Digging Your Way Out of the Snow

This year has seen one of the thickest blankets of snow ever laid across the northern half of the United States. From Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon, wintry residents are struggling to compete with piling snow outside their front door. When caught by surprise, as so many people have been, it is even more important to dig your way out carefully and effectively.


Not only is snow shoveling hard work on a cold morning, but it can also be treacherous, especially where temperatures tend to hover around the freezing point, leaving layers of ice above or below layers of powdery snow. So always use caution when digging. Spray silicone on the shovel shortly before digging to keep the snow from sticking. Also try to push more than lift if you can. If you must lift, then keep the back straight, legs bent, and walk snow over to where you want to dump it.


Most people use rock salt to melt ice and keep walkways clear during winter. It certainly makes life easier, but it can do damage to surface underneath. Never use rock salt on wood decks. And while it takes longer, rock salt can also damage concrete surfaces by getting into its pores, promoting efflorescence and facilitating corrosion of steel reinforcements. One alternative is to use calcium chloride instead and, regardless of how you melt the ice, be sure to seal concrete every year or so when the weather is friendlier.


Your first dilemma when getting ready to shovel is between a metal or plastic shovel. Metal shovels are heavy duty and cut through the snow with ease. But heavy duty also means heavy and metal can also be mean, damaging surfaces underneath. Too often we forget what's underneath all that snow and get a little over-aggressive about digging out of it. Plastic is lighter and less damaging but tends to be chintzier.

When shoveling, regardless of the type of shovel, try to keep the shovel about a half-inch above the surface until you have a wide area uncovered. Sometimes it's hard to tell where the driveway ends and the lawn begins. Keeping a small distance above the surface will prevent chipping the concrete or scalping the grass.

For pavers, be sure to head out when possible (ie, a temporary lack of snow) and tamp down any pavers that may have popped up from frost heave or past shoveling. For decks, be sure to shovel in the same direction that the deck boards are running to avoid splintering. Also, if possible, try sweeping of that last half-inch of snow with a good broom.


Snowblowers are the modern and easier way to take care of rising snow levels. Their speed is unrivaled by even the fastest shoveler. But they can do serious damage to your driveway. It is essential that you pay attention to the blade level. Keep it a good inch above the surface, especially if you have pavers, and steer clear of borders and siding. You can use a shovel for edging and to clean up that last bit of snow.