Snuggled up in my toasty family room in the midst of a fierce snow storm, my thoughts go to past snow falls when, as a child, I couldn't wait to get out into the elements.
Sledding down a hill, building a snowman, and throwing snow balls make the snowflake variety of precipitation great fun when we’re children, but as adults, we must think about the responsibility of snow removal to assure the safety of ourselves and visitors to our properties.
When I first moved to upper Westchester from the haunts of New York City, certain aspects of “deep country” living were daunting to me, from never having operated a gas-powered lawn mower to the suggestion that I should purchase a chain saw to manage my wooded property. I also had a fear of snow removal because of a macabre story my wife and I were told just before we moved.
A friend told us about her father, a widower who lived alone in Dutchess County, who was not heard from for several days during a particularly snowy season. Alarmed, she called the police to investigate, and they found her father frozen to death in his driveway, the victim of a heart attack while trying to shovel snow. That did it for my wife, who’s always been more cautious about my well being than I. In winter, the news frequently reports heart attacks caused by snow shoveling.
In the city, I was responsible only for keeping my front sidewalk clear and that measured just four feet wide by 25 feet long. I didn’t have a snow shovel, but kept up with clearing snow from the sidewalk as it fell with a simple straw broom.
The ferocity of the first snow storm in our suburban location was a shock to us, with snowdrifts so high against all our doors that we literally could not open them. At the same time, I had wrenched my back and could barely walk, much less try to shovel the snow. My brave wife, whom I’ve always said is stronger than I am anyway, climbed out of a first floor window, shovel in hand, and in drifts above her waist, removed the snow blocking egress from the house. She’s some gal.
There are guys who get very excited about the prospect of owning a snow blower or thrower to help in the chore of snow removal, but I’ve always known my limitations with operating heavier equipment. So, early on, I started trying out snow removal services, qualifying them mostly on reliability in showing up when we needed them.
And I had a special need in that regard. My driveway and parking lot, large enough to accommodate six cars, have a lot of square footage that I dressed in crushed bluestone, which I think is beautiful, rather than blacktop. Some snow removal services just couldn’t get their blades adjusted to prevent removing all the gravel, but a service I’ve used for the past few years seems to have just the right touch in keeping most of the stone intact. I’ve also contracted with them to remove the snow on my large brick courtyard which must be traversed to two essential entrances to the house: my mudroom and another to my professional office.
Our only physical chore is to keep any snow residue from turning to ice where we walk. We do this as the snow falls, keeping the snow away from our ground-level doors with my old straw broom technique and, if it’s really a heavy snowfall, with a snow shovel.
Our biggest problem is that the three entrances to our house are all facing north, and ice is more likely to form there. Now I know why homebuyers sometimes insist on finding a property where the driveway faces south, rather than north, especially if it is on an incline or decline.
If ice does form, which is frequently the case when snow melts from our roof on to our walkways, then re-freezes, we use salt liberally to melt it. There are different types of salt, some causing less damage to concrete and to the environment. The most common is regular rock salt or sodium chloride, but this becomes ineffective if the temperature drops below 16 degrees F. Also it releases the highest amount of chloride which pollutes steams, rivers and lakes. The newest salt is magnesium chloride which continues to melt snow well below 0 degrees and releases about 40 percent less chlorides into the environment. Further, it is less damaging to surfaces and less toxic to plants. Its only drawback is that it can leave a powder residue when tracked into the home, but that is easily addressed by removing shoes once inside.
If our schedules or backs don’t allow us to keep up with snow removal and ice patches develop where we walk, there is a great new product which my daughter discovered and gave to us a couple of years ago: the jute carpets that come in rolls and are simply laid on top of ice to eliminate slippage. They work wonderfully.
If I were so inclined to operate heavier equipment to do the whole job myself, I’d go to a store like Sears whose web page promises a smart decision about snow removing equipment, whether one wants a gas or electric snow blower or thrower or the new, efficient electric shovel. The choice is almost too big.
Why, oh why didn’t I think about radiant heat as the solution to my snow challenges before I had my terrace and walks installed? Every time it snows, I look up at a troublesome roof line on the long side of my saltbox wing where a radiant heating system has performed well for some years and I think, why didn’t I think of that for my driveway and terrace? Was it too expensive for me at the time? Well, next time.
All the medical advisories about properly removing snow seem to offer the same information: try to push, rather than lift the snow, especially if you use a snow shovel with a broader blade. It’s better to use a smaller shovel or to push smaller amounts of snow in a regular snow shovel. If it’s absolutely necessary to lift snow, you should bend from the knees to protect your back.
Experts in physical training say that snow removal by hand should be approached as a rigorous physical exercise, one for which you warm up first by stretching. But who always listens to experts? I don’t think I’ve ever stretched for any exercise, but I do take the precaution of starting out very slowly to rev up my system and warm my muscles.
I no longer throw snowballs in winter (although I’m feeling the urge coming on as I get feistier with the years) but, as best I can, I take the necessary precautions to keep visitors from doing impromptu back flips when attempting to reach my front door.
Bill Primavera is a residential and commercial Realtor affiliated with Coldwell Banker, as well as a marketing practitioner and journalist who writes weekly as The Home Guru. For questions about maintaining homes or for anyone seeking to sell or buy a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.