Any better ideas for clearing snow from stairs from the top down?
January 3, 2012 8:44 AM   Subscribe

Any better ideas for clearing snow from stairs from the top down?

So far it has been a rather mild winter in the Pittsburgh area, but we got about an inch of snow yesterday, and they are calling for a little more today. Not enough to worry about driving in or anything, but I do have a problem clearing the snow from the steps outside my apartment.

My wife and I are living in a guest house behind my parent's house - the only way to get in is to go up a set of steps with the building on one side, and a brick banister on the other (this picture was taken from the top of the steps). Clearing the snow if we were to start at the bottom, its relatively easy to shovel; take a scoop, back down any cleared steps, and throw it away from the building. However, since we are living there, we are at the top of the steps and if we receive any snow during the night, the only thing we can really do is wedge the shovel in at the back of the step and push it forward down one step, and then repeat. (or, if its only a dusting of snow, take a broom and sweep the snow to the sides of the step and just walk down the clear middle section.)

Currently I have a broom, a pusher-style snow shovel and an ergonomic style shovel. The broom works well for light snows, the pusher works ok working from the top of the steps down, and the ergonomic shovel is rather awkward using from the top down but works well on the landing at the top of the steps and for moving the big pile I create by pushing everything down the steps.

What I'm trying to ask is what suggestions anyone may have to making this easier.

My options are slightly limited though; since it is not my property, and we're getting free rent, I sort of have to abide by my father's rules - which is no salt or ice melt. (This limitation sucks, but free rent certainly means I can work around it.)

I'm considering one of the small electric power shovels (Toro/Greenworks/SnowJoe) as it would be relatively easy to carry and place on the step below me and throw the snow either straight ahead down (and probably past the bottom of the steps) or to the side (in which some of the snow would clear the banisters, and some would collect on the brick when the angle is too steep). But I've never used one so I don't know how unweildy they are, nor have I really seen any good review on how they do on steps; how close the actual blade can get to the corner of the step because of the arc and/or because of the body of the machine behind the spinning blade.

I am also considering some sort of heated tread being placed on top of each step (HeatTrak seems to be almost the only game in town for this), but they are rather expensive both initially for install and with power for the durations needed to melt the snow.

And finally, I am considering making/modifing a shovel so that pushing the snow down the stairs is from an easier angle, basically angle the blade of a shovel to look like a big version of a gooseneck garden hoe so wedging it into the corner of the step is easy, and then just pushing away from my body, instead of having to fumble with the corner of the step and using the current shovel like a lever.

While those are the only ideas I've really come up with, I'm not against some out-of-the-box thinking - tarping the steps when we're in for the night and they're calling for snow (but, how to hold down a tarp, how to keep it from freezing to the steps, how to lift the tarp and get the snow to slide off it only at the bottom, not on either side), or anything else that may work.
posted by GuppieXX to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For stairs, it's often easier to scrape rather than scoop. Turn the shovel over and use the edge to scrape the snow onto the next step down. Move down a step, repeat. When you get to the bottom, scoop all of the accumulated snow away to wherever you're allowed to scoop it to.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:54 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, scrape not scoop. Also, clear just enough to get yourself down the stairs, then clean the rest of the steps. For dustings of snow, the broom probably is the best option. Both the machine options sound like total overkill. If anything, consider a kid's shovel, like this one. Shorter is easier for me going down.

Oh, and salt and sand.
posted by maryr at 9:03 AM on January 3, 2012

(Salt and sand as temp appropriate.)
posted by maryr at 9:04 AM on January 3, 2012

Errr, sorry, just saw the no salt caveat. Ignore that sentence.
posted by maryr at 9:04 AM on January 3, 2012

maryr, you can't use salt on most concrete steps, as my neighbours with the seriously pockmarked steps found out. The OP has said they can't use salt or ice melt, I presume for the same reason.

(My back wood steps can't take salt either, and they're a pain to shovel, but they're much smaller steps than yours, GupiieXX, so your tarp idea sounds promising -- thanks!)
posted by maudlin at 9:06 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

they have snow shovels with a bend in the handle; these may be easier to scrape backwards with, as cosmicbandito describes.

Is sand ok?
posted by peachfuzz at 9:17 AM on January 3, 2012

Let's assume that you have snow appropriate shoes.

Walk carefully down the stairs and shovel from the bottom if that's how you prefer to shovel.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:40 AM on January 3, 2012

For scraping, a short-handled, somewhat narrower, sturdy shovel is best. Coal shovel-type. Other than that, I'd go with sciencegeek: buy some jacktracks or similar, wobble all the way down and begin from below anyway.
You could also monitor what type of snow you're likely going to get. If it's real cold, a stiff broom is all you need. If temperatures are likely to hover around freezing point, you'd better salt your stairs before the feast begins. It is really hard to get rid of accumulated cakes of dirty ice.
posted by Namlit at 9:54 AM on January 3, 2012

I live in Missouri...we don't shovel snow. So take this idea with a grain of salt. And I hope you can picture what I'm picturing because it's hard to put into words.

