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Created by dave. Last edited by dave, 10 years and 251 days ago. Viewed 2,146 times. #10
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Shovelling Snow

So I've been the operator/owner of a two-car-wide, four car deep drive way for about ten years now, and I've been digging the snow for all of those years. This is what I've learned about dealing with snow.

Note that these comments only really apply to my circumstances; your milage may vary.

90% of how easy or hard dealing with a snowfall will be depends on what you do before the snow comes.

Think about your house placement when you buy it.

Yes, where your house sits will affect how much snow you have to deal with.

  • Major or Minor roadway? If you are on the main thoroughfare into and out of your subdivision, you'll get plowed more often (good!) but means you'll be digging out the end of your drive more often (bad!). You'll probably also be on a wider road, which means you'll get more snow than if you were on a side street.
  • What side of the road are you on? If the plow makes it's first pass going past your house on your side of the street, you'll end up with more snow than if you were on the other side. This is especially true for main streets.
  • What side of the property is your driveway on? You ideally want your driveway on the "upstream" side of your property (upstream with respect to the traffic flow past your driveway). This means you can pack snow onto the roadside snowbank with good confidence that the plow will not push it back into your driveway when they come back later to trim up. You also want your neighbour to have his driveway next to yours, so that he isn't tempted to put his snow on the bank between your drives; any excess that he puts on the street will end up back in his driveway, not yours.
  • How far away is the nearest corner? If you are close to a corner, and on the clockwise downstream part of the corner, you want to be four or five houses away from that corner because plows will plow the corner and then push the remaining debris into the snowbank a house or two in. This snowbank inevitably ends up in the driveway of the next house when the plows come back later to trim up the snowbanks.
  • Is your lawn upwind or downwind most of the time? A big lawn can be useless if it is upwind most of the time; when you are shoveling or blowing the wind will just blow some/most/all of it back at you.
  • Is there someplace to put the snow? Will the wife get mad at you for damaging the ornamental landscaping next to the drive by piling snow on it all winter?
  • Is there a sidewalk? If there is a sidewalk, and the city plows it, be aware that periodically the sidewalk plow will come along and dump some amount of snow into your drive. Having the sidewalk also changes where you can put the snow yourself. Also, in some municipalities you may be responsible for clearing the snow within some period of time.

Get the right tools

You want to make sure you have the right tools for the job. For example, I usually like to have a selection of shovels:

  • a metal push shovel (something wide that you can push the snow along with like a plow, but with a low blade so it won't get overloaded)
  • a metal digger shovel (a flat metal spade for digging into packed snow and the plow debris at the end of the driveway)
  • a plastic "lifter" shovel (if you don't have a snowblower; something with a handle which will make it easier on your back to lift the snow off of the drive and onto the snowbank)
I personally don't like the plastic push or digger shovels since they break more easily. Many plastic shovels have big, wide blades that encourage you to attack more of a snow load than the shovel can take; I prefer a stronger, smaller shovel that doesn't encourage such excess and will stand up to abuse like ice. Plastic shovels with a metal edge blade are a little better, but not much. Spend the extra money on a metal one and then use it for ten years instead of breaking a plastic one in three.

Plastic lifter shovels are fine because they are doing lifting, and the lighter blade will make life easier for you.

When it comes to snowblowers, I own a small Noma model. It can handle anything up to about 15cm with ease; any more than than and I end up having to be strategic about how I do the driveway. I'd say that 95% of the time this snowblower is all I need. It does mean that sometimes I have to work through the end of the driveway by hand to break it up first, but I don't have to lift most of it and that's what counts.

Larger ones look nice to the envious especially after a large dump, but they can be less effective at lower accumulations, are more expensive to buy, and are more difficult to store.

Be in reasonable shape

Stay active through the year. You can't come off the couch twice a year to shovel the drive, there's a reason why there are lots of exercise-related injuries during snow season.

Dress for success

Be ready to layer up (if it's cold) or down (if you are working hard). If there's no wind, usually I'm OK with a sweater and a fall-weight jacket. If there's a wind, or I'm blowing, I'll ramp up to the heavy jacket, with or without the sweater depending on the temperature.

Depending on your environment, boots may be a factor. If I'm just dealing with a small 5cm dusting, my daily boots are sufficient. If I'm waste-deep in snow, I'll use my calf-high winter digger boots. In any case, it is important to be aware of how much or how little traction you get with your boots, especially if you are dealing with a snowfall over ice.

