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, don't 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 too small to tackle your typical snowstorm, the underpowered machine will bog down under the strain.
Shopping with those features and your region in mind is more important than focusing on price alone, according to professionals. Snow blowers can cost $1,000 or more, though a leading consumer organization says that plenty of well-built throwers are available for less than $700. Ariens, Toro, Cub Cadet, Yard Machines, Troy Built, and Craftsman are some of the best known brands of snow blowers, though not all of their models are good buys. Many snow blowers, including Cub Cadet, Troy-Bilt, Yard Machines and some Craftsman snow blowers are made by the same company, MTD, which also sells snow blowers under its own name. Some experts and professionals are quick to dismiss MTD-made snow blowers, yet they regularly do well in testing and often draw good feedback from users. Paul Sikkema at MovingSnow.com comments on the engines used in these snow blowers and provides an update after two years wherein he notes that MTD snow blowers are proving to be "the most reliable snow blowers engines currently on the market."
Types of snow throwers
Snow blowers are divided into three basic categories depending on how they are powered -- electric motor or gas engine -- with the latter further subdivided by how it moves the snow -- single-stage or two-stage.
Electric snow blowers. The easiest type to own and operate, 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, and half that if the snow is packed or wet. These are the least expensive type of thrower; expect to pay $100 to $300. Most electric snow throwers are corded, but a few cordless snow throwers are also available. In the case of corded models, 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.
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 -- as much as 18 inches. 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 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.
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. 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.
Elsewhere in this Report:
Best Electric Snow Blowers: If you live where the winters are mild, and don't have a ton of property to clear when snow does fall, an electric snow blower is an economical and energy-efficient choice. These are the top performers.
Best Gas Snow Blowers: For serious snow clearing only a serious gas snow blower will do. These are the top single-stage and two-stage gas snow throwers as identified by experts and users.
Best Snow Shovels: Is a snow blower overkill for where you live and the snowfalls you typically get? If so, a good but not-so-old-fashioned snow shovel could be a reasonable choice. Here's what to look for to find a snow shovel that will clear your walk without breaking your back, along with some top choices to consider.
Buying Guide: Having the wrong snow thrower for your property could be worse than having no snow thrower at all. Here's what to look for to find the right snow blower for your needs.
Our Sources: These are the professional and user reviews we consulted to find the best gas and electric snow blowers. They are rated and ranked according to their expertise and helpfulness.