Shovel no more

| 29 Sep 2011 | 10:11

    A snowblower could be your best investment, By John O’Connell Should slate-colored skies decide to dump a half-foot of white flakes on your driveway yet this winter, you may want to reach for a snowblower instead of a shovel. A Michigan study of sedentary men found that just two minutes of shoveling snow raised heart rates above the limit commonly recommended for safe exercise, according to an article in For a person who is out of shape, the chance of having a heart attack following a task like snow shoveling is 53 times greater than for a person who is physically active, according to the article. “The primary reasons homeowners buy a snowblower is for health reasons - easier on the heart and back - and convenience,” said Gary Hohulin, co-owner of Wieland’s Lawn Mower Hospital. “Using a snowblower to remove snow from the driveway is faster and far less work than shoveling.” Some factors to consider when buying a snowblower are the size of the area to be cleared, the type of driveway surface, your location and the amount of snowfall you normally have each year. Snowblowers fall into two basic categories: single-stage machines and two-stage ones. Single-stage machines use an auger assembly made in part of rubber paddles. The auger spins collecting snow and tosses it out a discharge chute. The two-stage snowblower has an auger that collects snow and pushes it into a chamber where a high-speed fan blows the snow out as far as 45 feet. “If your driveway has a hard surface, a single-stage snowblower is what most people buy,” Hohulin said. “The single-stage cleans to the surface. If you were to use it on a gravel driveway, it will throw rocks and tear up the driveway.” Single-stage throwers, which range in price from $350 to $900, are typically two-cycle machines in which you mix the gas and oil together. Single-stage machines vary from 12 inches to 24 inches in width. They are capable of handling foot-deep or greater snow depths, according to the salesman. A single-stage machine is not self-propelled, but the auger will dig in and kind of pull you along. Some models come with electric start, which is a feature most buyers want. Unlike the single-stage throwers, the double-stage machine’s auger does not touch the surface. The front of a double-stage snowblower rides on adjustable skids. “You can use it on gravel driveways and it won’t throw rocks,” Hohulin said. “This type of snowblower can handle big snowfalls and big drifts that you might find in the open country. And it will do it with a lot less work than a single stage. It also will go through crusty snow and ice much easier than a single stage.” Most double-stage models, which range in price from $800 to $2,700, have four-cycle engines (gas and oil are separate) designed for extremely cold temperatures. The clearing width on two-stage machines can range from 20 inches to more than 36 inches depending on the model. Two-stage machines are self-propelled with multiple speeds. Some optional features for a two-stage snowblower include heated hand grips, hydrostatic variable-speed transmissions, electric start, head lamps, drift cutters for deep snow and vinyl cabs for protection from the cold, according to information from Lowe’s Home Improvement. The biggest maintenance problem with snowblowers is caused by bad gas, according to the salesmen. “People use their snowblowers after a big snow then stick it in the corner of their garage, where it stays for months without getting any use,” Hohulin said. “In cold weather, gas starts breaking down after 30 days. When it breaks down, varnish gets in holes in the carburetor and blocks gas and air. The machine won’t start. That’s the single biggest maintenance problem with snowblowers.” Hohulin urges snowblower owners to add stabilizer to the fuel. In addition, he tells his customers to start the machine every two or three weeks to get the fuel moving through the carburetor. With single-stage machines, the rubber paddles will have to be replaced after a certain amount of use, the salesman said. “Snowblowers are long-term investments,” Hohulin said. “You will probably only use a snowblower three to five times a year. They don’t wear out like lawn mowers. If you take care of them, they will last for 15 to 20 years or more.”