12 Things to Know Before You Start Your Snow Blower

Check out these tips for using a snowblower so you'll be ready when the next storm hits.
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February is almost over, but who knows what Mother Nature has in store. I haven't ruled out the possibility of another snowfall, so I want to be prepared.

Toro two-stage SnowMaster snowblower

Snowblowing the Plow Lump

A two-stage snowblower like the SnowMaster from Toro makes quick work of the infamous plow lump, the pile of snow that plows deposit at the end of your driveway.

Photo by: Toro at Toro.com

Toro at Toro.com

A two-stage snowblower like the SnowMaster from Toro makes quick work of the infamous plow lump, the pile of snow that plows deposit at the end of your driveway.

I actually like to shovel snow, but when storm totals creep above 15 inches, I’m ready to swap my shovel for some gas power. As new owners of a newfangled Toro SnowMaster snowblower (with a fun chute controller that feels like operating a retro joystick), we surveyed family and friends for their best tips on efficient snowblowing. When winter delivered a 2-foot snowfall, we were ready to rev our engine and move some snow.

Here’s what we were glad we knew—along with a few things we wish we knew—before starting our snowblower.

1. Buy fresh gas. Leftover gas from summer lawnmowing won’t cut it for snowblowing. Winter gas has a more volatile blend, which means quicker snowblower starts.

2. Use additive. Modern gas has a short shelflife. Old gas is actually one of the top reasons that small engines won’t start. Make gas last with a fuel stabilizer—but only add the prescribed amount. Too much, and the stabilizer gums up the snowblower carburetor. Too little, and gas gums up the carburetor.

3. Get enough gas. Blowing through deep snows burns through fuel quickly. Our small 1-gallon gas can works well for summer mowing, but our winter delivers frequent and sometimes large snowfalls. We found we needed a larger gas can to keep the snowblower going, especially when the big storms hit.

4. Clear obstacles. Before snow starts, scout your snowblowing area for objects that could jam the auger: frozen newspapers, holiday light or extension cords, a dog cable, rocks or garden hose. If stone mulch borders an area you snowblow, mark the edges so you don’t accidentally move into the gravel. In regions with heavy snowfalls, plan ahead and insert markers into soil before it freezes.

5. Adjust height. Skid shoes (also called skid plates) control how close the auger comes to snowy surfaces. Double-check these prior to cold weather. We had to make a last-minute adjustment--which required getting down on hands and knees--in a 40-degree garage. That's a cold task we don't relish repeating. If a skid shoe becomes cracked or worn, replace it.

6. Plan your attack. Think about the pattern you’ll follow to move snow and where you’ll put it. We tackled our first snowblowing during a windy blizzard, so quickly learned to work with the wind. The best place to blow snow is onto your lawn. Avoid blowing it too close to the house, and don’t forget to clear a spot near the end of the driveway for placing garbage cans.

7. Harness the sun. Time snowblowing to take advantage of solar power. Our driveway gets morning sun, so we try to clear snow before the sun gets too high in the sky. That way, the sun melts any remaining snow and gets us to bare concrete—and safer footing—sooner.

8. Start your engine. Always start the engine outside—or just inside an open garage door. For an electric start, keep a properly rated extension cord handy. We didn’t realize this for our first start. Our cords hang on a peg board—on the wall opposite from where we store and start the snowblower. With two cars in the garage, traversing from snowblower to extension cords presents an intense obstacle course. In future, I’ll move a cord over near the snowblower before winter arrives.

9. Get out early. If the forecast predicts large storm totals, start blowing before snowfall finishes. This saves gas and wear on your machine, since blowing small amounts is easier. If you clear the driveway before the plows come through, take time to blow snow along the road edge heading toward your driveway to reduce what the plow will deposit.

10. Work as a team. When dealing with deep snow or a tall plow lump, I knock down snow with a shovel so my husband can easily throw it with the snowblower. I love a bent-handle snow shovel for moving snow, but that bend doesn’t provide the necessary downward force for knocking down deep, cold-hardened snow. Use a shovel with a straight handle for best results.

11. Clean up after. After shutting off the engine, grab a broom to whisk snow off the blower. Use a clean-out tool or something similar to remove any snow from the chute. Knock snow off outside to avoid a wet and messy garage floor. Remove snow around the base and top of the chute so it doesn’t freeze into position.

12. Buy a boot dryer. In areas with frequent heavy snowfalls, a boot dryer pays for itself in the first storm. It means you can head out, blow snow for Round 1, come inside to warm up, dry your boots and gloves, and have toasty, dry gear to put on when you head out again. It's also super handy for drying mittens and hats after friendly snowball fights!

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