Every winter, it's a fight between you and Jack Frost, but he doesn't have to win.
Homeowners need three key items to attack the snow: de-icers, an ergonomic shovel and, for larger areas, a snowblower. But just don't pick up any bag of rock salt or the first shovel in reach. We contacted home experts to explain how to be smarter consumers when preparing to battle the snow.
De-icers. De-icers penetrate through the ice and snow to break the bond with the pavement, said Matt Michaels, spokesman for Lowe's. Many de-icers available now will do less surface and lawn damage, are friendly to pets and come in easier-to-use packaging, he said.
Lou Manfredini, home expert for Ace Hardware, said while traditional rock salt will melt ice well, "it also will do a nice job damaging your walkways, driveways and landscaping. (It) can become trapped in the pads of pets that go outside and cause irritation."
Better-quality de-icer blends contain a combination of either rock salt, potassium, calcium or magnesium, Michaels said. For de-icers to work at temperatures at less than 20 degrees, the blends must contain either calcium or magnesium chloride, he added.
Although more expensive, the best de-icers are calcium chloride and magnesium chloride, Michaels and Manfredini said. Michaels said these will melt at temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees and help prevent refreezing. These work faster than rock salt, and homeowners can use less, he added.
Manfredini said prior to a snowfall, consumers can use liquid ice melting products as a pretreatment to prevent ice formation and make shoveling a lot easier.
Michaels said de-icers aren't recommended to use on precast, brick, paver areas or on concrete that's less than a year old.
Shovels. Invest in an ergonomic shovel to save your back. Ergonomic shovels have curved handles, and Michaels said these shovels can increase a user's leverage while reducing bending, creating a more comfortable shoveling experience.
But don't buy the cheapest shovel out there; that's a mistake, Manfredini said.
"When you think about it, you are going to load this up and grab it and throw the contents, so buying a high-quality shovel not only makes sense, but it's a much better investment as it will last," he said.
Steel and aluminum shovels typically last longer and are more effective for jobs that involve breaking up hard snow or ice, but weigh more, Michaels said. Plastic/poly shovels are better suited for lighter jobs or for users who want to avoid heavy lifting. Some hybrid shovels will be mostly plastic but have steel at critical spots, like the interior core of the handle or the edge of shovel blade, he said.
Manfredini said homeowners should have at least two shovels, a scooping shovel to pick up and lift snow, and a pusher shovel to use like a plow to clear pathways for lighter snow.
Power shovels, which are like mini snowblowers, are fine for light snow and good for those who can't lift heavy loads, but their use is limited to four to six inches of snow, they said.
Snowblowers. When looking at a snowblower, the main two types are single-stage, which pull in snow and send it out through a chute, while two-stage are heavy duty as they can break up ice when pulling in snow. Homeowners should think about how much snow they get when deciding on a unit, rather than property size, Michaels said.
Homeowners who live in areas where on average they receive snow totals of up to 8 inches of light- to medium-weight snow can use a single-stage, while dual-stage units are better for heavier snowfall of up to 12 inches and can be used on sloped surfaces.
Michaels and Ken Dombrowski, senior director of product development and engineering for Craftsman and Diehard brands, said entry-level snowblowers start around $300. What determines how fast a blower gets the job done is width of the unit and the engine size. Small blowers are usually single-stage and are about 21 to 22 inches wide, while two-stage start at 22 inches and go to 30 inches.
Even at a budget level, snowblowers have features like electric start or skid shoes to prevent the blades from damaging the surface, while higher-end machines have features like power steering, snowdrift cutters and headlights, Dombrowski said.
No matter what snowblower a consumer buys, the biggest mistake users make is walking too fast, which causes them to clog, he said.
"Make sure you're walking at a pace to see the snow is clearing effectively. Sometimes you have to walk at a slower pace so they can accept the volume," Dombrowski said.