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Is an electric snow blower or gas snow blower best for you?
Picking the best snow thrower for you can be a very daunting task. There are so many options, types, and styles that you can easily get lost in the decision. Going online to a retail site or into a home improvement store can make the decision even harder. This article is intended to give you an in-depth look at most of the things you need to know BEFORE you even begin to decide what brand or store to buy from.
- Both types are capable of moving snow faster than a snow shovel, but they do so in somewhat different ways.
- Knowing how they are different can help you decide which type is the best choice for you.
- This article will help you choose a snow blower based on the type and slope of the surface that needs to be cleared, the amount of snow you get, the size of the area to be cleared, and ease of use.
This article is fairly long but I’ve tried to write it so it’s easy to understand will give you the information you need. My goal is to give you the information you need so you can pick the best snow blower for you.
First, a quick recap of the different styles of snow blowers.
Corded electric snow throwers use 12-15 amps when running so you will need a 50 ft. 14 ga. outdoor extension cord for driveways less than 30 feet or a 75 to 100 ft. 12 ga. cord if your driveway is over 40-60 feet. This length includes the extra length needed to get to the nearest electrical outlet. If your driveway is over 60 feet long, you’ll likely have trouble clearing it with an electric model. If you use an extension cord that is too small, i.e., 16 ga. you will overheat the cord and snow blower. The cord or snow blower will most likely overheat and burn up. A properly sized cord will always be cool to the touch.
Corded electric snow throwers can be a great choice for decks and patios because they are lightweight and can be stored in the home. Be aware a 100 ft 12 ga outdoor extension cord will cost $60-100.
are starting to appear on the market. The current models come with batteries designed to clear about a 2 care wide by 40-foot long area of your driveway on one charge. Cordless electrics also work well for decks and patios.
Gas-powered snow blowers come in different widths and capacities. Residential Snow blowers under $1100 work well for most suburban driveways. Other, more expensive models can offer “over-the-top” power for moving some serious snow. City plow piles at the ends of your driveway will be too much for an electric model, but an easy task for a two or three stage gas-powered machine.
Gas powered snow blowers currently come in three types. Single stage, 2-stage, and 3-stage. Single stage snow throwers have a rotating paddle up front that grabs the snow and throws it out of the machine through a chute. Two-stage snow blowers have a front auger chews up the snow and ejects it into an impeller (or fan) that throws the snow farther than a single stage. The current style of 3-stage snow blowers adds another auger that grabs the snow from the front auger and throws it more forcibly into the impeller.
Please don’t look at cost at this time. The cheapest, best rated, best reviewed or the most expensive snow blower will not be the best choice for you.
The Type And Slope Of The Surface That Needs To Be Cleared.
The type of surface you want to clear and how steep of a slope you need to go up and down will also impact your decision of what snow blower to buy. I’ll go through a few different types.
Cement, Stamped Concrete, Blacktop, and Paver Surfaces. Electric and gas-powered snow blowers will clear these types of surfaces but there are a few small details that will help you narrow down your selection. The biggest and most important detail is – Snow blowers with metal skid shoes can scratch your beautiful pavers or leave brown rust stains on your concrete.
- Electric snow blowers. Electric snow blowers including the cordless single stage models can be used on any type of hard surface because the spinning paddle does not touch the surface. They all use a plastic scraper under and behind the paddles to scrape the surface clean. Unless you get a rock embedded in that scraper they will not mar your composite deck or paver patio. They are not self-propelled and the scraper is not sharp so they will not clean snow that has been walked or driven on. A stiff garage broom or plastic edged snow shovel will clean the packed down areas.
- Gas powered single stage snow blowers. With most gas-powered single stage snow blowers, the front paddle actually touches the surface. This allows the snow thrower to pull itself along and also allows it to clean packed down snow that has been driven on or walked on. They are perfect for entryways to buildings where the snow is packed down and slippery to foot traffic. The rubber paddle hits the surface but generally doesn’t scratch it. Be careful using it on painted decks, porches or delicately stained concrete.
