In cold weather regions, a snow blower is a time- and energy-saving tool during the wintertime. Rather than use a snow shovel to clear decks, porches, stairs, sidewalks and driveways, a homeowner can use a snow blower to do the work in a fraction of the time. Not all snow blowers are the same, though. They differ in terms of power, mechanical type, range, performance and features. Moreover, areas that receive only light to medium snowfall versus heavy snowfall regions will employ different types of snow blowers.
Brands and Prices
Many familiar brands manufacture snow blowers and snow throwers, the proper name for the single-stage variety. John Deere, Toro, Snapper, Husqvarna, Ariens, MTD Yard Machines and Troy Bilt are among the most well-known. Snow Joe, Cub Cadet, Poulan, Craftsman and Murray also produce a variety of snow blowers. Prices start as low as $100 for lightweight, low-volume electric models. Heavy-duty, professional-grade snow blowers cost upwards of $3,000. Most models, however, cost anywhere from $300 to $1,500 depending on the brand, type, performance and features.
Snow blowers come in two distinct types: single-stage and two-stage. While they are designed to perform the same task, they operate somewhat differently and deliver different results. All single-stage snow throwers feature a corkscrew-shaped, horizontally oriented component called an auger. This part moves snow off the ground and discharges it through the chute. The name "single-stage" refers to the fact that a single part does both jobs, that is, moving and discharging snow. The auger on single-stage throwers is typically made of solid plastic or hardened rubber. Its design combines the cutting ability of a two-stage auger with the suction and discharge ability of an impeller.
Single-stage snow throwers are most effective in light snow and can be either electrically powered or gas fueled. They are most effective on pavement and other smooth surfaces. With single-stage throwers, the paddles contact the ground, so even though they do not feature wheel- or track-driven self-propulsion, their rotation provides some pull.
The other primary mechanical type for consumer use is the two-stage snow blower. Rather than use a single part both to move and discharge snow, two-stage blowers feature a metal auger that cuts into snow, moving it to the center where an impeller sucks it up and blows it out through the chute. Two-stage blowers divide the work that a single-stage snow thrower performs. Two-stage models are predominantly gas fueled, although Ariens offers a two-stage, 24-amp electric blower. Auger blades are commonly serrated to cut through deep snow, although they do not come into contact with the ground. This means they are effective on gravel or other loose surfaces, but they will leave behind a thin layer. Two-stage snow blowers are made for medium- to heavy-duty use, usually feature self-propelling wheels or tracks and often come equipped with a powerful 4-cycle engine such as a Briggs & Stratton.
Besides the auger and impeller, the chute is a main component of snow blowers and throwers. The chute is located atop and to the rear of the auger. On smaller throwers, the chute sits at an angle and may feature a handle to manually rotate it. This allows the operator to change the direction that snow is thrown. On larger blowers, the chute extends higher off the chassis and culminates in a deflector. Motorized or manual chute rotation is a feature of two-stage blowers.
A primary consideration to make when shopping for a snow blower or thrower is its clearing width. Snow Joe produces a lightweight, hand-held thrower with a clearing width of 12 inches, useful on steps, short walkways and decks. Most single- and two-stage models can cut a swath from 18 to 36 inches wide. Troy Bilt offers a heavy-duty, 45-inch-wide model. Tractor-mounted snow blowers are 6 feet wide or wider. Industrial-grade models are even bigger. Most consumers, however, get what they need from an average-width auger or paddle.
As mentioned, both electric and gas-fueled models are available. Most electric snow throwers require a power cord, while some can be charged and run on limited battery power. Electric models are quieter, emission free, relatively lightweight and easy to maneuver. On the downside, they have a smaller range due to the cord or battery power, are less powerful and are next to useless in deep, wet snow. Gas-fueled snow blowers are made for large areas and function well in all types of snow. Of course, gas models require fuel and oil as well as periodic tuneups. Two-cycle engines take a mixture of oil and gas, while 4-cycle engines eliminate the need for that. Gas engines on consumer snow blowers come as large as 357cc and hold anywhere from 2 to 5 quarts of fuel.
Depending on the model, snow blowers and throwers come with an assortment of features. Common standard features include electric ignition, auger-assist drive in lieu of all-wheel or track drive, and a chute adjustable up to 200 degrees. Multi-speed gas engines are common, with up to six forward to two reverse speeds. Specialty features found on weightier machines include power steering; one-hand joystick control; and an easy-turn feature that locks one wheel, allowing for tighter direction changes. Heated hand grips, built-in halogen headlamps and an all-steel, powder-coated frame are features found on rugged, high-end blowers.
Accessories for snow blowers and throwers may be optional or standard depending on the machine. Drift cutters help to break down deep snow, while scraper bars work to clear the pavement of snow that the auger can't reach. Snow blower cabs are universal or factory-built attachments that mount to the frame, providing a wind- and snow-blocking shield and canopy (with some cabs) for the operator. Cabs consist of a lightweight tubular steel frame and a freeze-resistant vinyl shield, creating a comfortable, roomy space for the operator. Other accessories include driveway markers, storage covers, tire chains and weight bar kits to keep the auger close to the ground. Common aftermarket snow blower parts include engine drive belts and shear pins, the replacement of which is more or less a routine task.