My research into options for snow removal has progressed well. I decided to get myself a snowblower rather than continue working with a shovel or hire a contractor. I then started looking at different types of snowblowers and comparing them against each other. So, here is what I could glean from the comparison. There are three major types of snowblowers out there: two-stage gas blowers, single-stage gas blowers, and electric blowers.
Two-stage gas-powered snowblowers are the biggest and most powerful snowblowers out there. They are typically powered by 7 to 12 hp 4-stroke gas engines. They are called 2-stage blowers because they have a separate auger to collect snow and a separate impeller that propels the snow out through the chute and throws it clear of the area being cleared. They are very large and heavy machines, but they are also very powerful. They can clear wide paths and handle higher snow amounts than other types of snowblowers. They are expensive, and they cost a lot to maintain since they require all the maintenance that a regular car engine might require – oil changes, tune-ups, preparation for storage during the summer months, etc.
They require a lot of space to store (might require a separate shed rather than being squeezed into the garage along with the family car). Their size and weight also means that they are very difficult to transport and typically require a pickup truck with a loading ramp or a separate trailer. Keep this in mind if you plan on getting someone else to do the required maintenance such as oil changes on your snowblower.
Large, two-stage snowblowers are ideal for clearing large areas. They can be used on long, extra-wide or hilly driveways, moderate-sized parking lots, etc. Their throwing distance is very high, and the stream of snow that comes out of the chute is very high-powered to achieve this high throwing distance. One has to be careful not to direct the snowstream at things like cars, garage doors, etc., because the high speed of the discharge may cause damage. The augers of two-stage snowblowers do not come in contact with the ground, so they are ideal for gravel driveways and other areas where there is loose material under the snow that needs to be cleared.
Here are some features to look for in these monster-machines.
- Driven wheels: Most two-stage snowblowers are self-propelled to make it easier to clear the large amounts of snow they can handle. Imagine pushing your snowblower (that already weights perhaps 200 to 300 lbs by itself) into a foot-high pile of snow!
- Maneuverability: Most two-stage snowblowers allow direction changes by allowing the operator to disengage individual drive wheels from the engine. Some of them require the operator to stop the machine and disengage and reengage the wheels by using pins and other mechanisms. But the more expensive ones have handlebar triggers that enable the operator to maneuver the snowblower easily without stopping the machine. The ability to disengage the wheels from the engine is also essential to move the machine around without the engine running (such as inside your garage, etc.).
- Heated handles: Many large snowblowers have handles that are heated by the engine. This makes operating the snowblower a little more comfortable though a good pair of gloves is still recommended.
- Easy start: Many big snowblowers have an onboard battery for easy engine starts. It is difficult to pull-start a large 4-stroke gasoline engine, especially in cold weather, so this makes the snowblower easier to use. Some snowblowers have a plug-in starter instead of using their own battery. You need to be near an electric outlet to use this kind of starter. It can be inconvenient if you need to stop the snowblower far away from an electrical outlet.
- Adjustable chute: Both the height as well as direction of the chute are usually adjustable without having to stop and restart the snowblower.
- Extra wide auger: Two-stage snowblowers are typcially large machines which clear wide paths. The typical clearing width of a two-stage snowblower ranges from 22 to 30 inches or more.
- High intake: The auger housing is typically more than a foot or more in height, allowing these machines to easily deal with heavy snowfalls and deep drifts. Most of these machines can easily handle snow depths of up to 2 feet without having to make multiple passes.
- Headlights: Help when you have to clear snow in darkness or low-light conditions.
- High cost: Two-stage snowblowers cost quite a bit. Expect to pay anywhere from $600 to over $2000 depending on features included, construction materials and construction quality.
Single-stage gas-powered snowblowers are smaller and less powerful than two-stage machines. They don’t have a separate impeller to throw snow, instead the auger both scoops up the snow and powers it out of the chute. These are typically powered by 4 to 7 hp gas engines. Some of the smaller engines are two-stroke engines and the larger ones may be four-stroke. They can not be used to clear areas with loose material under the snow (such as gravel driveways) because the auger comes in contact with the ground, and will pick up and fling the loose material along with the snow.
