Living Smart: To shovel or hire for snow removal

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

To DIY or not to DIY ó thatís the first question to answer about snow removal. Either way, my team has you covered with tips from top-rated experts.

If you plan to shoulder all or some of this seasonal chore, take steps to stay healthy:

If you donít already have a snowblower, consider getting one. Otherwise, get a lightweight, plastic snow shovel with an ergonomic handle to help distribute the load. Use a shovel with a deep scoop to push snow, not lift it.

Cold weather restricts blood flow. Before shoveling, warm up by jogging in place and stretching. Also, avoid a big meal or smoking just before shoveling, as either will affect blood flow.

Itís better to repeatedly remove smaller quantities of snow than it is to move large amounts at once. If snow is already deep, remove it in layers.

As you shovel, keep your back straight, bend at the knees and use the strength in your hips and thighs to lift or push snow. Donít twist.

If you have health problems, ask someone healthier to do the job or hire a snow removal service. Many landscaping companies offer this in the offseason. Donít delay your search; quality companies often have a long list of existing customers.

Start by contacting companies that neighbors recommend and/or that have good reviews on a trusted online site. Questions to ask:

How much snow will trigger service? This is a good idea particularly if you only want service when a big storm strikes. Also, tell the company if you have special needs that should give you plowing priority. One top-rated landscaper said 3 inches of snow triggers service, and that he plows individual driveways only after heís cleared streets for neighborhood association clients.

What do you charge? Driveway size and the number of sidewalks or walkways generally determine cost. Angieís List members report paying an average of $64 per service or $424 for an annual contract.

Are you covered? Confirm that the company is appropriately licensed for where you live and that itís sufficiently insured and bonded.

Whether you remove snow yourself or hire someone, keep in mind that some removal methods can cause damage. Therefore:

Donít use ice picks on driveways or sidewalks.

Use tall stakes to delineate driveway boundaries ahead of heavy snow.

Be careful with de-icing products. For instance, sodium chloride, or rock salt, is typically the cheapest de-icer, but doesnít do well in temperatures below 25 degrees and can create a toxic chemical imbalance if it leaches into soil. Calcium chloride, which can be three times as costly as rock salt, does well in lower temperatures and is considered less harmful to vegetation. However, it can create a residue that may harm shoes, flooring and pet paws. Calcium magnesium acetate can cost 10 times more than rock salt, but wonít harm the environment and is less corrosive to concrete than salt. However, like rock salt, it doesnít perform as well in lower temperatures.

Would you rather just take a detour from the whole snow-removal business? Consider splurging on a heated driveway. A system may require a new driveway and can cost $15,000 or more, but it can melt snow on contact. One common type features electric current heating a wire or mat. Another circulates heated liquid through tubing. If youíre interested, contact a reputable driveway installer.