woman shoveling snow

Snow And Ice Removal Hacks To Get You Through Winter

Kim Porter8-Minute Read
December 21, 2020

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For most of us who live in a state with four seasons, you know the dread that starts to creep in every December. Trust us when we say that it’s pretty hard to sing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” with a straight face when you’re shoveling snow for hours on end.

Winter is coming, and with it comes a slew of snow, sleet and slush. If you’re not seasoned with the season of snow, we’ve got five hacks for snow and ice removal that will blow your mind, and hopefully, your snow.

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Start Shoveling

Shoveling is one of the cheapest ways to manage snow but watch out for back injuries. Here are some tips for getting the right tools and best practices for using a shovel.

Get The Right Shovel

If you choose to go down the shoveling route, the first hack for snow removal is to make sure you have the right shovel.

A lightweight plastic or aluminum blade, coated with a nonstick finish, is your best bet, according to This Old House. Make sure you’re using the correct blade material, like plastic blades for softer materials such as wood decking.

Additionally, you’ll want a shovel that has an ergonomic, S-shaped shaft. This will protect your back from strain and require less bending when you’re shoveling.

Shoveling Tips

Best practices for shoveling snow are to only remove as much snow as you’re comfortable with lifting. Back injuries and falls are common this time of year, so it’s best to only take on what you can handle.

That being said, This Old House recommends shoveling several times, even when snow is still falling, so that the snow doesn’t bond to surfaces like your driveway, sidewalks or deck.

Additionally, it’s a lot easier to shovel 2 inches rather than 5, so stay on top of snowfall to prevent pileups and back injuries from lifting.

Move Faster With A Snow Blower

Homeowners typically want to know how to get rid of snow fast. Enter the snow blower, which can help you tidy up your property at a much quicker pace. In fact, it's generally seen as the best way to remove snow without a shovel.

Of course, you'll need to consider the expenses – buying the snow blower, fueling it up and caring for it properly – and decide whether you want to prioritize convenience over these costs.

Here are some best practices for how to use a snow blower:

Snow Blowing Tips

This Old House recommends using a snow blower if there’s at least 2 inches of snow on the ground.

Speed is also a factor for snow blowing, according to Consumer Reports. When you move too slowly, the snow shoots out a shorter distance, limiting its arc; conversely, going too fast will cause snow to spill through the side of your machine. Make sure you test out a good speed before beginning.

The best practice for clearing snow is to start in the middle of the surface you’re clearing, blowing the snow toward one edge of the driveway. Make a U-turn as you come to the end of each pass, and come back down the opposite side. This alternation will prevent you from throwing snow on top of pavement that’s already cleared.

How To Use A Snow Blower On A Gravel Driveway

If you’re using a snow blower on a gravel driveway, you run the risk of sucking up rocks and throwing them all over your (or your neighbor’s) lawn. This can be hazardous because flying gravel can hit cars, windows or even passersby!

That being said, if you have a gravel driveway or sidewalks, home and garden resource website Perfect for Home suggests a two-stage snow blower.

Essentially there are two types of snow blowers. Single-stage is designed to come into direct contact with the ground and is more ideal for paved surfaces.

Two-stage snow blowers allow you to adjust the height of the blades so that your blower is not coming into direct contact with the ground. You can also adjust the discharge chute (the vessel that shoots out the sucked-up snow) to aim in a safe direction, away from things like cars, windows and people.

How To Use A Snow Blower In Wet Snow

Additionally, if you’re using a snow blower in wet snow, there are a few techniques that you need to be aware of, as wet snow is heavier and can possibly cause more injuries if not handled correctly.

It can be tempting to take down wet snow full-speed ahead with your snow blower. However, when dealing with wet snow, it’s actually safer to move slower and take in less snow at a time. Moving too quickly on wet snow can cause your snow blower to clog and the machine to wear out.

The best practice for wet snow removal using a snow blower is to move slowly and take smaller sections of snow in each pass, about one-third to one-half the width of the machine, suggests Family Handyman. It’s a lot easier for the machine to take in and it also allows for it to throw the snow farther, preventing the snow from falling into your freshly blown path.

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Fast Snow Removal Alternatives

If you don't have a shovel or snow blower, try these creative snow removal ideas:

Tarp

You'll have to start this method before the snow begins. Grab a waterproof tarp and pull it over your car. Secure the tarp to the car using rope or weigh it down with stones if it's long enough to reach the ground. After the snow stops falling, carefully remove the tarp and drag it to an area where you can dump the excess snow. The tarp method also works on exposed sidewalks and steps.