Two-stroke gas engines require the user to mix 2-stroke engine oil with the gasoline before adding it to the gas tank. Such engines typically require the gas tank and fuel lines to be cleaned thoroughly before long periods of storage so that the fuel-oil mixture does not separate and clog carburetors, fuel lines etc. Two-stroke engines are also noisy, less efficient, and more polluting than 4-stroke engines. But 2-stroke engines do not require regular oil changes.
Four-stroke engines are usually more powerful, more efficient, less noisy and not as polluting as their two-stroke counterparts. They do not require a gas-oil mixture in the gas tank, and typically do not require as much care before storage for long periods. But they do require regular oil changes to increase the longevity of the engine. Both types of engines may also require periodic tune-ups and other maintenance work. These mid-size machines are typically used for regular-sized driveways and walkways. They can be used on concrete as well as asphalt surfaces, but not on gravel. It helps if the terrain is level without steep ups and downs (since they are seldom self-propelled).
Single-stage snowblowers are not as heavy or large as two-stage ones. They can be stored in a garage alongside a car. Also, their handles can be collapsed so that they can be loaded into the trunk of a car to be transported if necessary (this may be necessary if you want someone else to do oil changes and other maintenance on these machines).
Most single-stage snowblowers are not self-propelled. They rely on the operator to push them across the area to be cleared of snow. The auger helps at times by pulling the machine forward, but it is not reliable and directional control is difficult. Typically these medium-sized machines are maneuvered around turns by lifting the front of the blower off the ground and then pushing one side forward while pulling the other side back. Here are some features you will find in single-stage gas-powered snowblowers.
- Easy start: Many single-stage gas snowblowers come with a plug-in starter. They require a nearby outlet to use. Many others require the user to pull-start the engine. This can be quite difficult in sub-freezing temperatures. Almost no single-stage gas-powered snowblower comes with an onboard battery-powered starting system.
- Adjustable chute: Usually, the direction of the chute can be adjusted by the operator while the machine is running by turning a crank in the appropriate direction. Adjustments to the height of the discharge chute typically require the operator to stop the machine and perform adjustments at the chute.
- Medium-sized auger: The clearing width of a single-stage machine is usually in the range of 18 to 24 inches.
- Medium intake height: Single stage snowblowers can usually handle snow up to about a foot deep. Heavier amounts of snow will require multiple passes to clear.
- Headlights: Many single-stage snowblowers come with headlights to assist the operator in darkness or low-light conditions.
- Medium cost: Single-stage snowblowers usually cost between $400 and $1000 depending on construction materials and features.
Electric snowblowers are usually the smallest snowblowers around. They are almost exclusively single-stage snowblowers with no separate impeller. In many other respects they are similar to single-stage gas-powered snowblowers. They are best suited for paved, medium-sized driveways and walkways, and not suited for gravel and other surfaces with loose objects under the snow.
But the differences between gas-powered snowblowers and electric snowblowers are quite significant. For one, they are virtually maintenance-free. They do not require oil changes or tune-ups. And they do not require any special care before long periods of storage. They are much quieter than the quietest gas-powered snowblowers, and are completely pollution-free (at least at the point of usage). They do not put out any fumes, so running them in enclosed areas is never a problem. Moreover, they are much lighter than even single-stage snowblowers, and can easily be carried around by a single person without any problems.
However, electric snowblowers are limited in their power because they can not draw more than 10 to 15 amperes from a regular household outlet. Even if they could draw 20 amperes (it may require a special circuit with extra heavy duty circuit breakers to install such an outlet), that would give them barely 3 hp of power. Most electric snowblowers draw between 10 and 15 amperes and therefore generate 1.5 to 2 hp of power at the motor. If the US had 220V or 240V power supply like in many other countries, you could get much more powerful electric snowblowers (in the range of 3 to 6 hp), but as it stands, the power of the snowblowers is limited by the power supply infrastructure and standards in place. I know of no electric snowblowers that can take advantage of the kind of outlet that an electric clothes-dryer uses (which typically provide 220V at 15 to 20 amperes, which can generate around 6 hp at a motor).
