Snow Removal Tips from a (Former) Snow Removal Pro

How to Handle Calgary Snow Removal Like a ProfessionalWinter in Calgary is a beautiful time of year, with snow gently blanketing our trees, lawns, and rooftops. Unfortunately, the snow also covers our sidewalks and driveways. If left unchecked, it can be a daunting task to remove. Keep reading to find the best snow removal tips from Steve Hyde of FT Property Services.

Use the Right Snow Removal Tools

An essential tool for snow removal is a quality snow shovel. There are many different types of shovels in an assortment of designs and materials. Curved blade shovels are best for pushing snow. Scoop-shaped shovels with sides are great for lifting and tossing snow to a new location. Ideally, it’s good to have one of both.

When it comes to material, shovels with metal blades are strong and able to carry heavier loads. Their downside is that there is a risk of scraping and damaging certain surfaces. If you have exposed aggregate, brick paths or other textured walkways, you may want to avoid metal shovels. Plastic shovels are light, easy to maneuver, and snow doesn’t stick to them. Most plastic shovels are weaker and move less snow than metal ones, increasing the time it will take you to shovel. The exception to this is a rink shovel which is made of thick white plastic. When I used to do snow removal professionally, a rink shovel was my go-to. A rink shovel has the strength and toughness of a metal shovel, plus it will not damage more delicate surfaces.

Below-freezing temperatures make for light snowflakes that blow away quickly. You can take advantage of this type of snow (and save your back) by using a leaf blower. Leaf blowers make snow removal a breeze and are an excellent option for people who find shovelling too strenuous. Like shovels, leaf blowers come in a variety of different options and features. If you decide to get a leaf blower for snow removal, it’s best to get the biggest gas-powered backpack blower you can. While they aren’t great for wet and heavy snow, they are helpful for most of the winter in Calgary.

Another valuable tool to have in your snow removal arsenal is a snowblower. Snowblowers (also called snow throwers) are large, wheeled machines that clear a path as they propel themselves forward. Homeowners that have a significant amount of snow to remove after each snowfall may want to invest in one. They make quick work of snow removal, particularly in early and late winter when the snow is wet, heavy and difficult to move with a shovel or leaf blower.

Stay On Top of Snow Removal

Much like doing the dishes or mowing the lawn, snow removal is more manageable when you stay on top of it. The longer snow is left on your walkways and driveways, the more likely it will stick to the surface. On high traffic surfaces like busy sidewalks or driveways, the snow gets trampled down, makings it significantly harder to remove. If a busy sidewalk borders your property or you have a driveway, it’s a good idea to clear them as soon as possible. You’ll save yourself a lot of scraping!

During storms with more than a few inches of snowfall, it’s a good idea to go out and clear the snow multiple times. Doing a few rounds of snow removal during a storm is a lot easier than trying to remove it all after the storm has passed. In addition to this, with the Chinooks we get in Calgary, the snow can partially melt during the day and refreeze into a solid mass overnight that can be very difficult to remove!

Choose the Right Area to Focus Snow Removal Efforts

After a few months of winter in Calgary, you’ll notice snow piles everywhere. These piles grow pretty big over time, so planning where you want your mini-mountain is a wise idea.

A few things to consider when choosing a location:

  • Think about nearby buildings. As the weather warms, there will be melt-off. This can get into cracks in your home’s foundation and cause major damage. It’s best to keep snow piles away from your home or other structures.
  • Watch out for exhaust vents, fire hydrants, street drains and other structures. Though snow piles start small, they proliferate. You’ll want to consider any structures close by that will become obstructed.
  • Consider underlying vegetation. Large snow piles are heavy and harsh on lawns and other plants. They lead to soil compaction and can kill grass or plants. You’ll want to avoid landscaped areas if possible.
  • Keep snow piles out of the way of vehicle and foot traffic. As the snow pile melts, the runoff can refreeze on sidewalks, pathways and driveways, creating a very dangerous situation!
  • Calgary bylaw states that you must pile snow from your private driveways and walkways onto your lot. Snow removed from city sidewalks that border your property can be moved to boulevards or even the street (Just don’t block access for pedestrians, fire trucks, or other public services).

