Top picks for winter essentials
The best snow blowers, shovels for your needs
Ceaseless cold, merciless ice, sleet, and snow — if you loved last winter, get ready for the sequel: Polar Vortex 2.
To beat it, you’ll need a snow blower, a snow shovel, and ice melt, advises Consumer Reports. Why all three? Even the best snow blowers can’t reach everywhere and might leave behind a thin layer of snow that will probably turn into ice. For areas that get less-than-epic snowfall, you can get by with just a shovel and the appropriate ice melt.
Keep that blower going
No matter what type of machine you buy, it will require routine maintenance to help it start and make it last the 15 to 20 years you should expect. Consumer Reports offers a few tips:
■ If you already own a blower and gas is left in it from last season, siphon out as much as possible, then add gas to which you’ve added a fuel stabilizer, which is designed to handle the ethanol in gas. At the end of this season, if you prefer to leave the gas in, top it off with more stabilized gas — though it’s best to run it dry.
■ Take out the spark plug. If it’s only a year or so old, clean its electrode and screw it back in. If you don’t remember when you last replaced it, do so now; plugs today come properly gapped.
■ Change the oil if you didn’t do it in the spring. Ensure that it’s at the recommended grade and level to protect the engine.
■ For new models: At the start of the season, use only fuel to which you’ve added stabilizer.
■ Keep extra belts on hand and, for two-stage models, extra shear pins. Both tend to break while the snow blower is working its hardest.
Shovels: the scoop on the best bet for you
Even if you own a snow blower, you’re still going to have to shovel. That’s because certain spaces are too narrow for snow blowers. You might find that there’s no place to hurl the snow, or a dense plow pile might prove too much for a small machine. Here’s what Consumer Reports advises looking for in a shovel:
Don’t cheap out. Expect to spend $30 to $35 for a decent model.
Look for the “D.” A D-shaped handle is much easier to control than other types, especially if the load is unbalanced. Be sure it fits your hand while you’re wearing a glove.
Think twice about ergonomic versions. They’re supposed to help you bend less, but the bend makes it hard to throw snow to the side — and will be too much for some wrists.
For light snow, get the bend. Shovels that have a little bend in the scoop are fine for light accumulations. You shouldn’t even have to lift the shovel. Just shove the white stuff to the side.
For heavy work, go with the curve. A deeply curved scoop, especially with supported sides, helps clear snow faster. A fiber-core handle is lighter than wood. Metal is more rigid but adds weight.
Buy a deck-only shovel. Devote a single plastic shovel with no steel on the leading edge to clearing decks and other delicate surfaces.
And some tips on shoveling:
Play it safe. Bend your knees and keep your back straight. Pace yourself.
Use cooking oil spray. Spritz it on the scoop before you shovel; it helps snow slide off more easily.