Remember when your landlord took care of things like snow removal? Now, as a homeowner, it’s all up to you. Here’s what you need to know about this winter ritual.
KNOW THE LOCAL LAWS
Is there a sidewalk in front of your home? In some communities, you’re responsible for getting it cleared within a few hours after snowfall stops. Even if there’s no rule where you live, keeping it clear for your neighbors is a nice thing to do.
In some cities, it’s illegal to push shoveled snow from your driveway into the street. In others, homeowners are responsible for clearing two feet into the road. We suggest checking with your Department of Public Works to know where your responsibilities lie.
DO YOUR CAR FIRST
If not garaged, clearing off the car should be the priority. If you do it after shoveling the driveway, you’ll have to shovel it all over again. No fun!
DE-ICE, DE-ICE BABY
Snowbound residents often debate whether de-icers should be used before, during or after a snowstorm and which type is best. Here are three popular options.
- SODIUM CHLORIDE. Rock salt — aka sodium chloride — keeps snow from sticking and is meant to be spread before it snows. It’s best for light snow; rock salt is of little help if there’s significant accumulation. After shoveling, wait until the forecast is clear and reapply to keep ice from forming.
- CALCIUM CHLORIDE. All de-icers are designed to loosen the ice layer, so shoveling is easier. Use a mix of salt and calcium chloride if you expect super-low temperatures. Some de-icing products can damage certain surfaces, but calcium chloride is easier on pavement, walkways and vegetation. But know that salts are easily washed into streams and rivers and can impact the ecosystem, so use them sparingly.
- LIQUID DE-ICERS. Liquid de-icers work best when used before a storm hits. A thin layer is applied to sidewalks and driveways to prevent ice formation. Unfortunately, if there’s rain in the forecast, it’ll wash away. It can be more expensive than granular de-icers, but you’ll need less to get the job done and tehtre’s no cleanup afterward.
Pet owners know the pain and suffering that rock salt and chemical de-icers cause to cats and dogs — it can burn bare paws and make them sick if they lick it off their feet. Even indoor pets can get sick from de-icers tracked in on your shoes. Biodegradable products like Safe Paw™ use an amide/glycol mixture instead of salt and are safer for the environment and your pets.
Sometimes you don’t need to melt the snow; you just need more traction.
- Sand. This is the best solution when you need traction in winter weather. But since it can clog storm drains and choke waterways, use it sparingly.
- Cat litter. Many people keep an emergency bag of cat litter in their car trunks to give car tires traction on snowy roads. By design, it absorbs fluids and moisture, so avoid using it on icy walkways as it’ll make a big mess to clean up.
- Bird seed. We love this idea because it’s biodegradable and provides traction while also helping birds find food during cold winter months.
Once upon a time, neighborhood kids armed with shovels could count on making a few bucks in a snowstorm. These days, you may have to go it alone.
Be careful! Snow shoveling can be backbreaking and is one of the nation’s most significant causes of heart trouble. People try to take on too much too fast, so take frequent breaks to avoid exhaustion.
Since it’s a form of exercise, we suggest stretching before you start. And remember, even though it looks light and fluffy, snow is made of water and really heavy. To avoid lifting and throwing a heavy shovelful, skim layers of snow a bit at a time. Then, rather than lifting, push the snow to where you want to pile it. And to avoid twisting your back, always face the fallen snow you intend to remove and pivot your entire body toward where you want to drop the snow.
If possible, get a head start while the snow is still falling and shovel a little bit several times throughout the storm. You’ll have less work to do when it’s over.
Be forewarned; if your community’s snow removal plows your streets, you may end up with a big mound of dirty compact slush at the end of your driveway. You may want to tackle this task after the plows pass.
Here are 3 common types of snow shovels:
- Lift shovels. Consider a lightweight, well-constructed plastic shovel with a metal lip. They’re the least expensive and the easiest to maneuver.
- Back-Saver shovels. These have bent, S-shaped handles to reduce back strain. Buy one that’s lightweight, as it’ll soon be heavy with wet snow.
- Push shovels. The wider “push shovel” looks like a miniature plow, allowing you to push the snow as you walk. It’s an excellent choice for homes with wide or long driveways.
You may prefer to forego shoveling altogether and opt for the power of a snowblower. However, chain supply issues — and high demand just before a storm — means that these can sell out quickly. Pro tip: it’s best to use a snowblower before using de-icers so as not to spread chemicals on plants and lawns.
Here are the basic options:
- Self-propelled snowblowers are the easiest to push along the driveway.
- Electric snowblowers are also easy, but you’re dealing with power chords, batteries and charging stations which can be easily misplaced.
- Gas-powered snowblowers provide more freedom of movement than electric ones but are more expensive and require a precise mixture of gas and oil.
If you have less than 2 inches of light snow, try a leaf blower! When used immediately after a snowfall, they can clear away powder snow pretty quickly. Just don’t wait too long, or the snow will settle and get heavier. And don’t bother at all if the snow is very wet.
THE TARP METHOD
If you don’t have a snowblower, leaf blower or shovel and there’s a storm predicted, lay a plastic tarp over driveways and walkways before the snow arrives. When the snowfall stops, drag the tarp off. You can even throw a plastic tarp over your car. It may not be nearly as effective as having the snow removal tools mentioned above, but it’ll still help if you’re in a pinch.
Lastly, do not — repeat — do not throw hot water on ice or snow. It will melt it, but it’ll refreeze thicker and can cause a more slippery situation on driveways, stairs and sidewalks. Doing it on flat roofs and decks makes the ice even heavier and can cause structural damage.
Sure, winter is here. But Spring is right around the corner, so keep the faith! And good luck out there.