Do NOT Substitute Shovelling with Ice Melt

Believe it or not, I’ve seen quite a few people use ice melt to clear snow. By this, I mean they just dumped salt on fresh snow instead of shovelling or blowing it away. While I’m sure they think they are saving time and energy by doing this, this is not what you should do.

Ice melt should never be used as a replacement for shovelling or blowing for a few reasons. Ice melt damages most surfaces, including brick, concrete, exposed aggregate, metal surfaces like stairs or railings and wooden surfaces like decks. Excessive salt will also be tracked into your home, where it can ruin indoor surfaces too. In addition, ice melt causes new snowfall to stick to the ground, making future snow removal more difficult. If you use ice melt on an area, be prepared to use it in that area all winter long.

Another issue with ice melt is that it’s very hard on vegetation. As it melts the snow and ice, it creates a watery brine that will seep into vegetation that borders your walkways and driveways. When spring finally arrives, you’ll notice that these areas are yellow and dead. Unfortunately, this damage is hard to repair and usually results in replacing the affected plant or grass. To avoid this, use ice melt sparingly and only when needed to remove hazardous ice spots.

Not All Ice Melts Are Equal

You’ll typically have a few options at the store when you go to buy ice melt. Rock salts are the most affordable, but they have a refreeze point of around -7 Celsius. This becomes a problem when the rock salt and melted ice mix and soak into your sidewalk, driveway, stairs, etc. Once the temperature gets below -7, the saltwater brine trapped inside will freeze, expand and crack whatever it has soaked into.

While any ice melt you use can refreeze and damage your property, the more expensive ones can withstand lower temperatures and are less likely to cause damage. If you will use ice melt, it’s best to get the more expensive stuff with the lowest refreeze temperature. That said, even the most expensive stuff will cause damage and harm plants. So if you have to use it, do so sparingly.

Finally, if you have pets that go outside, ice melt can hurt their paws. There are pet-friendly ice melt mixtures on the market, usually sold at pet stores. While these are safer for your pets, it’s still a good idea to use them sparingly.

Clear All Ice

As the snow melts and refreezes, ice patches will occur on and around your property. In addition to these ice patches being dangerous, you can be fined for them if they are on a city sidewalk. You should immediately remove ice on your private walkways and driveway for your safety as well as any visitors you may have. One of the best ways to prevent ice formations is to remove snow after every snowfall. There won’t be any ice to worry about if there’s no snow in the area to melt!

If you end up with an ice patch, you can try breaking it up with a shovel and applying a light layer of good quality ice melt. You may want to use an ice scraper for areas where thick solid ice builds up (leaking eavestrough and roof run-off points). Just be careful as ice scrapers are quite aggressive and can easily damage surfaces.

Know Calgary’s Snow and Ice Removal Bylaws

The City of Calgary has bylaws regarding snow and ice removal, and you can be fined if you do not abide by them. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with them as the fines can get quite steep! Below is a brief description of what the bylaws entail:

  • Remove snow and ice- down to the bare surface- from all public sidewalks bordering your property within 24 hours of a snowfall ending.
  • Remove a minimum width of 1.5 meters of snow and ice- down to the bare surface- from public pathways bordering your property within 24 hrs of snowfall ending.
  • Snow from your private driveway or walkway must be piled on your property (e.g. front lawn). Snow from a public sidewalk or pathway may be shovelled onto another public property, such as a road.

Review Calgary's snow removal bylaws to avoid a fine.

Be a Snow Angel

Snow removal can be pretty challenging, especially during heavy snowfalls. Seniors and people with limited mobility may be incapable of removing snow from their properties. Unfortunately, some of these people are without the support of family or friends and are unable to afford maintenance services. If you see someone is struggling with snow removal and you’re able to, be a Snow Angel and lend a hand!

Be Safe

Snow removal is surprisingly hard work. If you struggle with physical exercise or have a medical condition that prevents you from physically exerting yourself, you’ll want to have someone else do it for you. Taking on mountains of snow can be very dangerous. Slips, strains, pulled muscles, severe injuries and medical emergencies like heart attacks can occur while clearing snow.

Never push yourself too far clearing snow and seek help from friends, family, neighbours or a professional snow removal company if you need a hand.

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