Q&A OF THE WEEK: “What Are My Options for Keeping a Rural Driveway Clear?”

Q: What’s the best way to clear snow from my long rural driveway? I’m a newly-single woman with a 16 year old son living on an old farm. My driveway is 800 meters (875 yards) long and last year we paid $500 to have someone keep the snow clear all winter. I’d like to save money and equip my son and I to do the work ourselves. Would a walk-behind snow blower be practical?

A: Even a really big walk-behind blower could easily require 5 or 6 hours for a single clearing of a driveway as long as yours. Then there’s the expense of buying and maintaining your own equipment. Professional-grade walk-behind blowers list at more than $8,000. Honda makes the most impressive of these big blowers that I’ve seen. The smaller 11 hp, 32” Honda blower I use at my place (that’s me using it in the photo below) currently costs more than $4,000 to buy new and it would not be able to handle your driveway in anything like a reasonable amount of time. You can get cheaper snow blowers than this one, but they won’t last as long or perform as reliably. As much as I love my walk-behind Honda, I don’t use it to remove bulk amounts of snow. It’s just to clear walkways and areas around parked vehicles. My driveway is less than 25% as long as yours, but the walk-behind still takes way too long.

This 11 horsepower, 32″ wide Honda snowblower is the one I use to clear walkways and areas around vehicles. A tractor-mounted snow blower is better for larger areas.

Another approach (and it’s the one I use at my place) is to buy an old tractor with a snowblower. My 40+ year-old, 60 horsepower tractor cost the same as my Honda snowblower when it was new – both $3500 – but it clears a massive 8-foot wide swath in a single pass. Something like this could easily clear your driveway in less than 30 minutes. The challenge with old equipment like this is the need for ongoing tinkering and repairs. Click below to watch a cost comparison between a new walk-behind snow blower and my old tractor with a snow blower on the back.

Click here for a video comparison of the two kinds of snow removal equipment that $4000 will buy.

That $500 your neighbour charged to clear your driveway last year might seem high, but it’s quite reasonable when you consider the cost and maintenance of running your own equipment and the time it will take you. Go ahead and buy some equipment if you like, but know that you could easily spend more than $500 a year for fuel and to keep the equipment running. And you certainly won’t save money when you count the time it will take you or your son to keep the driveway clear all winter. You should also consider how early you need to get out of the house in the morning. Can you or your son get the snow flying soon enough in the day so you can get out of the house in time to get to work? 

One more thing about tractors . . . the least expensive old tractors all have two-wheel drive, and I can assure you that any two-wheel drive tractor is useless for removing snow without something extra. The traction provided by just two wheels is not sufficient to move snow. It’s not even sufficient to push a snowblower. You’ll simply slip and spin your wheels unless your tractor is equipped with tire chains. Click here to learn more about tire chains and to see tractor tire chain installation in action on video, including a useful trick for tightening chains. Tightening tire chains is always the hardest part of the job.

Here’s a little tip about your son, too. You’ll probably only have him at the house for another couple of years, but I would encourage you to make driveway cleaning his responsibility. As a single mother you already have way more work than any one person should have. Although society has very low expectations of teenagers these days, I can assure you that any normal 16 year old can be taught to clean a driveway unaided, and to troubleshoot and make attempts at repairing the equipment involved. If your son is like most 16 year olds these days, he probably has a rather severe addiction to a smartphone and all things digital. This saps attention span and reduces the ability to stay with unpleasant work tasks that don’t deliver regular doses of satisfaction. Perhaps your son already has developed to the point where he can do useful and necessary work without supervision, but if not, use driveway maintenance as a learning opportunity.

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