If I were standing at the top of your stairs, I would clear out the landing, tossing the snow down a step or two (you'll clear it in a minute). Then I would stand with my side facing the stairs and turn the snow shovel over (so that the "bowl" is upside down). I'd then scrape the snow from one side of the stair to the other like I was sweeping something behind me (I guess you could do the same thing as if you were sweeping forward if that feels better). Towards the end of the "sweep" on each step, angle the shovel so that it scrapes the snow from that step and pushes it down to the next step. Take a step down, do the sweeping action again, then keep going. It turns out that you're using the shovel to actually sweep/push the snow, instead of scooping it up.

Depending on how much snow you have, you may have to toss the pile down the stairs in the usual manner if it piles up too much while you're "sweeping", or toss some over the side of the bannister.

I may not know what I'm talking about, so YMMV.
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:05 AM on January 3, 2012

Walk to the bottom and shovel from there, throwing the snow over the banister as you go. One set of footprints won't make your snow unshovelable. You may be overthinking this - you certainly don't need tarps, heated electric gizmos, electric shovels, or any of that sort of thing to shovel a set of steps.
posted by ssg at 10:55 AM on January 3, 2012

As cosmicbandito said: Starting at the top and facing up the stairs, turn the shovel over and scrape the snow towards you until you get to the bottom. Then, turn the shovel over and heave it all onto the grass or wherever. Not only is this the easiest way, it's also the fastest.
posted by fso at 12:39 PM on January 3, 2012

Wow, that looks really treacherous. That banister doesn't even look grab-able. That definitely wouldn't get a building permit in these parts. As a former personal injury lawyer, when I look at that, I don't see a staircase, I see a lawsuit waiting for a plaintiff.

Definitely walk to the bottom first (with Yak-Trax on your shoes), then shovel from there. Any technique that attacks it from the top will put you in the position of standing on a still slightly slippery step, leaning out and down, and putting your weight onto the shovel as you move the snow. I learned from experience that this is pretty dangerous--your feet can very easily slip right out from under you, and you dive down all the stairs head first, smacking your head on the bricks on the way down. Shoveling stairs from the top is inherently risky.

Maybe a leaf blower? Flame thrower (kidding!)? The only decent approach I can think of is to install an awning over the stairs to keep most of the snow off them in the first place. That might seem very inconvenient and expensive, but less so than broken bones and head injuries.
posted by Corvid at 12:45 PM on January 3, 2012

I am also considering some sort of heated tread

If you're looking for a zany solution (and you seem to be) how about a rope ladder over the side? That would let you start shoveling from the bottom, as you prefer. A rope ladder would be affordable and easy to store in the house. In theory you could use a knotted rope and go down commando style but that would be too dangerous for my taste.

I wouldn't try shimmying down the banister. If it's gotten icy that's a recipe for getting hurt.

Perhaps your best option: if you've got a lot of snow you could heap it up beside the staircase, pack it down tight and shape it into a slide. A snowblower* or plow equipped truck would make this much easier if you have access to either. Shape it right and you could safely slide right to the bottom, sled not required if you've got a pair of snowpants.

Getting the shovel down: you won't hurt it if you gently drop it horizontally into a small pile of snow. For more fun, build up a big pile of snow, firm packed, and toss that shovel down like a harpoon.

Ask yourself WWCD. (What Would Calvin Do?)

Winter is awesome. Why not go for a crazy solution? Have fun with it. At least imagine it.

(in Vancouver, filled with snow envy)

* If building a large snow structure using a snowblower, you'll want to construct a large wooden box several feet on each side, open on the top. Aim the snow from the entire driveway into the box. Remove the wood and you'll find you have a very large block of densely packed snow. It will be load bearing (I've made a snow couch that way) and firm enough to be ideal for snow carving. It would be durable enough to serve as the foundation for your slide, if you were deranged enough to actually try building one.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:46 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use a leaf blower for situations like that.
posted by PSB at 1:37 PM on January 3, 2012

For steps, I'd just use a piece of plywood or some other board. Ideally, cut it to fit the width of the steps. Then you can just stand on the top step, slide the board down onto the next step, and flip the snow off the whole of the step in one motion. Repeat down the steps. Should take about 1 second per step.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:47 PM on January 3, 2012

I came in to say scrape. Like mentioned above, I use my pusher shovel backwards for this, and my boyfriend occasionally uses a coal shovel (also mentioned above). I have a similar but much shorter stairway in back.
posted by cabingirl at 2:20 PM on January 3, 2012

Lay down a plastic tarp that covers the stairs, in the morning when you are leaving, pick up the tarp at the top and walk down the stairs with it, dump the snow at the bottom, and reset the setup. If you happen to be coming up the stairs after a snowfall, you just have to pull the tarp down towards you and all the snow will come with.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 2:57 PM on January 3, 2012

I'm with ssg. I don't understand the premise of the question, that for some reason living at the top of the stairs means you have to start shoveling from the top of the stairs (?). If it's easier to start shoveling from the bottom, why not put on a pair of boots, walk to the bottom of the stairs, and start shoveling from there?
posted by Orinda at 5:42 PM on January 3, 2012

Those suggesting you start at the bottom are missing out on one key fact. If you start at the bottom, you're going to spill some of that snow you're scooping, and then you'll have to shovel some stairs twice. Start at the top and scrape. Less time, less climbing, cleaner stairs, less effort. Also, you won't be throwing snow over the side of the stairs, which can damage vegetation and anything else that's below.
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:40 AM on January 4, 2012

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