Residential Snow Removal  - What you need to know 

Understanding the mechanics of snow removal is a must when you live in certain areas. Living in the mid-west from November to April you intimately get to know snow and ice. Proper removal becomes an integral part of your winter regiment.

As with your home's lawn care needs, you need to make a decision. Who will handle it (myself, family member, neighborhood kid or a professional)? Should I use a snow shovel or a snow blower. There are obvious pros and cons to both options. In the end, regardless of who handles it, you have a vested interest in the process and the results. You need to look out for your family's and your visitor's safety. One slip on the ice and you can break a bone or even worse.

What ever your final decision is, this page is meant to help you properly prepare for the wintery mix of snow and ice.

Get out there and handle the snow removal yourself

If this is the route you decide to take, preparation is key.

  • Buy snow removal equipment that will fit your needs. You don't want to buy a machine that is more powerful or less powerful than what you need to maintain your property. The best time to buy is not when you're in the middle of a snowstorm. Not only will you not get the best deal, the store may be sold out. Then what do you do? I know, sometimes this cannot be avoided. However, most of the time it can be. Look for snow blower sales. In my opinion, the best time to buy equipment is at the end of the season when the stores are having their close outs. If you buy a snow blower, be sure to refer to the owner's manual so you understand how the machine works before you use it.
  • If you already have equipment, in early November you want to take it out from the back of the shed or garage and make sure it is in proper working order. There is nothing worse than being in the middle of a snowstorm only to realize that your snowshovel is broke or the snow blower isn't working. If the snow blower doesn't start on the fourth pull of the chord, you may want to check the spark plug. Also, you should change the oil at this time. Be sure to always check the owner's manual, you want to make sure you have the correct mixture of oil.
  • Know the rules of the community that you live in. Some municipalities make the homeowner responsible for the sidewalks within their property line. If the homeowner doesn't clear these areas, they can be fined.
  • Put colored stakes around the driveway and sidewalk because when it snows it is hard to tell the pavement from the grass. If you don't follow this step, you could have lawn damage either from your snow blower or the salt.
  • Either just before or just as it starts to snow check the driveway and sidewalks for any obstructions. You don't want to accidentally be in the midst of snow blowing and run the snow blower over the newspaper that was delivered in the morning or one of your kids toys. This will jam or even break the blades and engine on your snow blower. This can be a costly step for you not to follow.
  • Always check the oil and gas before you use the machine. It is best to put fresh gas in the machine each time you use it.
  • Remove the snow from the driveway/sidewalks after it snows 2 inches. If you have a large snow fall, be sure to repeat after every 2 inches of snowfall.
  • Rest often and if you feel any discomfort stop immediately.
  • Do not use rock salt on cement or asphalt. I recommend a plant safe salt such as ice melt. Grit salt is an alternative as well. Please see the middle of the page for an explanation of grit salt.
  • Most importantly have fun. As a kid in the mid-70's, a good friend and I invented a new word. To this day, I still use the word to describe a specific type of snowfall - “snizzle”. When it snows and drizzles at the same time it is called snizzle. Get it? Okay, I thought it was funny and very imaginative on our part.

