Snow shoveling safety tips

The exertion of shoveling snow by hand really does increase the risk of a heart attack - especially if you're a middle-aged man with a family history of heart disease. A 2011 study of emergency room heart patients in Ontario, Canada, found that seven percent of the patients had been shoveling snow when they first experienced the symptoms that put them in the hospital.

Add to this the number of shoveling-related back injuries, and it's a good argument to invest in a snowblower or hire a company for snow removal services.

If you must shovel by hand, at least follow these snow removal tips:

Prepare before you start. Drink fluids so you're fully hydrated. Warm up your major muscle groups by stretching.

Get rest and get help. Take frequent breaks, especially if the snow is wet and heavy. Go inside and have some hot chocolate. If you have older kids in the house, why aren't they helping?

Use an ergonomic shovel. This lets you push rather than lift snow out of the way.

Put physics to work. Leverage the shovel close to your upper body with one hand near the blade.

Try to keep your back straight. Use the major muscles in your legs and shoulders for lifting.

Snow removal services

Snow removal companies will send someone to your house after any significant snowfall to plow your driveway and shovel your walks.

The downside, however, is that everyone else on the company's customer list needs them at the same time you do. Before you sign up for a snow shoveling service, ask these questions:

What specific services do you provide? Depending on the forecast, many services are at the ready to lay down salt or other deicers, such as calcium chloride, as soon as bad weather is expected. If a snow that can’t be handled with deicing is expected, removal companies will plow, haul snow and shovel sidewalks and other walkways in order to maintain safety.

What kind of staff and equipment do you use? Most companies employ radio dispatchers in addition to their snow removal specialists. They may also have at their disposal commercial grade equipment such as skid steers, front-end loaders, snowplows and pushers.

What planning takes place before the storm? Many snow removal companies will visit your site when you contract with them so they can plan for the precise services that may be required when a storm actually hits. Make a plan with the provider that will best suit your needs.

What priority is given to my needs? Snow removal companies have several clients, so you may or may not be the first on the list to service. If you have any special needs that should give you priority, such as health conditions that could require treatment at a facility, you could let the company know.

What is the cost for snow removal, and how is it calculated? The cost varies on the market conditions of a particular area and current fuel costs. If you know you live in an area of the country that is likely to experience a certain amount of snow, you may be able to lock in a reasonable rate because the company will expect a minimum amount of work.

Cost of an annual snow removal contract

The cost of an annual snow removal contract fluctuates depending on several variables, including where you live, how long it takes the company to respond and how big or long your driveway is.

Angie's List members reported paying an annual average of $378 for snow removal contracts in 2013. According to CostHelper, the price for one worker to shovel or snow blow costs between $25 and $75 per hour.

Owning a snowblower

If you take the leap and buy a snowblower to clear your driveway so you can back your car out in the morning, make sure it will start when you need it to.

Since the introduction of ethanol into gasoline in 2007, the term "fuel treatment" has become important to snowblower owners who want to know that their machine will still start after the first snowfall of the season.

Related: How to Protect Your Car from Snow and Ice Damage

Unlike gasoline, ethanol mixes readily with water, even with water in the air. This extra moisture can make an engine hard to start.

There are two main types of fuel treatment. The first kind is for long-term storage. It removes moisture and helps maintain octane levels. The other kind of fuel additive is added just before use. It also helps remove moisture and boosts octane levels that were reduced by evaporation during months when the engine was in storage.

Changing the sparkplug will also help your snowblower startup. If purchasing new sparkplugs, ask a service representative about some of the new sparkplugs available that burn more efficiently and make starting even easier. The professional can also advise you on basic maintenance such as oil changes and air filter replacement.

How rock salt works

Rock salt lowers the freezing/thawing threshold of water from 32 degrees to a few degrees lower, depending on weather conditions. This allows ice to melt and also helps prevent ice from forming.

Rock salt works the best when it is at least 15 degrees outside and when the sun is shining on the area where you spread the salt.

Spread a layer of rock salt on any frozen ground surface where you might need to walk, including your front porch, patio, driveway and sidewalk. If your mailbox is not attached to your home, keep some salt around the mailbox to prevent yourself from falling. Stash a bag in the trunk of your car and keep some at your office in case of a weather emergency.

Calcium chloride works the best for ice control at extremely low temperatures, up to negative 25 degrees, but it is the most expensive kind of rock salt. Sodium chloride rock salt has a minimal cost but is least effective at melting ice at low temperatures.

Rock salt is available at most home improvement stores, grocery stores and convenient stores during winter months, but don’t wait too long to purchase it. Stores might run out and you could be stuck in a slippery situation.

If you run out of rock salt, you can use other items you might already have in your house. Urea is a type of garden and lawn fertilizer that will melt ice as effectively as sodium chloride rock salt and causes less harm to your plants and your concrete or asphalt. Sand, ash cinders or kitty litter will help melt ice in sunny weather and give you traction to prevent you from slipping on black ice.

Snow removal

The cost of hiring a snow removal company depends on where you live and how big and long your driveway is. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan B. of Tallmadge, Ohio)

How to avoid snow removal scams

Most snow removal companies are reputable, but a few can give the industry a bad name.

In some cases, it's been reported that companies posing as reputable snow removal companies go door-to-door offering services in exchange for money in full. But the company doesn't return to do any of the work.

A couple of tips to avoid scams are to not pay for a service in full or give a large deposit.

Eco-friendly snow removal tips

Are you looking to help the environment while removing snow from your property?

One of the best "green" snow removal techniques is grabbing the old shovel, which will give your a nice workout in the process. Just don't overdue it!

Other tips include using battery or electric powered snowblowers and staying away from some deicing products. Instead, look for alternatives to help with traction, such as sand.

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