Have you ever awakened to find that your driveway is covered with snow? Although it seems pretty straightforward, there’s a subtle art to this task. Choose the right equipment, take steps to reduce the risk of injury, and use appropriate techniques to clear away snow effectively.
EditChoosing the Right Equipment
- Wear proper boots. You will need boots that keep your feet warm and dry and provide good traction. Appropriate soles will help you maintain balance and reduce the risk of injury.
- Wear your boots in combination with wool socks to keep your feet as warm and dry as possible.
- Use an ergonomically correct snow shovel. Ergonomic shovels have a bend in the handle and help you to keep your back straighter while shoveling snow, reducing the risk of back injury.
- Your shovel should have a long enough handle so that you can keep bending to a minimum while using it. Select a shovel that is right for your height.
- You may wish to choose a plastic shovel as opposed to a heavier metal one.
- There are two basic types of shovel: digging and pushing. It is far easier to push snow than it is to lift it, so if the snow is not too heavy try to push the snow rather than lift it.
- Consider a shovel with a smaller blade to lighten the load and reduce the risk of spinal injury. The blade is the part that actually shovels the snow.
- Use a shovel with a non-stick surface. This will help to make shoveling less tiring by causing the snow to slide off easily.
- Spray a silicon lubricant on the shovel before using to prevent snow from sticking to the surface.
- A non-stick surface can be produced at home. Simply coat the blade of the snow shovel with shortening or vegetable oil.
EditReducing the Risk of Injury
- Consider any health risks. If you are out of shape, have back problems, or heart conditions, it may actually be dangerous for you to shovel snow. After a snowfall, hospitals are inundated with heart attack victims and patients with wrenched backs. Hire a local teen, borrow a snow blower from a neighbor, or contact a professional snow and ice removal service instead.
- Dress appropriately. You need to dress warmly, but not so warmly that you are sweating heavily after several minutes of work. Dress in light layers that are easy to remove and do not restrict your movement. Thermal underwear is a great option for keeping you warm while you work in the snow.
- Be sure to remove clothing as you heat up while shoveling, as sweat can turn clammy on your skin and actually make you colder. Your skin should remain warm (not hot) and dry.
- Wear gloves that will prevent blisters and keep your hands warm and dry.
- You can also wear hand and foot warmers (like Hot Hands or Yaktrax Handwarmers/Footwarmers) in your gloves and shoes to prevent your hands and feet from getting too cold.
- You lose a large amount of body heat through your head. Wear a hat and earmuffs to retain that body heat and keep yourself warm.
- If it is very cold you may consider breathing through a scarf but be careful that it does not obstruct your view. A cold-weather face mask is also a good option.
- Stretch. Warm muscles will be more efficient and less likely to get injured. Focus on stretching your extremities (arms and legs) and back in particular.
- Spread sand or salt on slippery ground. Some areas can be uneven and cause you to trip, slip or fall, causing injury. Before shoveling snow, spread sand or salt on any particularly slippery locations where you might have to stand while shoveling snow. This will create foot traction and reduce the risk of injury.
- Maintain good posture. Remind yourself to keep good posture and maintain the natural curve of your spine. Keep your back straight as you change between the squatting and upright positions.
- Lift correctly. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart for balance and bend at the knees rather than at the waist or back. Keep the shovel close to your body rather than extending your arms all the way. Tighten your stomach muscles and then lift with your legs as if you are doing a squat.
- Use your shoulder muscles as much as possible.
- Scoop small amounts of snow at a time so that it will not be too heavy.
- Find the right place to put the snow. You do not want to twist your body when lifting snow as this can injure your back. Face the pile of snow front on, keeping your body as straight as possible. Make sure you have a place in front of you to dump your shovel loads. If you have to dump the load on the side, then move your feet rather than twisting your body.
- Choose a close location to dump loads so that you do not have to carry the snow far.
- If clearing a certain area then dump the first loads farthest away from you so that the last shovel loads will have to travel the shortest distance to be dumped.
- Do not throw snow over your shoulder! If you must lift snow then move forward it rather than throwing it backwards.
- Complete areas with deep snow in parts. Never try to remove deep snow all at once. Rather remove one or two inches (2.5-5cm) at a time, resting in between. This will reduce the weight of the loads and reduce the risk of injury.
- Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water. Shoveling is extremely hard physical work and you need to pace yourself to avoid ill effects. In the cold, you’re not as likely to feel thirsty, but dehydration can set in quickly while completing so much physical work. Take your time.
- Stretch while taking breaks to keep your muscles loose. Especially focus on your extremities (arms and legs) and back.
- If you feel any pain of any kind, stop immediately and seek medical attention or assistance. Pain can mean a heart attack or injured back, which can occur during snow shoveling activities.
