Should You get the Shovel or Your Checkbook out this Winter?

by Marcus Pickett

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It's a question many people ask themselves each and every winter. Even if you're willing and able to shovel your own snow, there are also a handful of legitimate reasons to stay inside with a cup of hot chocolate and have someone else take care of the snow for you. First and foremost is safety. You don't need a slipped disk or scoliosis because the rigors of shoveling snow may be too much for your back to take. Even back-friendly shovels and proper technique won't eliminate the health risks for many people.

In fact, according to the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, tens of thousands of people are treated at emergency rooms each year for injuries related to snow shoveling. The key is to get out there early and often. When a big snow storm hits, shoveling throughout the day, while the snow remains fresh and powdery, is critical.

Forget Shovels - What about Neighbors, Snow Throwers?
Of course, most people can find a friendly neighbor or entrepreneurial teen who will shovel their sidewalks for them, but larger projects may render this solution impractical. In addition, people in rural areas may not have a viable neighborhood option, and if you're a landlord, you may not even be able to get to your property. Whether for safety, convenience, or logistics, it may be time to call in the pros.

Many people with some expendable income and a deep-seated hatred for shoveling snow turn to snow removal equipment—electric-powered snow shovel, a single or dual-staged snow thrower, or a mounted snow thrower/plow. These devices run the gamut from shoddy "bargains" that will throw snow no more than a few feet and can break down after a single season or two to hassle-free, push-button snow monsters of convenience. But is this equipment really more cost-effective than hiring a snow removal service, where you won't even need to put on your snow boots? And how do you decide?

Do Your Homework to Avoid Your Yardwork
The answer is research. Forget generalized advice, i.e. one is inherently better than the other. Each situation, each person is different. Determine how many times each year you tend to need snow removal and how far the snow has to be moved—there's a big difference between a 3 ft. wide sidewalk, a 12 ft. wide driveway, and a 300 sq. ft. deck, patio, or porch. This should help you decide which piece of snow equipment you need to buy.

Next, you should call snow removal contractors to determine how much it would cost for professional snow removal. Looking at long-term cost-effectiveness, you should get quotes not only from multiple companies, but for one-time snow removal and a year-long service package. This research may sound daunting, but the Information Age can deliver this information to you without you having to leave your computer. Consumer ratings and reviews are easy to find and decipher. Meanwhile, rather than sifting through the yellow pages, you can use an online referral service to contact several local snow removal companies.

How much does Professional Snow Removal Cost?
According to HomeAdvisor, one such referral service, the average cost of snow removal services is $100. You should also consider the level of snow removal services when hiring a pro. The best snow thrower in the world doesn't run itself, and nobody likes to clear their driveway at 4 a.m. One homeowner from Omaha, NE said, "[My contractor] came after dark so I could get out to go to work the next day."

That said, perhaps the most significant data HomeAdvisor has for snow removal costs relates to customer satisfaction ratings. Using a 5-star rating system covering seven different categories (timeliness, cleanliness, budget, quality, value, communication, and courtesy), snow removal contractors who charged $100 or less for their services were given an average rating of 4.57 stars, while contractors who charged more than $100 were given a negligibly higher rating of 4.60.

From manual shovels to high-powered snow throwers to professional snow removal services, the best solutions are typically found by those who don't wait until the snow has already arrived to make their decisions.

Marcus Pickett is a professional freelance writer for the home remodeling industry. He has published more than 600 articles on both regional and national topics within the home improvement industry.