Angie's LIST Guide to
Snow removal

Snow is pretty, but not in your driveway. Shoveling by hand is hard on the back and increases heart attack risk in some people. Thinking of buying a snowblower or hiring a snow removal service? Here's what you should know.
 

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Snow removal professionals can safely remove snow in potentially dangerous areas like the roof. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Robert K.)
Snow removal professionals can safely remove snow in potentially dangerous areas like the roof. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Robert K.)
 
 
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Snow shoveling safety tips

The exertion of shoveling snow by hand really does increase the risk of a heart attack -- especially if you are 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 snow removal service.

If you must shovel by hand, at least follow these 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

A snow removal service will send someone to your house after any significant snowfall to plow your driveway and shovel your walks.

Snow removal companies can help in times of emergencies, but plan ahead when a big storm is coming, as their schedules will fill up quickly. (Photo courtesy of Kate Robbins)

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, ask these questions:

What specific services do you provide? Depending on the conditions 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, snow plows and pushers.

What planning takes place before the storm? Many 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? Chances are any given snow removal company has 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, 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.

Owning a snowblower

If you take the leap and buy a snowblower, 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.

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's 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.

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