Hire a professional - Securing a Snow Removal Contract

  • Start looking for a professional. Most companies will only take on so many customers.  Prices can vary.  If you are a senior citizen, check with your municipality. Sometimes they have deals with local professionals for senior citizens.
  • Let the professional know what your expectations are up front before you sign a contract. If you expect to be the first driveway cleared, this may not be an expectation the company can meet. Also, let them know how early in the morning you need to leave for work. Realize there are no guarantees and with snow/ice there can always be extenuating circumstances. If a snow removal contract states the company has 24 hours after the snow stops to clear your driveway and walkways, this may not be the right company for you.
  • Some companies want to be paid in cash after each time they plow. Others will bill you monthly for the service. Also, some companies want to be paid a monthly fee regardless of the amount of snow that falls. This can be a win-win for you OR more often than not a lose-lose for you.  With the unusually high snow fall levels in many parts of the country this year, this may be a good idea.
  • Make sure salt is included in the price you pay. Again I do not recommend that rock salt is used on either cement or asphalt. If possible, you want a plant friendly salt used such as ice melt.
  • Know what kind of equipment the professional will be using on your property. For instance, if your driveway is small you may want the company to use a snow blower rather than a large truck with a plow that will eventually damage your asphalt driveway.
  • Know the rules of the community that you live in. Some municipalities make the homeowner responsible for the sidewalks within your property line. If the homeowner doesn't clear these areas, they can be fined. Make sure this is factored in to the cost of the snow removal.
  • Either just before or just as it starts to snow check the driveway and sidewalks for any obstructions (kids toys, newspapers, etc). Your professional will not appreciate being in the midst of snow removal and their equipment breaks down because you didn't pick up the newspaper.
  • Put colored stakes around the driveway and sidewalk because when it snows it is hard to tell the pavement from the grass. If you don't follow this step, you could have lawn damage that you have to repair in the spring. When you hire a company, sometimes this is a requirement before they will remove the snow from your property.
  • When they show up to clear the walkways/driveway, be courteous and move your vehicle from the driveway so they can remove the snow quickly and efficiently.

Choosing the right snow removal accessories

In order to rid your walkways and driveway of snow and ice, it is very important to have the correct equipment.  The prices can vary significantly based on whether the equipment is manual which requires a little elbow grease or motorized where the equipment practically does the work for you.

Snow Blower

  • Single stage snow blower and a two stage snow blower.
  • Electric and a gas snow blower.

Snow Shovels

  • Metal snow shovel or plastic snow shovel.
  • Ergonomic snow shovel.
  • Electric snow shovel.


  • De-icer
  • Anti-icer

Whether you handle the snow blowing on your own or you hire a professional proper snow removal is very important. As with anything proper preparation is the key in it's success.

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Shoveling Snow Tips From the Snow Removal Guru 

  • Layer your clothing and remember your hat and gloves.
  • The ergonomic snow shovel is your best choice.  A sturdy plastic shovel is lighter than a metal shovel.  Keep your snowshovel handy in case your snow blower breaks down and for small areas to clear quickly.
  • Always purchase de-icing salt to spread on ice.  Be sure to shovel away thick chunks of ice that the salt has broken down.  Salt can damage your unsealed concrete driveway.  If you cannot use salt, use sand or kitty litter to help with traction and prevent falls.
  • Always lift the snow with your legs, not your back. Take breaks as necessary. Never throw snow over your shoulder.
  • Shovel snow as soon as possible.  The fresh snow is less compact therefore easier to move.

Have a gravel driveway?

Having a gravel driveway can be worrisome when it comes to snow removal.  Really the best method depends on the size of your driveway.  This is true of both gravel and paved driveways. Short Driveways - usually shoveling works best. Medium length and wider driveways - usually using a 2 stage snow blower works best. Long and wide driveways - usually a snow plow works best.

Grit salt actively tackles the ice,melting it away and eliminating the risks it brings. It is a strategy that should be used in addition to snow blowers/shovels rather than instead of them. Using all the methods available to you will yield the best results.

You have a choice between pure rock salt and grit. There are slight differences between the two substances and the effects they have. Before explaining the differences it should first be explained how salt tackles ice. When mixed with water salt creates a solution that has a lower freezing point than water alone. Therefore when salt is dissolved into ice it lowers the overall freezing point and turns it back into water. This only works until -9 degrees celsius after which the solution will refreeze back to ice.

So what are the differences between rock salt and grit? Well rock salt is pure coarse salt, where as grit is a mixture of salt, sand and other abrasives. Each has their own advantages and work in a slightly different way. Rock salt focuses purely on melting the ice, where as grit works on adding grip and grinding down the ice too. Grit is more suited to concrete surfaces where as rock salt is better for other areas.

You can spread salt/grit by hand with a trowel, or if you have a larger area to cover you can use a spreader. A spreader is basically like a trolley that you push along that disperses the grit/salt automatically.

“This post has contributions from Peter McAllister from SGM who sells a range of winter maintenance products such as salt spreaders