- Have a cup of hot chocolate. Although optional, it’s traditional in most snowy locations, and helps replenish your fluids. If you do not like hot cocoa, help yourself to some tea, broth, or even just water.
- Stretch again. Stretch when you are finished to prevent your muscles from tightening up and causing you pain. You can also relax your muscles by taking a hot shower.
EditRemoving Snow Effectively
- Start early in the day. Fresh snow weighs less than older snow so you should clear snow as soon as it has fallen. As snow sits on the ground it compacts and becomes wet, making it heavier. It can also then turn into ice and become very difficult to remove.
- Wait until the snowplow has come by before finishing the driveway. A snowplow will usually “plow in” the driveway at least a bit, pushing more snow onto the edge of your driveway. It can be easier to deal with just clearing the driveway once.
- Use extra care when shoveling snow pushed onto your driveway by the plow. Plows pack the snow, making it much heavier than undisturbed, freshly fallen snow.
- One shovelful of snow can weigh 20 pounds (9kg) or more!
- Have a plan. You will need to consider what is the most efficient snow removal plan. You will also have to avoid piling snow where you’ll have to just remove it again, so do not block access to snow that still needs to be cleared.
- If you are clearing a rectangle, it is better to work from the center out. First clear a strip of snow around the perimeter of the rectangle. Then, starting in the center, push snow towards the cleared area. From there, lift the snow out of the area.
- Clear cars first. Use a brush to get snow off cars before clearing around the car to prevent extra work.
- Avoid lifting snow by pushing it instead. Pushing snow is much easier than lifting and can reduce the risk of injury. If you begin early and if the snow is not too deep, then it is better to simply push it off driveways and sidewalks. This is a good way to clear away snow while it is still falling, to reduce accumulation.
- Place your hands in the correct positions on the shovel. Spread your hands far apart on the handle, with one hand close to the blade. This will provide more leverage while lifting snow.
- Begin shoveling. If you need to dig (to get to your car, for instance), dig using a steady, easy motion. If you are “pushing” (as you might when clearing a driveway), hold your shovel at a slight angle and begin making passes back and forth width-wise along your driveway. You should rarely need to move your shovel above waist height.
- Don’t forget your mail carrier. Make sure you clear around your mailbox every time it snows. If your mail carrier cannot easily reach your mailbox, then they cannot deliver your mail!
- Salt and sand as needed. Be careful with salt, as it can hurt your lawn, landscaping, and your watershed. It can also damage driveways and other paved areas. Use salt only if the temperature is warm enough (above 0 degrees F/-17 degrees C).
- Sand provides traction, but if more snow falls on top, it will become useless.
- Salting the ground before or during a storm can actually increase the amount of snow on your sidewalks and driveways because dry snow sticks to a salted paved area but does not stick to an unsalted paved area.
- Help out elderly or handicapped neighbors with their walks and driveways.
- Be sure to remove all snow from any public walkways; in many municipalities this is a requirement by law. These areas may also provide plowing or snow-blowing services.
- Many hands make light work; have as many people as possible help on this physical task.
- For very light snow removal, a broom can work.
- Avoid shoveling snow at all with this trick: Buy several tarps around 6 x 10. Don’t use one large one; it must be several smaller ones for this to work. Tie sturdy rope in the grommet holes about long. Let them lay loose. Lay the tarps on the sidewalk or driveway where you’d normally shovel snow; do this before the storm hits. Weigh them down around the edges to prevent them from flying off. Use something like a rake, garbage can, recycling bin, small bundles of newspaper, or an old snow shovel. After the storm, remove the weights, grab the end of the ropes and pull or roll the tarps away, taking the snow with the tarp to the side of the walkway or driveway. Do not walk on the tarps at any time; they’re very slippery.
- Maintain your shovel. The edge of a shovel takes a beating from constantly running across the ground. If you are using a plastic shovel, then take a knife and carve off the burr on the end of the shovel. If you are using a metal shovel, then you can hammer the edge flat again if it gets bent.
- Do not eat, smoke or consume caffeinated beverages before shoveling snow.
- Don’t procrastinate! Snow that is left on walks and driveways will tend to compact over time, creating a layer very difficult to remove. The snow may also melt during midday and refreeze at night, creating a layer of slippery ice.
- Avoid overexertion which can lead to exhaustion or heart attack.
- When lifting, do not strain your back. If it’s too heavy for you to lift the shovel off of the ground, hire someone to help or use a snow blower instead.
EditThings You’ll Need
- Snow shovel
- Warm clothing
- Snow boots
- Dig out Your Car After a Snow Storm
- Make a Snowman
- Build a Snow Cave
- Merge Onto the Highway Without Crashing
- Sled Without Snow