Gear up for blizzard season

@Money December 12, 2011: 5:34 AM ET
Tired of fighting to keep the snow in check? For less than a grand you can get the weapons that make clearing the white stuff easy - snow blowers.

Tired of fighting to keep the snow in check? For less than a grand you can get the weapons that make clearing the white stuff easy.

(MONEY Magazine) -- Remember last year's gutter-icing, plow-jamming, snowfall-record-burying season?

Even homeowners who paid big bucks for snow-removal service found themselves socked in for hours waiting to be freed, and DIY tools sold out at stores and online. So stock your garage now.

Below, the best gear for your money.

A snow blower

Unless you're hiring a plow guy -- or have a bribable teenage kid -- ask Santa for a snowblower. If you usually get less than six inches of snow at a time, you can make do with a "single-stage" machine, in which the blade that collects the snow also throws it.

A unit such as the 22-inch Ariens Sno-Tek costs $500 at Home Depot (HD, Fortune 500). It's lightweight, and its rubber blade scrapes the driveway clean.

A dual-stage blower can chew through 12 or 18 inches of heavy snow, says Shaker Heights, Ohio, landscape contractor Dominic Liberatore.

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The Simplicity Intermediate Dual Stage ($800 at local dealers) will cut right through even the hard-pack that city plows push into the driveway, and its separate auger throws snow up to a dozen feet.

The tradeoff: As with all dual-stage machines, a thin layer of snow remains because the metal blade stays slightly above the pavement to prevent scratching.

A sturdy shovel

Forget innovations such as bent handles or wheels that promise to save your back. Those actually make the job of shoveling heavy snow more difficult, says Marquette University engineering professor Richard Marklin Jr., who studies ergonomics.

"The best shovel for moving deep snow is the lightest shovel," he says. The $40 version at, for example, has a plastic blade, which will sharpen itself to a perfect tip as it rubs against the pavement, and a strong fiberglass handle.

The right ice melt

One thing a plastic shovel can't do well is break up ice. For that you'll need chemical deicer. Problem is, deicers can damage landscape plants, get tracked into the house, and rust any metal they contact.

Send The Help Desk your questions about saving money on home maintenance.

"Green" ice melts ($20 to $30 a bag at home centers) mix in additives to limit the negative effects, says Glens Falls, N.Y., landscape contractor Michael Merrill.

More important, use deicer sparingly. "The trick is to apply it before the storm," Merrill says. Pretreating helps prevent ice from adhering to the pavement in the first place.

For ice that forms in the gutters, which can cause water to back up under your roofing and into the house, don't be a hero. Hire a pro to clear the snow off your eaves. You'll want a general contractor, handyman, or roofer; few landscapers carry the proper insurance for this dangerous task.  To top of page

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