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What's the best way to remove snow and ice?

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While a fresh blanket of white snow is a beautiful sight, removing it can be a back-breaker if not done properly. In addition, some snow removal methods can damage your driveway, sidewalk or landscaping. To avoid costly pavement repairs or flora replanting, scoop up these tips:

GET YOUR GEAR READY

The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute says snow removal equipment owners should follow these steps:

- Consult your operator's manual, which explains what fuels can be used. Use of non-approved fuel may affect engine performance and longevity, damage the engine or void the manufacturer's warranty.

- Select the correct fuel at your local gas station, including the correct ethanol content. Don't use fuel containing more than 10 percent ethanol in outdoor power equipment, small engines or utility task vehicles.

- Drain the gas tank when the equipment won't be in use for more than 30 days. Untreated gasoline (without a fuel stabilizer) will deteriorate, which may cause engine problems and, in some cases, fuel system damage.

PLAN AHEAD WHEN SNOW'S ON ITS WAY

Best practices for removing snow depend on where you live and how much you're dealing with. The biggest mistake homeowners make is waiting until it snows before asking for help snow removal service.

Snow removal service includes plowing the driveway and shoveling the sidewalks, walkways and porch. Fees range from $25 to $50, depending on the size of the property.

If you want to shovel snow, there are methods to make it easier. If high accumulations are expected, it's much easier to remove smaller quantities of snow and then repeat the process rather than trying to remove large amounts all at once. If that's not possible, then large amounts of snow should be removed in layers. Most importantly, snow should be removed before it's packed down by vehicles and foot traffic.

You shouldn't use ice picks on driveways or sidewalks, and that a snow blower is a wise investment. Even an inexpensive one is better than shoveling and risking a back injury or heart attack.

DON'T KILL YOUR LANDSCAPE WITH ICE MELT

Deicing products eliminate slippery surfaces, but some may hurt plants outside, flooring in your house or even your pets. Here are the most common options, and how they might affect you:

Sodium chloride: While generally the least expensive deicing product, rock salt doesn't work well in temperatures below 25 degrees and can leach into the soil, changing the chemical balance to toxic levels.

Calcium chloride: Works well at temperatures below zero and is considered less harmful to vegetation. It could leave behind a residue that's harmful to carpet, tile, shoes and your pet's feet. This product can be up to three times more expensive than rock salt, but you don't need as much.

Calcium magnesium acetate: Can cost 10 times more than rock salt, but it's salt-free and biodegradable. It won't harm the environment and it's less corrosive to concrete than salt.

Urea: Primarily used as a fertilizer, urea has a lower potential to damage vegetation compared to potassium chloride, but it could burn your lawn, shrubs and other plants. It can also contaminate runoff water with nitrates in the spring.

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