Moreover, almost all electric snowblowers require a cord to operate them. Their range is therefore limited to the length of the cord. The length of the cord is limited by the thickness of the wire (gauge), with higher thickness (lower gauges) required to carry the same amount of current over longer distances. To keep the cords from becoming monstrously thick and heavy, most extension cords are limited to about 12 or 10 gauge over a 100 foot length. A 12 gauge extension cord is required for any application that requires carrying more than 13 amperes over a distance of over 50 feet.
The cord not only limits the range of electric snowblowers, but can also cause other problems. The operator has to be forever cognizant of where the cord is and make sure that the snowblower does not run over the cord at any time. This requires a methodical and well-thought-out plan for covering the area to be cleared with not much room for free movement of the snowblower. Experienced operators develop a plan and stick to it, and consider the cord no more than an afterthought.
Electric snowblowers are never self-propelled. They rely on the operator to push them across the area to be cleared of snow. The auger helps at times by pulling the machine forward, but it is not reliable and directional control is difficult. Typically these machines are maneuvered around turns by lifting the front of the blower off the ground and then pushing one side forward while pulling the other side back. Here are some features you will find in electric snowblowers.
- Maintenance-free: Electric snowblowers are completely maintenance free. They require no lubrication, no oil changes, tune-ups, etc. No special care is required for long-term storage during the summer. Just keep the electric cord tangle-free, and you are good to go!
- Easy start: All electric snowblowers start with the push of a button. There is never any pulling of cords involved.
- Adjustable chute: Usually, the direction of the chute can be adjusted by the operator while the machine is running by turning a crank in the appropriate direction. Adjustments to the height of the discharge chute typically require the operator to stop the machine and perform adjustments at the chute. Many electric snowblowers do not have a chute at all, instead just discharging the snow farther ahead of the snowthrower. That works for short driveways, but can cause problems for longer ones.
- Medium-sized auger: The clearing width of an electric snowblower is usually in the range of 18 to 20 inches. They typically clear narrower paths than single-stage gas-powered snowblowers.
- Medium intake height: Electric snowblowers are usually limited to snow up to about 8 inches deep. Heavier amounts of snow will require multiple passes to clear.
- Headlights: Some electric snowblowers come with headlights to assist the operator in darkness or low-light conditions.
- Low cost: Electric snowblowers are inexpensive compared to gas-powered snowblowers. They usually cost between $150 and $400 depending on construction materials and features.
It would be logical to ask why electric snowblowers are not battery powered. That way one could get rid of the limitations of the cord that practically every electric snowblower requires. There are a couple of problems with battery-powered snowblowers. First, to provide the required power and operating time, you need several batteries arranged into a battery pack. This can make such a snowblower very large and heavy. Moreover, batteries lose power rapidly as temperatures drop, so they are not the best choice in a cold-weather application like snowblowers.
There is actually one battery-powered snowblower on the market, but I have not been able to see one of them in person. It is available in a few online stores, but none of my local big box home improvement stores had the machine or any plans to stock it! The machine is a two-stage electric snowblower (probably another distinction unique to it), and looks quite large and heavy, as would be expected.
Based on these comparisons, I have made up my mind to get an electric snowblower. Where I live, we typically never get more than 6 inches of snow at a time, so a smaller machine makes the most sense. My driveway is not super-long, so I can live within the limitations of an electric cord. The freedom from having to perform regular maintenance on the snowblower is another big factor which pushed me away from gas-powered snowblowers. In fact, based on online reviews, I have settled on a Snowjoe SJ 620 snowblower. I will be sure to let you know whether my choice was good after I get the machine and have a chance to use it a couple of times!