- Gas powered 2 and 3-stage snow blowers. These snow blowers use a metal scraper along the back of the front auger housing. This scraper can be adjusted using the shoes on each side auger housing to touch the surface or leave a little gap. Most of us adjust the shoes so there is a little gap between the scraper and the surface we a cleaning. But. Many come these snow blowers come standard with metal skid shoes. Those metal shoes will scratch most surfaces and leave brown rust stains on concrete. All American manufacturers offer an optional poly skid shoe that won’t mar your hard surface and many brands now use the poly shoes exclusively.
Gravel parking, or other loose material that you drive on. With electric single stage snow throwers, the plastic scraper bar always touches the surface being cleared so it will pick up and throw gravel, pea gravel, mulch, and rocks. With gas-powered single stage snow throwers, the paddles touch the ground at high-speed so they will pick up anything loose and throw it. Unless you like to pick up rocks off your lawn or replace windows and vinyl siding I strongly suggest not using these types of snow blowers on gravel. Adjusting the skid shoes on a 2 or 3-stage snow blower though will allow you to clear gravel driveways without throwing rocks.
Turf or paths out to the woodshed and other outbuildings. Turf or the old path out to your chicken coop can be a very hard area to clean. Single stage snow throwers can’t clear this area for you. Since the turf sticks up a lot higher than gravel you will usually have to raise the skid shoes on a 2 or 3-stage snow blower so the scraper bar has as much clearance as possible underneath and it may still want to fight you and lose traction. A few companies make track drive 2 and 3-stage snow blowers that can clear these areas well.
Sloping driveways and sidewalks. Sloping driveways and sidewalks can be very slippery and hard to clear. You will need a self-propelled snow blower and if the slope is steep a track drive snow blower. Electric snow blowers are not self-propelled so I DO NOT recommend them for any type of slope. Even with a snow blower that is self-propelled I strongly suggest work/mountain boots with deep traction treads as a minimum. If you are older (like myself) or not that stable on your feet I also suggest ice cleats for the steeper slopes.
The Amount Of Snow You Get
There are four things to consider about the snow you normally get when picking the best snow blower for you.
- The amount of snow you average a year.
- The type of snow you usually get.
- The area you live in.
- What is the worst storm you and your neighbors remember in the last few years?
Just Google: average snow (your city, state) For example. Chippewa Falls, Wi. averages about 46 inches per year.
- Less than 20 inches. If you have a hard surface and your nearest outlet is no more than 60 feet a corded electric snow blower can be a good choice.
- 20-30 inches – if you have a hard surface driveway a single gas stage snow blower is a good choice. If most of your snows are in the 2-6 inch range with a once or twice a year 8-10 inch snow a gas single stage will work well. If you have a gravel or turf area to clear you will have to purchase a 2-stage though.
- 30-80 inches – This is the most common average snowfall for the U.S. Chicago, New York, Long Island, Denver, Minneapolis. Basically, most areas north of Interstate 80 that don’t have to deal with lake effect or mountain snows. There are a huge number of residential 2-stage snow blowers available for this type of snow from all the American manufacturers.
- 80-150 inches – There is a good selection of heavy-duty, high-capacity 2 and 3 stage snow blowers that will handle this amount of snow quickly and efficiently.
- Over 150 inches – Lake Tahoe is a good example of an area that gets way more snow than most other areas of the country. On average over 200 inches. High capacity and Commercial 2-3 stage snow blowers are really the only types of snow blowers to consider because you not only have to clear a lot of snow but you also have to throw it a long distance to keep your area cleared.
The type of snow you usually get. I lived in Alsip. Il for a year. That winter we had two lake-effect snowstorms that dumped 18-26 inches of snow on our neighborhood. Four miles away they did not get 2 inches. Lake effect snow, especially snow off the Great Lakes can be very wet and heavy most of the time. 2 and 3-stage snow blowers for this type of snow need to be able to clear it without constantly plugging up. I normally recommend high-capacity snow blowers if you live in areas that get a lot of lake effect snow because they don’t plug often and clear your area quickly and efficiently.
If you live in town you probably won’t get deep drifts but most of you get a knee-waist high snow plow drift across the end of your drive. A 2 or 3 stage residential snow blower can handle that pretty well.
