expert comparisons, electric machines are thorough but don't match the speed or power of a gas snow blower. They're best for light snowfalls of up to six inches. Some of the more powerful electric snow blowers can throw wet snow if maneuvered slowly, but users must be careful not to strain and overheat the motor.
Experts and owners say the combination of superb handling and performance earns the Toro 1800 Power Curve 38381 (Est. $320) the top pick among electric snow blowers. User-friendly controls, effortless handling and a compact design make it one of the easiest snow blowers to use. The Power Curve 38381 ranks first among electric units in one comparison by a leading consumer organization. Hundreds of owner reviews also praise its performance. One owner at HomeDepot.com says the blower makes "short work" of light powder and "with a measured pace does a nice job" of clearing heavier snow. Price and a long life span make the Toro 1800 Power Curve 38381 a great value, according to reviews.
For a basic, inexpensive electric snow blower, reviews say the Greenworks 20-inch 12A 26032 (Est. $200) is a good pick. Its lightweight frame is user-friendly, and Greenworks' four-year warranty is the longest in our report. With a 500-pound-per-minute capacity, the 26032 isn't as powerful as the Toro 38381; owners say it is best on powder up to six inches deep. Expect a slower operation and some clogging if you're clearing wet snow.
Because gas snow blowers have more power than electric models, they clear snow faster. They are also better at moving heavier wet snow and breaking up packed mounds left by the snowplow, prompting some experts to recommend gas over electric. However, gas snow blowers have a higher annual cost of ownership due to fuel costs and engine maintenance. Additionally, cold weather can make it difficult for gas engines to start in the wintertime. The best gas snow blowers use four-stroke engines, which run smoother and quieter than their two-stroke counterparts and do not require a mixture of oil and gasoline.
In a single-stage gas snow blower, the auger scoops the snow and sends it through the chute in a one-step process. These blowers tend to be smaller and less expensive than two-stage machines and are best for clearing six to eight inches of snow off blacktop.
According to one consumer organization, the Toro Power Clear 621 QZR 38458 (Est. $730) is the most powerful single-stage gas snow blower on the market today. Owners also praise its performance and handling -- at HomeDepot.com the Power Clear 621 QZR 38458 has a 95-percent recommendation rate from reviewers. Users say the self-propel drive system and variable-speed transmission make driving a breeze, while a well-designed auger and chute leave a spotless finish. "Its compact size and light weight make it easy to lift in and out of the truck" without ramps, writes one owner at HomeDepot.com. The folding handle reduces the 38458's footprint for more compact storage.
Owners say it's easy to get the Toro 38458 running with its pull cord, but owners wanting an electric start should consider Toro's Power Clear 621 QZE 38459 (Est. $830) . It has the same first-class handling and performance as the 38458, with the added bonus of a push-button starter.
The Toro Power Clear 418 ZE 38282 (Est. $440) shares many of the same features as the larger 38458, including a comprehensive two-year warranty, a solid brand reputation and a well-designed auger, but costs about $300 less. It receives top marks for handling from one leading testing organization, partly because of its user-friendly controls and light body. The 87 cc engine efficiently clears about half a foot of powder, but can bog down on wet snow and dense berms. In addition to the recoil (pull) cord -- which most users say is easy to pull -- the Toro 38282 includes an electric push-button starter.
As the largest and most powerful type of snow blower, two-stage gas throwers can clear the most snow. Two-stage machines also propel snow farther using two components to move the snow: an auger to pick the snow up and a chute-mounted impeller to shoot the snow out. The best have a throwing distance of about 40 feet, making them a good option for large driveways. Compact two-stage gas snow blowers take up less space for easier handling and storage, but may not match the strength of a full-sized machine.
Both professionals and owners say the Craftsman 88173 (Est. $680) is not only one of the most powerful two-stage gas snow blowers, but it's also one of the easiest to handle. The plow-style handles can be driven with one hand, freeing the other to work the throttle or the chute. The 88173 pairs a four-stroke engine with an eight-speed transmission (six forward gears and two reverse) to tear through the heaviest storms. Reviews say the 12-inch steel serrated auger can break apart packed snow banks -- like those left from the municipal plow -- and the chute design minimizes clogging. With one of the largest capacities, the 88173 "has enough power to handle heavy, wet snow and the intake is tall enough to handle 24-inch drifts," says Paul Sikkema, editor of MovingSnow.com, a website dedicated to snow blowers.
For a less expensive two-stage snow blower, reviews recommend the Sno-Tek 920402 (Est. $630) . One owner at HomeDepot.com explains, "there are so many features on the Sno-Tek, you would expect to pay more for this unit." The four-stroke engine, steel auger and three-blade impeller can clear heavy-duty snowfalls, but a leading consumer organization finds the Sno-Tek takes a little longer than the Craftsman 88173. This compact snow blower earns mostly good comments on handling: The majority of owners say it's pretty easy to drive for a two-stage machine. Its smaller tires are a drawback for some.
Both the Craftsman 88173 and the Sno-Tek 920402 come with a two-year limited warranty. This is standard for most snow blowers.