LESLIE: Well, winter is not too far away now and if the thought of last winter’s back-breaking, snow-shoveling sessions have you paining for a better solution, you might be ready to invest in a snow blower.
TOM: Ah, yes. But figuring out the options can be tricky. That’s why we’ve invited This Old House landscaping expert, Roger Cook, here to help us out.
ROGER: Hey. Glad to be here.
TOM: Now, is this one of those chores that you always took on in the off-season? I know so many landscapers that do snow plowing when the plants just don’t grow.
ROGER: You’ve got to do something to get through the winter, that’s for sure.
TOM: Now, when I was researching this topic, I learned something very interesting on your website, that the snow thrower was actually invented in your very own hometown, Boston, by a very industrious teenager.
ROGER: I didn’t know that but I sure hope he got the patent on it, huh?
TOM: He did, he did. His name was William Murphy and in 1941, he took a small, one-cylinder Briggs & Stratton gas engine that was actually used in lawn mowers and he modified it to throw snow.
ROGER: Amazing. And look what it’s developed into today.
TOM: They’re a lot more complicated, though, so let’s talk about some of the options.
ROGER: It all depends on how much snow you have to do, whether you’re doing a small walkway or a large driveway.
ROGER: There are single-stage blowers and that’s one that has the auger in the front that not only gathers the snow but blows it out of the machine.
TOM: So it happens all in one action; it gathers and tosses in one.
TOM: Got it.
ROGER: Those are great for small areas. They will throw snow pretty well. But if you have a large driveway, sometimes they can be overwhelmed, specifically if you have that good, 3-foot pile that the plow leaves at the end.
ROGER: That’s when you need a two-stage one. Now that has an auger in the front that very slowly feeds the snow into an impeller, which is turning very quickly. Now that really can throw the snow; that’ll clear a driveway very quickly.
TOM: So the impeller is sort of like a pump.
ROGER: Exactly. And it gets fed by that auger and pumps everything out.
LESLIE: Now, they’re fairly complex systems, similar to a lawn mower, that require a lot of maintenance. So how do you keep your snow thrower in workable shape throughout the season?
ROGER: Well, maintenance-wise, you take care of it in the spring and the fall; when you put it away and when you’re ready to start. You always get it ready. I use Thanksgiving as my date to get the snow thrower ready because, usually, you wait until the first snow and it’s not going to start and it’s not going to do what you need to do. And everyone else is going to have their snow thrower down in the shop to be repaired, too.
So, change the plug, make sure the oil is clean. The most important thing is gas. Gas will go stagnant on you and will not run, so you need to get fresh gas and put a stabilizer in it. Now, the stabilizer keeps it from going stagnant and you’ll have gas that’ll work all season long.
TOM: Now, this is not the kind of piece of equipment that we use every day and there are a lot of injuries that are caused by snow blowers. How do we stay safe when we use it?
ROGER: The biggest mistake people make is reaching inside the snow blower to get rid of a clog. Never …
LESLIE: While it’s on and running and they think just because it’s jammed, it stops.
ROGER: It’s stopped.
TOM: Yeah, you wouldn’t do that to a lawn mower.
LESLIE: No way.
ROGER: No but some people think they can just reach in there. I just bumped into a friend of my son’s who lost three fingers this past winter.
TOM: Oh, my God.
ROGER: There is always – every snow blower comes with something to declog the snow blower. It’s either plastic or you can use a piece of wood. Shut the machine off; never do anything when it’s running. Use that stick or plastic piece to loosen up the snow and then start it up again and see if you’ve released the clog.
LESLIE: Even if it’s off, when you sort of release whatever was blocking it, will that blade turn just a smidgens?
ROGER: It could.
LESLIE: It could.
ROGER: That’s why I always use – I never put my hand inside a snow blower.
TOM: Now, Roger, what do you think of the power shovel? Is that sort of like the starter snow blower? A shovel with a little bit of motor on it. Are any of those effective for very light snowfalls?
ROGER: They’re great. Believe it or not, I gave my wife one for a Christmas present one year.
LESLIE: How romantic of you.
TOM: And you’re still married?
ROGER: Yeah, she really loved it, you know? I use it all the time. I use it on my deck.
TOM: She apparently already had a dishwasher.
ROGER: Yeah, typical husband. Give my wife the present and I use it. No, I use it on the deck. I’ve even used it in heavy snows where you lift it up and you do the top 6 inches and then you do the lower one. Because there were cars parked in the way, I couldn’t use a big snow blower.
I love them. I think they’re a great tool, especially for people in the city.
TOM: Great advice. Roger Cook from TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
ROGER: Glad to be here.
TOM: And there is actually an interesting photo gallery on the history of snow blowers, on ThisOldHouse.com. Check it out. It’s really fun.
LESLIE: And remember, you can watch Roger and the entire This Old House team on This Old House and Ask This Old House on your local PBS station.
TOM: And Ask This Old House is brought to you by Stanley. Stanley, make something great.
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