Wooded areas also don’t get a lot of drifts but you may want a 2 or 3-stage snow blower that can throw the snow far away from the sides of your drive. Any residential snow blower that is rated to throw the snow 40 feet or more will work well. This will keep the driveway from drifting over when the “big one” does come.
I lived out on a farm about 10 miles west of Joliet, IL for a year and when it snowed all of the snow from the entire state seemed to drift around the house and farm buildings. A 4-inch storm would give me 4-foot drifts and the 11-inch blizzard we got that year gave me drifts higher than my 2-car garage. In addition, the wind packed the snow down so hard that you could walk on it just like you were walking on pavement. The only snow blower that could cut through those drifts was a heavy, duty high-capacity model.
What is the worst storm you and your neighbors remember in the last few years? For example, The average snowfall for Boston is only 44 inches so I’d normally recommend any 2 or 3-stage snow blower. But it seems like they get one or two 22-30 inch wet, heavy snow storms every couple of years. The normal residential models don’t handle that type of snow well so I always ask if you want to purchase for a normal year or buy for the worst. If you live in the Boston area and want to buy for the worst you will need a heavy-duty, high-capacity snow blower.
The Size Of Area You Have To Clear.
Wider Is Not Always Better?
Smaller models are easier to move around is a common misconception about snow blowers. Single-stage and electric snow blowers look small and are light-weight, but they’re not always easier to maneuver.
Two and three-stage gas snow blowers are self-propelled, and many have power steering. Features like this mean you can easily move and steer your snow blower by simply operating some levers. You drive the larger machines and don’t require “manhandling.”
The best snow blower for you is not always the widest you can afford. Keep that in mind if you have to go through a narrow door or are you not physically able to maneuver and use the snow blower.
If you are physically capable of twisting, turning and moving 25 to 50 lbs. If you can walk at a normal pace and use both hands you can operate most of the residential snow blowers on the market that have power steering or auto-turn. If you have a bad back, or not physically fit snow blower without power steering may be too hard for you to use.
Can you always go through the garage door or do you have entry doors to go through? A 28-inch snow blower needs a 32 inch or wider door. A 30 inch will need a 36-inch door.
Clearing Width & Intake Height
Electric snow blowers have a maximum clearing width of 18-20 inches with a practical snow depth of about 6 inches. This means, they’re not designed for snow deeper than a few inches and can clear a path no wider than 20 inches at a time.
Gas-powered single stage snow blowers have common clearing widths of about 21 inches and a practical snow depth of 6-10 inches. The exception to this for 2017 is the Toro Snow Master that is 24 inches wide and can clear 14-inch depths well.
Gas Powered 2 and 3-stage snow blowers have common widths from 24 to 34 inches. There is a handful that will clear 36-45 inches but for all practical purposes, they are too big, bulky and hard to use for residential use. Most of these snow blowers have an intake height between 21 and 24 inches and most of them can work through a drift as deep as that intake. In addition, 2 and 3 stage snow blowers can be equipped with a simple drift cutter that will allow you to clear drifts 36 inches tall.
What’s the best size for my driveway?
I base my recommendations on clearing your driveway and a short sidewalk or two taking about 30 minutes. Typically we say:
2 car wide up to 70 feet long. A 24-inch snow blower works well.
2 car wide up to 125 feet long. A 28-inch snow blower works well.
Over 125 feet a 30 inch works well.
If you have a sidewalk where you make a round trip (out and back) a 24 inch is just as efficient as a 30 inch.
A 10-foot wide driveway will need 3 round trips with a 24 inch but only two with a 30 inch. If you have a 200-500 foot driveway the 30 inch may be the better choice.
If you have a large area to clear, say a parking lot a 32-36 inch snow blower is a good choice. These machines are heavy and even with power steering can be hard to use for some people. Make sure your operator can handle the larger, heavier machine.
Machines larger than 36 inches are impractical for most people and I would only recommend them for large, flat parking lots where you can’t use a snow plow. I do not recommend any of the 45-inch walk-behind snow blowers currently on the market.
In summary, bigger isn’t always better, and cheaper isn’t always easier.
There are many factors that go into selecting the best snow blower including your personal preferences, property size, type of snow and geographic area.
To find the best snow blower for you check out this article at our Snow Blower site, MovingSnow.com: