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Snow Blower Choices

Powered snow removal equipment comes in a very wide variety of designs for different applications.  Snow blowers are divided into types based on how they operate, single stage, two stage and 3 stage.  They also can be divided based on power source, battery electric, corded electric, both (hybrid), or 4 cycle gas.  At this point, 2 cycle gasoline engines where you mix oil with the gasoline are not being used for snow blowers.  In addition, there are other varieties like powered snow shovels and at the other extreme, bulldozer like tractor tread drive models.  Let’s talk about various options so you can pick out just the right one.

Single Stage Blowers:

Blowers like the Honda model above are called single stage because the auger in the front of the machine does all the work.  It turns at relatively high speed, scoops up the snow and throws it up and out of the chute.  It also has rubber paddle edges that allow it to propel the blower forward whenever you use the handlebar to tip it up.  The rear wheels on these models freewheel, and do not drive the blower in any way.  Because of the rubber edges, these blowers will clean the pavement right down to the surface.  They will also need to have those rubber edges replaced as regular maintenance, as will the scraper bar, (usually plastic), that follows along the bottom.  Two big advantages of these machines are maneuverability and compact storage.  They are easy to push, pull and turn around.

Each brand has its own paddle design, chute and handlebar controls as well as price point.  Larger models provide more features and power.  Single stage blowers handle light fluffy snow well up to as much as a foot deep.  They tend to clog up easily when the snow is wet and heavy though.  A storm with 10” of heavy wet snow can completely stop these machines in their tracks.  Large, more expensive machines that are priced closer to 2 stage models will do better, but in the snow belt, these single stage models are a price compromise.


So far I have only shown you gas engine blowers, but single stage machines also can be found with electric motors that run off either an extension cord, or batteries.

The Ego model shown above works with lithium batteries, and otherwise does the same work in the same way as gasoline engine powered models.  You trade off not having to maintain a gas engine with the need to charge batteries and eventually replace them over time.  Lithium batteries that are stored fully charged should last many years.

This electric corded model works just like the other single stage blowers.  You have no gas engine to maintain, nor batteries.  You do have to drag a cord around as you blow the snow away though. 


Two Stage Blowers:

This Ariens model above looks very different from the single stage pictures I have shown you so far.  Notice the front auger.  It is steel, serrated and is not intended to ever contact the pavement.  It turns relatively slowly, guiding the snow into the back center of the housing.  There you find the second stage.  A small, deep impeller spins at high speed, shooting the snow up and out of the chute with great force.  The steel scraper blade along the bottom is also not intended to contact the pavement, leaving a very thin layer of snow over the blown area.  It’s the shoes on each side of the housing that glide along the ground.  They can be metal, plastic or composite shoes.  You can see the pair of bolts holding them on, and the slots in the shoes allow for periodic height adjustment.  Eventually they must be replaced, but it takes a long time to wear them down.  Unlike single stage machines, these blowers are able to be used on gravel and aggregate surfaces, since they can be adjusted to skim high over uneven surfaces and loose gravel by lowering those shoes and raising the housing.

The large rear wheels are mechanically driven by the engine.  It drives itself forward and backward at your command.  Some models have a powered turn feature as well.  These are big, heavy machines that need room to store, but move a lot of snow.  Heavy wet snow does not phase them much, nor will the mini mountain that the street plows leave at the end of your driveway.  Tire chains are available for steep inclines, but using them does not make for a pleasant winter experience.  If you have ever driven a car with tire chains, you know what I mean.  It’s just more intense when driving a snow blower.

Two stage blowers always come with 4 cycle gasoline engines.  None have electric motors.

Three Stage Blowers:

Three stage snow blowers include an additional collector in the main housing.  It helps to break up wet snow and especially icy mounds and send them back into the chute blower.  These models typically include the most advanced options and features, and are essentially a higher end/luxury version of the two stage blowers.  They can cut through deep heavy snowfall half again faster than an equivalent sized two stage blower.  None have electric motors.

Other Specialty Equipment:

There are some very small snow blowers which work well on decks, patios and short sidewalks.  These are called powered snow shovels.  You can find them in electric extension cord powered models, battery power and hybrids which can run on either.

You use these like a snow shovel “pusher”.  They do not have a directional chute, so they throw snow only directly ahead.  These reduce the effort required to clear small areas, leaving just a little snow around the edges to remove with a manual shovel. 


On the other end of the scale there are products called power snow brushes.

These clear 4-5” of heavy wet snow and up to a foot of the light fluffy stuff.  Their main advantage is they quickly clear a wide swath of snow right down to clean pavement.  They do this so well that you can even see the sidewalk cracks after a pass.  Typically used in commercial settings where lots of sidewalk areas need cleaning, they are an option for homeowners with that same issue.  Their starting price at around $2K makes them fairly uncommon compared to the other options listed above.


Choosing the right one:

If you visit manufacturer websites, often you will see a section where they will help you decide what the best choice will be for you. 


The first question these sites will ask always has to do with how much snow you get when a storm hits.  Here in Chicago, yes we can get just a dusting, but we can also get over a foot of snow at one time.  That’s the storm when you really need a snow blower.  Any home just east of a great lake will get lots more, (think Buffalo NY), and farther north will also expect higher levels.  Obviously, south of Atlanta you might have trouble just finding a simple snow shovel to buy.  Location matters.

Next will come the question on how big an area do you need to clear.  More space to clear means you need a larger, more powerful machine.  It’s really a time issue more than anything else.  If like me you have a double corner lot with lots of sidewalks, a smaller single stage gas blower will do the job.  I just don’t like spending 4 hours or more to get it done.  If you have a lot to clear, the “product selector” will always recommend their 2 stage models.  Size matters.

Next the “selector” will ask about the type of surface you are clearing.  The whole point here is to make sure you don’t use a single stage machine on gravel or aggregate surfaces.  Only 2 stage machines are appropriate here.  You can reset their scraping height to avoid picking up gravel.  If all you have is concrete and asphalt, this section will have no impact on the final product choice.  Not whipping gravel around matters.

Some “selectors” may inquire about how steep a slope you must clear.  Steep inclines will restrict product choices to wheel driven 2 stage models which can be fitted with tire chains, or the tractor tread models which are specifically made for these conditions. 

These tractor tread machines are always self propelled, and as far as I know, all will have a powered turning capability.  These tend to be the most expensive consumer snow blowers available.

One last thing.  Even though the product selectors will approximate the correct machine for you, it may recommend a size too big.  In my case, I have backyard sidewalks which are 24-25” wide.  A big 2 stage would not let me clear these, so I dial back to a “compact” 24” 2 stage model. 


There is some price overlap between the high-end large single stage blowers and the more basic 2 stage machines.  Choosing between them means taking a look at each types inherent pros and cons, making the selection a matter of which one seems best for you.



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Posted 2018-12-11T17:45:48+0000  by Chris_HD_CHI Chris_HD_CHI