Snow blowers make fast work of clearing snow
A snow blower takes the place of a snow shovel, quickly clearing your porch, sidewalk and driveway in less time and with less effort. Using an auger mounted in front of the machine, a snow blower scoops up snow as you walk and fires it through a chute to collect in your yard (or wherever you aim).
Snowy conditions create enough problems for traction and maneuvering, so you won't want to add to them with a cumbersome snow blower. Experts say buying a machine that's easy to handle, has glove-friendly controls and starts on demand is key to owner satisfaction. It's also important to select the type best suited to your region's winter. If you wind up with a snow blower -- also called snow thrower -- that's not powerful enough to tackle your typical snowstorm, it will bog down -- or even fail -- under the strain. Keep the size and extent of your walkways and driveways in mind as well. A lightweight machine with a narrow intake is fine for a city property, but can mean extra passes for suburban and rural dwellers.
Types of snow throwers
Snow blowers can be powered by an electric motor or gas engine. Electric snow blowers can be corded or cordless, while gas models can be broken down by how they move the snow -- single-stage or two-stage.
Corded electric snow blowers. Most electric snow blowers weigh less than 40 pounds and are compact for uncomplicated maneuvering and storage. Their electric motors are fume-free, quieter than gas engines and don't require regular servicing. The most powerful electric snow blowers can move about 8 inches of powder; half that if the snow is packed or wet. These are the least expensive type of thrower -- expect to pay $100 to $300 -- and don't forget to add in the cost of a separate heavy-duty extension cord that's long enough to reach your entire walkway or driveway from an electrical outlet.
Cordless electric snow blowers. Cordless electric snow throwers cut away the tether of a corded electric snow blower, but offer only limited run time -- 30 minutes to an hour per charge; if you need more than that, consider having a charged spare battery on hand. Cordless electric snow blowers are most suitable for smaller properties and areas where snow falls don't often exceed 8 inches or so. They are also pricey compared to corded models -- $300 and up. But, despite these drawbacks, their convenience makes them a hit with many owners.
Single-stage gas snow blowers. In a single-stage snow blower, the auger scoops up the snow with enough force to blow it out the chute. With no extension cord tethering them, single-stage gas snow blowers can cover more ground than electric models. They are also more powerful, throwing snow farther, clearing heavy snowfall faster, and breaking up packed berms left by the snowplow. Gas engines require more time and money to maintain, but many users say it's worth it for the added power. Most single-stage gas snow blowers weigh between 60 and 90 pounds and cost about $300 to $800. They are generally suitable for cleaning up snowfalls of up to 10 inches
Two-stage gas snow blowers. These are the beasts of the group: bigger, heavier and able to move more snow than single-stage throwers. Two-stage snow blowers add an extra component; after the auger shovels the snow into the chute, a corkscrew-like impeller shoots the snow as far as 40 feet away. Because the augers on two-stage machines don't brush against the ground, this is the best option for clearing snow off gravel or off of a wooden deck without fear of damaging it. Compact versions have a smaller body for easier storage, but are still beefy enough to clear snow up to 20 inches high. Expect to pay at least $600 for a well-built compact two-stage gas snow blower and more than $1,000 for a full-sized one.
Snow shovels. Don't forget the original "manual' snow thrower, the snow shovel. Yes, shoveling snow can be back-breaking work, and is definitely not advised for those in less-than-good physical shape, but if you live where snow is light, and/or on a property with not much sidewalk to shovel, they are a cost effective alternative. Even better, the top choices among modern snow shovels offer improved ergonomics to make the task of clearing snow by hand a lot easier than ever before. A well-designed, well-made snow shovel will run roughly $30 to $50.
Finding the best snow throwers
We use a combination of expert tests and owner feedback to select the top snow blowers. ConsumerReports.org is the only professional source we found that conducts side-by-side comparisons, but its coverage is both comprehensive and detailed, with hands-on testing that looks at performance, handling and more. MovingSnow.com is also helpful. Though site owner Paul Sikkema doesn't cover nearly as many models, and testing isn't always well defined, his expertise provides valuable insights on which snow blowers to buy and which to skip. If it is a snow shovel that you are digging, TheSweetHome.com uses a panel of four testers to find those that get the job done with the least strain on your back; the site has also begun rating snow blowers, but testing was incomplete at the time of this report. Owner reviews at sites such as HomeDepot.com and Amazon.com help fill in the picture, reporting on issues -- such as long-term durability -- that experts can't address in the limited time they have to test products. The results of our intensive research are the snow blowers that are top performers, very durable and handle easily.