If winter weather leaves you puzzled on how to safely remove snow and ice from your driveway, sidewalk or landscaping, follow these tips to prevent damage.
While a fresh blanket of white snow is a beautiful sight, the inevitable task of removing it can become a back-breaker if not done properly. In addition, some snow removal techniques can damage your driveway, sidewalk and landscaping. To avoid making costly pavement repairs or replanting your flora this spring, scoop up these tips on removing ice and snow:
Get your gear ready
When a weather event or emergency hits, you expect the snow blower, chain saw or generator equipment to start on command. The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, which represents all the major outdoor power equipment manufacturers and suppliers, advises that equipment owners follow these steps regarding fuel to keep winter and emergency equipment ready to work:
Consumers should consult their operator’s manual, which explains what fuels can be used to maintain a properly functioning product. Use of non-approved fuel in outdoor power equipment may negatively affect engine performance and longevity, permanently damage the engine and may void the manufacturer’s warranty.
Select the correct fuel for the product from your local gas station, including the correct ethanol content. Do not use fuel containing more than 10 percent ethanol in outdoor power equipment, small engines and utility task vehicles.
Drain the gasoline tank when the equipment will not be in use for more than 30 days. Untreated gasoline (without a fuel stabilizer) left in the fuel system will deteriorate, which may cause starting or running problems and, in some cases, damage to the fuel system.
What’s the best way to clear snow?
The best practices for removing snow depends on where you live and how much snow you’re dealing with, says Marsha Lake, owner of highly rated Lake’s Lawn & Landscape in Keego Harbor, Mich. “The biggest mistake homeowners make is waiting until it snows before asking for our service,” she says. “By that time, our schedule is full.” Lake says her snow removal service includes plowing the driveway and shoveling the sidewalks, walkways and porch. Fees range from $25 to $50, depending on the size of the property.
However, if you consider shoveling snow to be your winter-weather workout, there are some methods to make the task easier. “If high accumulations are expected, it’s much easier to remove smaller quantities of snow and then repeat the process rather than trying to remove large amounts all at once,” says Kathleen Trong, owner of highly rated The Asphalt Doctor in East Greenbush, N.Y. “If that’s not possible, then large amounts of snow should be removed in layers. Most importantly, snow should be removed before it’s packed down by vehicles and foot traffic.”
Trong says homeowners should never use ice picks on their driveways or sidewalks, as the damage can be detrimental to those surfaces. “Purchasing a snow blower is a very wise investment,” she says. “Even an inexpensive snow blower is better than shoveling and risking a back injury or heart attack.” Trong also recommends staking the driveway with markers before snow arrives. “Especially if removal is being done by someone who isn’t familiar with the landscape,” she says.
Our experts also remind homeowners to be respectful of your neighbors when shoveling snow, and don’t pile snow on their property. “Don’t throw snow into the street — it creates a driving hazard and also when the plows come through it will be pushed back in front of driveways and cars parked on the street,” Trong says.
Don’t kill your landscape with ice melt
Over the years, several effective deicing products have been developed to eliminate slippery surfaces. However, some of them may end up damaging plants in the landscape, flooring in your house or harming pets. Here are the most common deicing options, and how they might affect you:
Sodium chloride — While generally the least expensive deicing product, rock salt doesn’t work well in temperatures below 25 degrees and can leach into the soil, changing the chemical balance to toxic levels.
Calcium chloride — Works well at temperatures below zero and is considered less harmful to vegetation. But it can leave behind a slippery residue that can be harmful to carpet, tile, shoes and your pet’s feet. This product can be up to three times more expensive than rock salt, but you don’t need to use as much.
Calcium magnesium acetate — Can cost 10 times more than rock salt, but it’s salt-free and biodegradable. It won’t harm the environment and is less corrosive to concrete than salt.
Urea — Primarily used as a fertilizer, urea has a lower potential to damage vegetation compared to potassium chloride, but it still has the potential to burn your lawn, shrubs and other plants. It can also contaminate runoff water with nitrates in the spring.
Editor's note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Nov. 21, 2013.