Sunglasses can be a good idea if it's bright out.

Gloves are mandatory, frostbite on the fingers really hurts. I have some nice work gloves that I got at Home Depot for $15.

Good hats (that protect your ears and forehead) are mandatory if the wind is up or the temperature is really down; similarly a good scarf can make the going less unpleasant depending on how much protection your jacket offers.

Reflective gear (jackets, gloves) can be a good safety addition if you are working at night; however for the most part I don't think it's worth buying special reflective gear just for digging.

Think about where the snow is going

Have a plan.

If you are doing it at night, turn on all the lights you can so you can see as much as possible.

Scout the depth and thickness of the snow accumulations before starting, especially if it is dark, or the accumulations will affect your decisions on what is getting put where. Check for slippery areas if there might be ice under the snow.

If you are getting a major dump over an extended period of time, go out once or twice during the storm if possible; doing it in small chunks makes it easier.

Be aware of more snow coming in the season; don't block off deeper storage if you can help it.

For example early in the year I will blow snow off of my drive and onto the sidewalk, and then blow it onto the front of the yard. This keeps the banks on the side of the yard at a more manageable size.

Late in the season, I also generally blow the plow debris back onto the street, and then from there on to or up against the snowbank on the street; technically this is illegal in Ottawa, but as long as you keep the roadway clear you should be OK.

During the heavy season of 2007-2008, I had nowhere else to put the snow so I blew it all into the sidewalk space. This is because I knew the city was going to send a sidewalk plow with a snowblower attachment which had greater reach/range than my mini one.

Don't be in a rush

This is probably going to take some time. Either plan your digging to permit enough time to get it done before you have to be going elsewhere; or take a deep breath, and be at peace with the fact you are going to be late. Call people who may be affected by this lateness and tell them you are going to be late.

Going too fast increases the risk that you'll hurt yourself.

Do it right

If possible, push, don't lift. Pushing is easier on your back.

Protect your back by lifting properly and safely:

  • stand with feet at hip width for balance
  • hold the shovel close to your body
  • space hands apart to increase leverage
  • bend from your knees not your back
  • tighten your stomach muscles while lifting
  • avoid twisting while lifting
  • walk to dump snow rather than throwing it.
Lifing many small loads is better for your back than few, large loads.

If you have a snowblower, take your time with it. Don't try to push it through more snow than it can handle. Break up deep snow ahead of time. Only take half an inlet cut at a time instead of a full-width cut. Let the machine do the work for you.

Always be aware of your footing under the snow. A layer of ice under the snow can make things very treacherous. This goes double for if you have a snow blower, as the temptation to whip things around when finishing a lane or turning around can be overwhelming; I keep falling on my butt when I go too quickly.

If you are getting tired, slow down.

If you are very tired, take a break. Go inside, sit down.

If your back is starting to hurt, slow down or go inside and take a short break.

If you are getting cold, layer up.

If you are sweating, layer down and slow down a bit. If you sweat too much you run the risk of hypothermia.

Stop shoveling and call 911 if you have:

  • discomfort or heaviness in the chest, arms or neck
  • unusual or prolonged shortness of breath
  • a dizzy or faint feeling
  • excessive sweating or nausea and vomiting.
Avoid heavy foods or liquids immediately before, or during, a shovelling exercise. Hot Chocolate sounds great in the middle of a driveway, but if you have too much or too rich a drink, it'll sit heavy in your stomach while you get the job done.

Drinking water is a good idea, but not to excess. Monitor the temperature of the water, don't let it be too cold.

Once you are finished, take the time to cool down by walking around your newly-cleared drive a couple of times. Once your breathing is back to normal, you're ready to carry on with your day. Sit down and take a break with hot chocolate if you have time.

Snowblowing Service

In Ottawa, these are guys who have great big tractors with shaft-driven snowblowers on the back of them. They roll up, blow the snow quickly, and are gone.

If you can afford them, they reduce the shoveling load to your walkways and griping about how your service hasn't come yet.

As of 2007-2008, the market is in a bit of flux; we had some very light winters which led to the various service companies being aggressive in undercutting each other in price. This, tied with increased fuel costs and a competing company which completely failed to provide any service, left some operators in an unprofitable situation; I expect prices for future years to be somewhat higher or to have higher overload fees.

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This is a collection of techical information, much of it learned the hard way. Consider it a lab book or a /info directory. I doubt much of it will be of use to anyone else.

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