Leaf Blower

A leaf blower can be a handy stand-in for a snow blower, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Because leaf blowers are less precise when moving debris, it might take a little longer to direct the snow to its own pile. You also might need to take a second pass at the area you're cleaning up. This method is best for a small layer of fresh and powdery snow, as lots of heavy or slushy snow will be harder to move.

Shop Vac

Shop vacs are versatile tools that can safely pick up liquids as well as dirt and debris. You can use the utility nozzle of your shop vac to suck up snow and dump it elsewhere, or flip on the “exhaust” mode to blow the snow away.

Lukewarm Water

Snowbound homeowners can also clear away snow and help ice melt by pouring lukewarm water over the area. (Don't use hot water, which can crack windows, warp metal and crack concrete because of the temperature difference.)

To prevent additional ice from forming, use a squeegee to remove the runoff and put down something to add traction – sand, cat litter or sawdust will work. This method is best if the temperatures are on the rise.

Best Practices For Snow Removal

Having the right tools is the first step – here are some tips on best practices for using them.

Set A Schedule

During a long and heavy snowfall, one of the worst things you can do is put off dealing with the pileup. Shoveling snow at regular intervals keeps things more manageable and prevents the bottom layer of snow from turning into ice. This method is best for heavy, wet snow. Set a schedule to shovel or snow blow every hour or two, depending on how long the snowfall is supposed to last.

Wipe Out Snow Windrows As They Appear

Speaking of pileups, you probably didn’t think there was a fancy term for the pile of snow left at the bottom of your driveway after the snowplow passes through your street. And if you did, it’s probably not fancy or a word we can use on this blog!

Those pileups are called snow windrows – and they’re very real and even more annoying. If left unattended, you’ll be unable to pull out of your driveway without getting stuck.

There are a few ways to combat the buildup of snow at the end of your driveway, but the best is just to get rid of them as they appear.

Much like tackling snowfall, inch by inch as it comes, make sure you clear your snow windrow as soon as you can. Leaving it will risk it fusing together and making it difficult to shovel, especially if it’s a sunny day. Leaving your snow unshoveled on a warm, sunny day could possibly result in the snow melting and later freezing into solid ice.

The best practice is to shovel your snow windrow as soon as possible and only lift as much as you’re comfortable with, protecting your back and neck from strain.

Use A Roof Rake

As the name implies, a roof snow rake is an extra-long rake that can help you clear snow off your roof. It also prevents ice dams from forming. To use one, start from the edge and work your way into the middle of the roof, shaving down the snow to just an inch or 2, keeping snow from the gutters and drains. Don’t use this tool on a ladder and watch out for large clumps as you rake the snow. 

Keep An Exit Path Clear

To help with accessibility, keep a path clear from the front door to the driveway. Clear other paths as needed. 

Don't Pile Snow Against Your House

As you use the shovel or snow blower, you’ll need somewhere to store the excess snow. Keep it away from the side of your home, as it can cause a lot of damage. For every 100 inches of accumulated snow, 10 inches of water will need to find a way to run off. That water might seep into the foundation and cause damage, erode the soil, and even flood your home. That's why it's so important to keep the snow at least 3 – 5 feet away from your house, and make sure there's a safe spot for the water to drain.

Use De-Icers For Proactive Ice Removal

Rock Salt

Rock salt is relatively cheap, according to This Old House. Using it on surfaces prone to ice and snow can be a great way to lower the risk of falls and injuries.

If you choose to use salt for de-icing, This Old House suggests gloves when spreading salt or any de-icer instead of by bare hand. If you are salting a larger area, you can also use a push spreader to cover larger surfaces at a quicker pace.

Lastly, make sure you store the de-icers off the floor or in a sealed bucket, to keep them dry.

Sand

While salt is a common option for de-icing, it can also be harmful to plants or grass in your yard. It’s also known to eat away at concrete in large quantities, resulting in an uneven surface and costly repair expenses.

If you’re looking for a less harmful, less expensive way to provide traction on slippery surfaces, you can use sandbox sand or even cat litter on your driveway and sidewalks.

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Prepare For The Ice Age

When prepping for snowfall, stock your home with the right tools. Knowing how to use a snow blower and being aware of the proper way to shovel can help you manage the powder, but you can also grab a tarp or use another method mentioned here.

One of the most important things to do is make a plan for snow and ice removal before you need to put it into action. It's just one way to prepare your home for the winter.

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Kim Porter

Kim Porter is an experienced personal finance writer who focuses on mortgages, credit cards, student loans, debt and more. She has a B.A. in journalism from the University of Florida. You can find her on Twitter at @kimsavesmoney or on LinkedIn.