When the snow gets really heavy, a snow blower can be a real back-saver. These power machines chew up and spit out snow helping you carve out walking paths and clearing the driveway when things get deep. Finding an affordable model that works well and lasts means knowing what to look for.
It’s important the snow blower be easy to maneuver. These machines, when designed well, are as easy to push as a wheelbarrow or lawn mower. Some blowers include a headlight so you can see in the dark, but this feature adds cost when you can just as easily turn on a light outside the house or start up the car and use the headlights to see. Two-stage snow blowers are for those who are strong and can handle maneuvering a heavy lumbering machine.
As with all power equipment, safety is important. Snow blowers include a lever that causes the machine to shut off instantly when you release it. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), snow blowers are the cause of about 3,000 finger injuries or amputations yearly. Never clear a clog in the auger with your hand. Use a broom handle instead. To help prevent clogging in the first place, consider a silicon spray to coat the auger blades.
If you have a gravel driveway, check what consumers who own the machine say about using it on such a surface. While experts agree that two-stage blowers are best on gravel because you can adjust the clearance on the wheels, plenty of consumers use single-stage gas or electric on this surface, taking care with where the chute blows the snow to avoid hurting anyone with flying gravel stones.
Two-stage gas snow blowers are often recommended if you get more than 8” of snowfall regularly. These models are two-stage because they use the auger to grab snow and a separate impeller to shoot the snow. Made for deep snow, or terrain that isn’t primarily flat, they also cost about twice as much as a single-stage gas snow blower, which uses the auger to both grab snow and drive it out of the chute. Choose this model only if you live in an area with heavy snowfall and hilly terrain to get the best savings.
Single-Stage Gasoline or Electric
Even though single-stage snow blowers are designed for 8” or less of snowfall, they often do fine in up to 12” of snow. The greater maneuverability makes them better choices for most consumers. Single-stage electric models are best for light duty and in places like California where emissions laws ban most gas snow blowers. Because these machines are so light, they are the easiest to maneuver.
Shooting Distance and Other Specs
Know that when the snow is heavy and wet, it won’t be thrown as far as the maximum distance listed for the snow blower. Most blowers are rated to throw snow at least 30’, which should be plenty for most driveways. A good snow blower with clear 8” or more of snow.
Any model that cuts a path smaller than 18” will likely cause headaches for users having to make too many passes to clear the snow. If you consider an electric model, check the distance to the nearest outdoor outlet and make sure you buy a long enough extension cord for the job. Those with very large properties or long driveways should avoid electric when possible. The cord becomes more of a hassle the farther out you go from the power source.
Brands and Pricing
Earthwise, Smart Power, Poulan and Snapper all make well-priced, dependable snow blowers. Poulan is made by Husqvarna, a brand known for its superior quality and craftsmanship. Electric single-stage snow blowers are most affordable at about $150 to $200. Gasoline single-stage snow blowers run $350 - $500. In general, two-stage blowers cost around $700, but we found one for just $500.