Avoid These Common Snow Removal Mistakes for a Safer, More Efficient Job

Get out of the cold faster (and avoid dangerous mishaps) with these tips for clearing snow.

When it's frigid and blustery, the last thing you want to be doing is shoveling snow for hours on end. But rushing to clear pathways can result in damage to your home, yard, or self. In fact, about 11,500 injuries related to snow shoveling occur each year, according to a study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio. Whether you choose to remove snow with a shovel, snowblower, or even a snow broom, avoid injury and clear winter weather more efficiently by avoiding these common mistakes.

person using snowblower to remove snow from prooerty
Milan / Adobe Stock

1. You skip the prep work.

Much like mowing your lawn, clearing snow can be made easier with a little preparation. Before winter precipitation arrives, remove obstacles, such as sticks, doormats, cords, or toys, from your yard and pathways. Safely store any object that could become a hazard when hidden by a blanket of snow.

Store snow removal equipment in an area that's easily accessible upon snowfall. Place any safety gear, such as safety goggles or gloves, nearby so it's ready when needed. If using a snowblower, identify a clean-out tool or stick you can use once winter arrives to unclog snow or debris. This task is crucial, as you should never put your hands inside a snowblower's auger or chute.

2. You neglect seasonal maintenance.

Before storing your snowblower in the spring, it's important to drain the gas tank or fill it with stabilized fuel. Fuel that is more than 30 days old can separate and cause operating problems. If you forgot this seasonal maintenance task, you'll need to empty the gas tank. Before doing so, make sure the snowblower is completely powered off. Adjust any cables and check the auger at this time, as well.

"Weather is more unpredictable now than ever, so you want to be ready before the first flakes fall. Get your snow thrower serviced now before repair shops are busy," says Kris Kiser, president and CEO of Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), in a press release.

Before refueling your snowblower, double-check that you're using the right type. According to a survey conducted by OPEI of 3,075 adults, one in five outdoor power equipment owners misfuel their equipment.

3. You wait for snow to stop falling.

It might seem counterintuitive, but shoveling in stages, rather than all at once, is both safer and more efficient. As snow piles up, it becomes heavier to lift, causing additional strain on your back and arms. Shoveling more frequently also prevents ice and snow from freezing to the ground, which can be more difficult to remove. Depending on the amount of expected snow, it can also be faster to clear snow twice with a snowblower rather than trying to tackle multiple feet at once.

4. You ditch the manual.

The manual that comes with your snowblower shouldn't be ignored. It contains important guidance for safely handling the machine. "Now is also the best time to review your owner's manual and operating procedures," says Kiser. "You should know how to operate the controls and how to quickly shut off the snow thrower." If you can't find a copy of your snowblower's manual, oftentimes it can be found online.

Ask yourself the following questions before removing snow. If you're unable to answer any of them, revisit the manual.

  • How do I turn off the snow thrower?
  • How do I clear a clog?
  • How and when do I add more gasoline?
  • Where are the batteries and are they charged?
  • Can I locate the cord?
  • Which direction should I blow snow? How do I change directions?
  • At what height do I set the blade?

5. You disregard furry friends.

Before removing snow from your home's exterior, make sure all pets are safely inside. When spreading deicers (also called ice melts) on walkways and driveways, consider four-legged friends. Even if you don't own a pet, neighbors rely on sidewalks to safely walk dogs in the winter, and some ice melts can injure pets, including skin irritation and vomiting or diarrhea if ingested.

To minimize the risk of ice melts, look for pet-friendly varieties, which typically contain urea as a substitute for harmful chemicals, such as sodium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, ethylene glycol, and magnesium chloride. No ice melt is completely safe for pets, so remember to wipe their paws of any salt after walks and keep packaging out of reach.

6. You focus solely on walkways.

Walkways are an obvious snow-removal must. But as precipitation piles up, so does the pressure on your home's roof. If you live in an area with heavy snowfall, consider purchasing a roof rake to help with snow accumulation. Their long, telescoping handles extend so you don't have to climb a ladder in inclement weather, and their blade eliminates snow from the roof to prevent structural damage. Remember to clear pathways to all doors, as well, even if seldom used.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles