Digging out. Hope me.
January 28, 2015 4:38 AM   Subscribe

The blizzard has come and gone, and we were hit pretty hard. I have never seen this much snow, or lived in a house before, or lived in a town before. How do we move forward with our property, and what can we expect from the days and weeks that follow?

I haven't seen the final reports, but definitely more than two feet of snow fell in my town, and with drifts and the particular placement of my house, I'm pretty sure I had more than that. My wife and I spent a lot of time shoveling and raking the roof and clearing the snow from around our vents for the dryer and the furnace make up air.

But we're far from done and we're running out of space for snow! The pile in front of my door is close to five feet high, as are the sides of my driveway. The driveway--really just three parking spaces--is down to about 1.75 spaces (we only have one car).

And some are forecasting another 6"-10" for Monday. Blerg.

Experienced winter people: how do we move forward, and how do we take care of our house and property with all this snow?

Should I be digging out the foundation? Moving snow closer to the storm drains to melt? Digging out my gutter down spouts (which are under feet of snow)? Climbing to my roof and pulling snow out of the actual gutters? How to deal with the water from the melting snow without flooding? And what about my poor plants?

And now that it's here, is the snow on the ground with me until spring? My wife and I generally walk about a mile to the train daily--with our 8 month old daughter--and few sidewalks have been dug out. Are we going to be walking in the street forever?

Sorry for the naive and slightly panicked tone, but I am living in a post apocalyptic Snowpiercer landscape and cannibalism is not far off.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (60 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Dig out where you need to walk or drive, leave everything else alone. Sometimes you need to move snow off of your roof or places where it might cause pooling if there's a fast thaw, but as a general rule things should be fine.

Best bet is to ask a neighbour if they clear their roof. But people die every year falling off snowy roofs, so don't do it unless you're sure it's necessary.

Source: grew up in Canada.
posted by GuyZero at 4:41 AM on January 28, 2015 [12 favorites]

You're in MA, right? I think this lot is here to stay, at least through next week with all those arctic temps they are predicting.

Piles happen. Piles will stick around longer than you want but it's really the only way to do this. Keep the storm drains as clear as possible, salt your walkways, rake your roof. Your plants actually love the snow, it's a cozy blanket for them.

Your neighbors ought to be shoveling their sidewalk. Call your city and ask about enforcing it. My city (Somerville) tickets landlords and owners who don't clear their sidewalk, but assholes gonna asshole. Buy good winter shoes with plenty of traction.
posted by lydhre at 4:49 AM on January 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Basically if you've gotten the paths clear, there's no much else to do. Stay inside with a hot beverage and don't over-think it.
posted by octothorpe at 4:53 AM on January 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

There isn't much you can do when the snow piles up like this. You should be keeping any vents clear but please do not go up on your roof! I'm assuming you live in Mass. - is your roof sloped like most of the roofs around here? The snow will fall off. If your gutters get frozen or clogged, you can pay someone to clear it out for you.

In terms of sidewalks, most municipalities have rules about the shoveling. Definitely complain, though I bet you'll see more sidewalks shoveled by the end of today.

The snow WILL melt before spring. Maybe not by next week but we just need 1-2 warmer days and it will start to melt.
posted by sutel at 4:55 AM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also part of surviving the winter means having the right equipment and clothing. Make sure you have good boots (you can also get Yax Trax to put on your current boots), warm waterproof gloves, a good hat and a warm, waterproof coat. I get most of my snow gear from LL Bean and it's definitely worth it.
posted by sutel at 4:58 AM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, snow will insulate the plants (think igloos). They are better off under the snow if the temperature's below freezing still.

Get something like Yaktrax for your shoes. I've found they work extremely well on snow and ice (although ironically you can slip when you enter an indoor place with smooth floors, so use caution there).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:00 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's no perfect solution, you can't flip a switch and make it not be winter, and this is what winter often looks like. People cope as best they can. Yes, the snow will probably hang around for a long time. In fact you want it to, because the only way it goes away quickly is if you have a sudden freakish warm spell that melts it all, and that's when you have flooding problems. More likely it will melt slowly, the ground will be muddy for a while, and then crocuses will emerge, spring will green everything up and it will be lovely. It won't happen soon enough, but it will happen.

Moderately to steeply-pitched roofs are likely to be fine. It can be a good idea to remove deep, heavy snow from flat and very shallowly-pitched roofs. Depending on how well your attic is insulated and ventilated, it can help to pull snow off the bottom couple of feet of the roof, just above the gutters, even on steeper roofs to prevent ice dams. You don't need to move snow towards drains or away from the house, and you don't need to dig out the gutters. If you have evergreen shrubs, they might appreciate having the heavy stuff knocked off so that they aren't crushed. Cope the best you can. You'll be fine.
posted by jon1270 at 5:04 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Depending on your town, people have some time to clear off sidewalks - in Boston it's 3 hours past sunrise (so 10 AM today). So don't panic yet. I mean yes many of them do a terrible job shoveling but not everyone was out at 7 AM getting rid of the last snow that fell overnight, and those guys with snowblowers can only be in one place at once so it's taking them a while to get to all their clients. Also I recommend giving up on the idea of having more than 1 space in your driveway, we basically just shoveled out the one space and used the rest for snow piling. Such is the way of Massachusetts winters.

And for the love of God ignore week-away weather forecasts; there is nothing Massachusetts weathermen love more than predicting snow, snow, and more snow. As spring approaches the forecasts will get increasingly apocalyptic despite the unreliability of the forecasts, until they're using the BLIZZARD WARNING OMG graphics to predict potential snowfall according to, like, one model, of up to 1".
posted by posadnitsa at 5:13 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

A lot depends on your municipality's commitment to clearing roads and sidewalks.

You may indeed be walking in the road until the end of March. They may plow your sidewalks tonight, and then the day after that plow the road again onto the cleared sidewalk so you only have a sidewalk for half a day... It's up to the municipality.

In some municipalities you are responsible for the sidewalk in front of your own house and have to dig it to the property line. In practice this will also mean that you become responsible for the sidewalk of an elderly lady up the street, whom you will never manage to talk to as she is housebound.

If the snow continues through the winter you may find a sled is a better bet than a stroller for hauling the little Haddock around. We keep a big red oval plastic sled with a tow rope which was bought cheaply at the local Canadian Tire (automotive/hardware/sporting goods store) It is also useful for going down hills very fast and getting dumped into a snowbank at the bottom, and for hauling groceries into the house, and at a pinch in the summer time for a wading pool.

A small red plastic shovel should be supplied for the little Haddock and a snowsuit and mittens and spare mittens and she should be permitted to share the pleasure of shoveling, as opposed to getting parked in the house. In some years time it will likely be her job to do the first round of shoveling so that you have a parking spot when you get home. She needs to get used to the idea early. It will go faster if all the adults turn out to shovel at once and nobody will end up resenting not being the one in the house lingering over coffee and the playpen. Also, when there are two of you digging you are likely to get competitive and it will go faster.

Take a stroll around your neighbourhood and check out what your neighbours are doing. Have they unburied their roofs? Do they all seem to have a driveway ploughing service? Are they piling all their snow onto the edge of the road so the street plough will take care of it for them?

Do not dig out the foundation. In fact, if it doesn't add to your effort, pile snow against the house. Your foundation should not leak from melting snow any more than it should leak from rain. In the meantime you can pile snow higher when it is against a wall and the snow has insulation properties, so that half burying your house in snow will cut your heating bills.

Do not pile snow on storm drains. If the snow compacts, or melts and freezes it will block the storm drain. On the other hand, you don't really need to avoid putting snow on the storm drain or go to any effort to dig it or your rain gutters out. There is a good chance you won't be using it until the end of February.

If you see a little yellow disk on a metal post sticking up out of the snow that is likely to be a marker to show where the fire hydrant is buried. That should be dug out.

Plants under a nice bed of snow usually sleep cozily. It's having bare hard frozen ground that is hard on plants. For the plants snow is a blanket. If the snow has drifted off them pile it back on if you want to coddle them. Your flower beds are fine under a six foot snow mound so if that is a convenient place to put the snow you are good to start digging.

Laundry vents usually open themselves up without assistance unless the snow has been forced into the vent, which is exceedingly rare. Run a couple of loads through the dryer and you will likely see a hollow that the warm air from the dryer has cleared out. Don't stand there to get warm while the dryer is running. The air is damp.

The right kind of a snow shovel makes a big difference. A garden spade is awful, a lightweight plastic snow scoop is useful for light fluffy snow and a metal shovel with a small blade is useful for heavy wet, dense snow. For ice a lawn edger is good.

Snow is not nearly as big a problem as ice. Watch out for an icy walkway and immediately sprinkle it with salt or preferably sand. Salt will reduce the fertility of the soil beside the path, but works quickly and surely. Sand does no harm but needs to be sprinkled more often. If someone suggests kitty litter make sure you use the right kind of kitty litter - many clay cat sands will make a grey slick slurry instead of helping.

When snow is forecast some people cover their car with a lightweight dollar store tarp. This is not to keep the snow off the car, it is to make cleaning snow off the car a faster business. Pull off the tarp and a lot of the snow will come with it.

If you have deer the snow may be a problem for them. It buries the browse they live on and makes them unable to travel far or fast. You may wish to put out hay, or apples.

If you have started feeding the birds you have committed yourself to feeding them until spring. If you stop now they will starve before they can find other foraging ground. Black sunflower seeds, the oily kind are extremely popular during the winter months as they provide a lot of concentrated calories, useful for staying warm.

Also, be aware that outdoor cats can get snowed into their hiding places. If there is one who lives under your porch or shed or something you will want to make sure it has an access tunnel. Hopefully you don't have both a bird feeder and cats.

If you live in New York through Massachusetts you will probably get several thaws that take out most of the snow before the spring. If you live in Maine or New Hampshire or Canada not so likely but not impossible.

You will become very skillful at piling a lot of snow into a very small space before the end of the winter.

In an emergency you can use a hose to clear snow from a vehicle. This is for a must-get-to-hospital-immediately type emergencies as the end result will be a destroyed parking spot, locked into the ice, so don't do it if you are late for work.

Don't bother digging a narrow path through the snowplow bank to the road. When the plough comes back it will close your gap. It is often a time saver to dig out everything except the very edge of your property and then wait until the ploughs have gone to finish the last bit and not end up ploughed back in again.

Take the time to play in the snow while you shovel. Dig at a pace you can sustain. Switch arms. Use your shovel like a lever and throw the snow, rather than using it like a spoon. Digging out after a storm is a good time to meet your neighbours.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:26 AM on January 28, 2015 [133 favorites]

Just dig out what you need to get safely in and out of the house and to get your car out of the driveway. It's going to be gross for a while now, so get some boots that you don't mind getting snow and salt all over (there's a reason Bean Boots are really popular around here).

The only thing you need to worry about on the roof is if you start to get ice dams. If the roof is poorly insulated, the snow will melt and then refreeze on the way down the slope of the roof, causing a build up which can force water underneath the shingles. If that starts to happen - and in my experience anyway it's pretty obvious to see when you look at the roof from the ground - then call someone who will break up the ice dams for you. At least in my neck of the woods, most of the snow was pretty dry and didn't stick to roofs too much so I wouldn't worry about it for this particular storm.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:29 AM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Your neighbors ought to be shoveling their sidewalk.

If that's the rule in your city, then remember that it applies to you as well (unless you are renting, in which case it might be your landlord's problem).
posted by Dip Flash at 5:30 AM on January 28, 2015

Your house can withstand this much snow, downspouts, roof and everything.

Yes, the snow is here to stay for a while. I don't know about the time it takes people to clear sidewalks in Massachusetts. I'm new to New England, but not to snow. Based on Iowa and northern MN stats, in about 3 days, the sidewalks are probably as cleared of snow as they are going to get. The people who don't clear their sidewalk still won't have done it, but the people who just needed a little more time/extra help will probably have cleared it by then.

If you don't have some already, I recommend getting some sturdy snow boots that you don't mind if they get all crusty with salt residue.

My snow-storm to-do list, if it helps.

1) Ignore week-away weather forecasts. They're often inaccurate at this stage, and only add to the panic.

2) Shovel out around the car. Clear the area more than you think it needs. That way as the gargantuan snow piles drift, you still have space for the car. You may have to repeat this step if it's windy. If you have kitty litter, sprinkle it around the back tires of the car, it will help the car grip.

2b) If you really only need 1.5 parking spaces (1 car + drift space), you can use the empty space to store snow. Smoosh down the snow in the unused portion of the driveway. I like to use the back of a shovel and just whack at it until it flattens. Now you have a ~3ft tall pile to store snow on.

3) Clear off the whole width of the sidewalk. Snow moves and drifts and will bury in any one-track path that you make. If the temperature gets warm, you can scrape some more snow-dirt off the sidewalk, the dark color of pavement peeking through will help it melt faster.

Good luck!
posted by Guess What at 5:35 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Park your car as close as you can to the end of the driveway and only shovel out enough space for the car and a path from the car to the door. The rest of the driveway is for snow!

Also, taking this particular snow off the roof was probably a mistake, unless there's something wrong with the roof. It's light snow and very unlikely to cause any damage. Now you've wasted precious yard space on snow that could have stayed on your roof. I mean, not the end of the world, but it's pretty rare that you really need to remove snow from the roof. How is your roof insulation? Do you get a lot of icicles/ice dams?

Talk to your neighbors and observe their path-clearing behaviors... in my friend's neighborhood in Belmont, people refuse to shovel their sidewalks because they say they are afraid of being sued if they do an inadequate job (!). So everyone just walks in the street (actually: drives) all winter.
posted by mskyle at 5:41 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

And you didn't ask, but I'm gonna add this anyway: please clear all the snow off your car, don't be like those idiots who think turning on the windshield wipers is enough.
* You clear all the snow off all your windows because duh, you want to see out.
* You clear all the snow off your engine compartment because if you don't, it'll just blow back onto your windshield and now you can't see to drive safely.
* You clear all the snow off your roof and trunk because if you don't, it'll just blow onto the cars around you and now they're not able to see to drive safely.
* You clear all the snow off your headlights and taillights because you want to both see and be seen.

Other than that, yeah, just clear enough driveway to get in and out plus your sidewalks, then use salt. Be especially watchful if you have an overhang over your door: they can drip meltwater onto the steps or sidewalk below that can then re-freeze.
posted by easily confused at 6:04 AM on January 28, 2015 [23 favorites]

I offer a contrary opinion that is not for everyone. I think it is important to shovel your entire driveway, not just enough for the car or half or anything less than 90%. I would shovel your own sidewalk too especially if you are hoping/expecting your neighbors to clear the sidewalk as well. The reason why is mostly psychological.

With two plus feet of snow your first year in a house, it can seem overwhelming. Heck with 20 years it can too. The tl;dr of it is that if you shovel everything, you have won, not the weather. That is very satisfying. I don't have a job where I work with my hands nor am I coding where I could see progress as I go. Shoveling snow gives you instantaneous feedback. You see the area you cleared. You can take pride in your accomplishment. I find it relaxing. I shovel in solitude. Just me, my gloves, my huge winter coat, my hat and my thoughts.

If you are defeated by or overwhelmed by your first major snow in your new home, what does that say for the next 20 years? I can assure you that if you live in New England, no matter how high of a pile of snow you have, it will melt. In fact it is like your ice cubes in the freezer, they mysteriously shrink even though the freezer stays below freezing. Even if the temp stays below freezing for a week, you will notice the snow cover having shrunk.

But, if you decide that the practical route is best and just do what you have already done, you will be fine. No need to shovel the roof unless you think it is going to cave in from the weight. It it too late for this year, but I had some electric coils placed at the bottom of my roof over the eaves to melt any ice and prevent ice damns from forming that create leaks in the roof/house.

My kids, who used to watch through the window while I shoveled are now all older and mostly in college. I got the call yesterday asking if I had shoveled the entire driveway and to send them a picture. They are proud of me and take pride in my pride of having both hated winter yet not being defeated by it.
posted by 724A at 6:08 AM on January 28, 2015 [12 favorites]

I live near you and was hit with the same two feet of snow.

I'm sure there is much more we could be doing. But, just to assuage your fears a little, we have been New England homeowners for over a decade now (in a century-old house for the past 5 years), and we just shovel and salt the driveway and walkways (sidewalk, stairs, etc.), make sure there is a path to the oil refill valve thingy, and shovel out any vents. So far, no big disasters.

Gutter, downspouts, roof, etc. -- yeah, you probably could attempt to clear these, but we never do. Plants are used to being buried under snow and if they don't come back in the spring, they aren't meant to survive long-term around here. Flooding, if it happens you deal with it, and fix whatever you need to fix to prevent it in the future. The commute will suck until spring, there's not much you can do about that. I suggest relying a baby carrier, Ergo or the like, rather than attempting to push a stroller through the slush and ice.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:18 AM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

When I lived in a place with a small, confined driveway and started to run out of space for snow I would empty out a plastic storage tub, shovel the snow into the tub, and lug it to a distant location to dump it. Presumably something like a child's sled or toy wagon to transport the tub with would make this easier.

Obviously this is much more exhausting than just shoveling, so save it for last resort, but on the up side if it's the right sort of snow the tub forms it into giant bricks and you can make really excellent snowball fight fortifications in the process of your labor.
posted by XMLicious at 6:27 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'd echo most of the points above, don't do much more than keep you walks and drive clear. If you have horizontal vents (dryer, fireplace, modern furnace), you want those clear too. Dryers can fix themselves mostly, though.

Watch your drip edges particularly near doors, walks and driveways. Ice build-up in those areas can be a problem. Salt and sand are spot solutions, but to really remove ice, you need a chipper and a warm day.

Watch for excessive icicle growth on the eves and gutters as well. Icicles indicate heat loss through the roof. Lots of icicles means you should consider insulating your attic: much of your heat is escaping straight up.
posted by bonehead at 6:28 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was coming in to say what Jane the Brown said, but they said it better, so I'll just add a few things:

Last year, when we got record levels of snowfall all winter, I did clear our driveway completely each time, because I'm short and was hand shoveling, so what started out as a 3 car wide driveway was only 2 cars wide by the end.

You kind of get a knack for pushing over snowdrifts further into your yard, so instead of a 6 foot tall, 3 foot wide drift you end up with a 4 foot tall, 5 foot wide drift, which lets you dump more snow on top. Basically, horizontally slide your shovel in about 6 inches from the top, and slide the snow off like you were sliding a pizza off a pizza stone. Repeat as needed.

Also, I get that you're panicking and this is crazy-town levels of snow for you, but your house will be ok. Keep an eye out for ice dams, but other than that, you're ok, the roof is ok, the gutters are ok, and the foundation is ok - all as is. Don't pile snow in or very near the storm drains, because melting snow will block them, and then you'll be very sad, because it can cause flooding.

One other item - don't panic about this NOW, but the next time you can go to the store - pick up a couple gallons of water. This is just in case your town has issues with water delivery, like a broken water main. I've lived in places before where this has happened during a blizzard, and it's nice to know that you are prepared. Preparation helps me feel less panicky when things like blizzards happen.

And - after having dealt with this all winter last year - you'll notice that if you get more blizzards, the first one everyone will buy water, milk, bread, and those aisles will be completely decimated. By the last blizzard for us last year, those aisles were fine and it was the alcohol aisle that was completely empty. So, I guess, plan ahead?
posted by RogueTech at 6:33 AM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

1. Shovel your driveway and sidewalks, pile the snow wherever you can.
2. Rake your roof if you have a house with a history of ice dams.
3. Help out neighbors - get all cars on your block moving and all sidewalks clear.
4. Put on your cross country skis and go to the liquor store for yourself and the neighbors.

This is what my neighborhood does.
posted by littlewater at 6:48 AM on January 28, 2015

After a decade of having a house in New Hampshire, these would be my tips:
  • Try not to half-ass the cleaning, especially early in the year. Throw the snow as far as you can so there's room for it to pile up in the next storm
  • But don't feel like you have to do that every time or all at once. Get your car out and just go if you need to (after cleaning the car, possibly in the street-- not cleaning the roof is a ticket 'round these parts).
  • If you wind up with giant piles you can't throw snow over, that's ok-- climb them and start pushing the top away until you've left more than enough room
  • Figure out a rough estimate of how long a typical clean up takes you so you can leave enough time on weekday mornings
The first one is the big one: if you can manage to keep the driveway and the sidewalk wide open it just feels better. I didn't do that our first year here (it was a miserable year where we got 9' of snow) and by February it felt like living in an occupied country, scuttling through WWI trenches to get to and from the car, so with each succeeding storm the trenches got deeper and the desire to fix it got smaller. Which is why I now own a snowblower.

Other random bits: if you have a storm drain in front of your house, get that clear. When this all melts it needs to go somewhere. I worry a lot less about snow near the foundation than I do about the storm drain blocking and all this stuff deciding to turn back into water. Clean out the hydrant if it's anywhere near you.
posted by yerfatma at 6:56 AM on January 28, 2015

If you have started feeding the birds you have committed yourself to feeding them until spring. If you stop now they will starve before they can find other foraging ground.

This isn't true.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:04 AM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh, yeah. If you plan on owning property in the northeast for a while: buy a snowblower. Seriously.
posted by lydhre at 7:13 AM on January 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

One thing one learns is to especially clear two kinds of areas before starting on walkways and driveways:
1) an area where you'll later pile up the other snow. So, start digging at the side of the driveway if possible, to first make a space where you'll be able to pile up snow that comes off the driveway proper. The first half hour of scoops of snow thusly gets flung wide over wherever you'll be able to fling it.
2) the areas where your experience will show you that ice patches are most likely to form. The latter need to be tackled religiously, and if they get blown over, repeatedly.
Further thoughts:
Flat roof parts need to be freed of excess builtup. Steep roof: not so much, it's statically much more stable. Yes, and indeed, stay safe when meddling with your roof. (Or go watch epic fails for a while to get an idea of what can go wrong with snow coming off a roof).
It's good to time your snow scooping escapades, so you're next time able to calculate when you'll have to start working and get everything else done in time (for me it's between half an hour and a whole hour I have to get up earlier in order to leave the house in time.)
posted by Namlit at 7:24 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about your foundation -- most of the snow will melt off well before the ground thaws very deep, and run off into the storm sewers. A great deal of it will seep into the ground, especially as we get towards spring, but your house's foundation is built to deal with that. I don't know what's typical in MA, but around here we all have dewatering systems and sump pumps and when the spring thaw sends water down the sides of the foundation, the sump pump pumps it away. Your perennial plants are delighted, this is what they expect from a winter.

Walking with very small children this time of year DOES suck because people are frequently irresponsible jackasses about clearing their sidewalks; there's no way around that I'm afraid.

A day above 35 or so will be warm enough to melt the streets and sidewalks that have been even half-assedly shoveled/plowed clear. Three sunny days above 35 will make a dent in everything that isn't a big snowpile/drift. (Grey days melt less, and when it's hanging around 33/34, the ground often isn't warming up enough to melt quite as fast, but around 35 you usually notice it.) Like many people, I plan the diligence of my shoveling around how warm it's going to be later in the week and how much more snow might be coming. If it's going to be FUCKING FREEZING, I want to get it all shoveled as fast as I can because who knows when it's going to melt and I don't want to be out there in -10* weather having to re-shovel my driveway because I did a bad job. If it's going to hit 40 in the next few day, I'm like, "Meh, if I can drive over it, it's fine." If there's going to be a second snow before the first melts, I do a better job because new snow on packed-down, driven-over snow is obnoxious to shovel and makes more hidden icy spots.

Do keep clearing your furnace outlet. In general modern furnaces shut down when they can't vent, so that you don't die, but having your furnace shut down during a blizzard isn't so great either. In a light snowfall just the heat from the vent pipe will keep itself clear; in a blizzard you do want to check every now and again just to make sure. But I've known people who've lived in Illinois 20 years and NEVER KNEW THIS until their furnace actually shut down during a blizzard and the HVAC repair guy had to give them a stern lecture, so don't worry about it TOO much -- you can live 20 years in blizzard country without knowing this and never have it happen! You are already ahead of the game just by knowing about it!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:28 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Side note - be aware of any large or old trees near your property. Branches can break under the weight of snow and ice, and depending on location that can be problematic. Not much to do about it now, but next season they can be trimmed.
posted by Gneisskate at 7:33 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

"Digging out my gutter down spouts (which are under feet of snow)? Climbing to my roof and pulling snow out of the actual gutters? "

BTW, the horizontal gutters are a self-solving problem unless you get big chunks of ice in them that actually deform the gutter itself ... when stuff starts melting, your gutter snow will melt too, and run down the gutter.

When the melt starts you MAY want to clear your downspout outlets, if there's so much snow that the water coming off your roof has nowhere to go, but in my experience they really manage themselves and I don't have to fuss with them. The gutter guys made them weather-appropriate, so the gutters know how to blizzard.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:35 AM on January 28, 2015

Don't rake the snow off of your roof unless you get ice dams. If the roof isn't leaking and your attic space is adequately insulated, the snow up there won't melt until spring (when it won't really refreeze). Same thing for the foundation. If your basement floods when it rains, you might want to clear out some of the snow within four feet or so of the foundation, otherwise, leave it be.

At best, the snow is helping to insulate your house, at worst, you're just saving yourself a LOT of effort.

Otherwise, just clear off the spaces where people walk. This might mean shoveling out a path for your letter carrier to walk through your yard depending on where your mail box is located.

Pretty much everything else will clear itself out as it melts.

If the plows haven't cleared the street yet, you CAN shove some of the snow out into the street and let the plows move it for you, just make sure that you don't need to get your car in or out and that the snow isn't in anyone else's way.

Lastly, do not underestimate the power of a hot beverage to rejuvenate a person after they've moved a metric s**t-ton of snow (I like hot apple cider with a shot of brandy).
posted by VTX at 7:54 AM on January 28, 2015

Oh, and fresh snow is far easier to shovel than older snow --- if it snows on a weekend, for instance, don't wait until Monday to shovel. Older show is compacter snow, and heavier per shovelful. Shovel early, soon after it stops if possible, take your time, and get it done while you're not in a rush --- "I've got to get this 100-foot driveway cleared so I can get to work in an hour!" is very definitely not the way to go. Take plenty of rest breaks, too. Remember that it may look pretty and fluffy, but you're doing manual labor, and pace yourself.

Those short-handled shovels that are advertised for keeping in a car trunk may be okay for the occasional very small jobs, but you're far better off getting a decent full-size shovel, with a metal blade --- plastic blades break too easily, making the whole shovel useless. And if you get a good one, there's no need to replace it every year, either. Obviously you aren't going out shovel-shopping right now, but make sure you have one (or better: two!) on hand at the beginning of winter, rather than waiting until it starts snowing and you're having to literally fight people for the last one in the store. Ditto a couple bags of salt for the house and an ice scraper for each car: that's stuff you purchase before it's needed, like any other emergency supplies.

As for the ice scraper: personally, I'm short, and I like a long-handled one best, because it can reach all the ice/snow on the car. I favor one with a combo brush/squeegee head on one end and a hard plastic scraper on the other --- a plastic scraper because it won't scratch the car's glass like a metal one might. (YMMV on that; you'll have to see what you like.) The little hand-held scrapers are okay, but can't reach all of my car windows like the long-handled ones can though.

And finally: never, NEVER pour hot water over ice on your car windows! The sudden temperature change can break the glass.
posted by easily confused at 7:56 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

And finally: never, NEVER pour hot water over ice on your car windows! The sudden temperature change can break the glass.

This. I dated someone who would do any household chore in the laziest way possible, and despite my asking him not to do this, he did and he broke my windshield.

Also, one of my lazy kids learned that you don't ever turn on the hot air in a cold car and BLAST it onto the ice/snow-covered windshield if the windshield already has a teeny crack in it. That crack will spread.
posted by kinetic at 8:22 AM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Sometimes in a big storm I'll do a first-pass shoveling midway through. It's a little disheartening to finish and see that where you started is already covered with white, *but* it means not shoving two-foot piles of snow around (only one-foot piles, lol). Also, once you've done this a few times you'll get more used to it and start developing some tricks. (For example, I shovel the top of the driveway, where the plow fills us in, and the wide bottom area first, before I get too tired. Doing the skinny middle that's under the pine tree is a snap after that!)

Oh! And if you have an electric meter on the outside of your house, the meter guy will probably really appreciate it if you shovel him at least a rough path. Ditto if you have a furnace oil tank that needs filling.

Other than that, what everyone else said. Clear driveways and walkways; don't worry about the roof unless it's flat; maybe knock snow off evergreen bushes so they don't get too flattened.

Welcome to Snow Land!
posted by velvet_n_purrs at 8:28 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Re: plants - Yes, woody or evergreen bushes can get squashed or snapped. Nothing to be done about this now, except maybe clear them somewhat and don't add more snow on top of them by shoveling it there.

When shoveling, take it easy. You are moving literally tons of snow - when this happened here a few years ago, we had fun figuring the weight of snow we had moved. Here's a fact sheet if you want to calculate the weight of snow on your roof. And yes, fresh snow is much easier to shovel, and shovel wider than you think you need to, for this first big snow, since the path will get a little narrower with each successive big snow.

About salt - some forms of salt can damage concrete, ask me how I learned this. Sand doesn't, and supposedly there are alternative forms of salt that are ok for concrete.

Things to watch out for in the coming days/weeks -

People will probably clear their sidewalks in the next couple days. Also you'll probably start to see roving guys with a pickup and a shovel, or maybe even a snowblower, come through the neighborhood offering to shovel people's walks for $$.

Icy walkways and sidewalks everywhere, and slick spots on roads, as the thin coating of snow there gets compressed, and icy spots re-forming from where snow has blown or snowmelt has run off. This will continue a lot longer than it usually would. And stairways! Oh lordy, watch out for inadequately cleared/salted stairways, and be religious about keeping yours ice-free. If walking on a possible icy surface, take your time and be sure each step is deliberate.

Blind corners - when you are pulling out into the street from a parking lot, for example, there will be big snow piles at the corners that can obscure your view. So be extra careful driving, both when you pull out, and as you drive watch for other people pulling out blind.

Clear off your car completely, including the top, the headlights and brakelights etc.

Parking spaces - Clearing a parking space obviously takes a huge amount of effort. People will put out chairs etc to "reserve" their empty spot once they've cleared it. My advice is to respect this claim for the time being unless you have an emergency reason not to... people are stressed and can really flip out over someone taking "their" spot.

Fun thing - Snowshoeing! Or construction... You can make an igloo, or make a snow tunnel (buddy system for this, consider the weight of the snow over top and be careful about collapse).
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2015

Another Boston cultural standard in the 'burbs: if you're out shoveling and see your neighbor also out shoveling, it's been my 30-year experience that you run over to help them.

The first time my neighbor ran over and helped me shovel out I was surprised, but it seems to be what old-timers do here in the 'burbs. I just got new neighbors who have five little kids and Kinetic 3 (16) ran over there this morning to help them. They were happily surprised but that's how we roll in Lexington.
posted by kinetic at 8:56 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

FWIW, I am the only person ever who hates shoveling fresh snow, because it's so light it flies everywhere when I try to move it. (I am shoveling off a balcony, so I need to throw it.)

Don't use your hands to wipe down the inside of the windshield.
posted by jeather at 9:49 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, but one other thing to pay attention to: If you have a mailbox of some sort, make sure the mailperson can get to it. If it's streetside, make sure your plowperson hasn't buried it. If they have, dig it out. If the mailperson can't easily get to your mailbox, they can refuse to deliver your mail. We live on a curve and the snowplow naturally buries the mailbox. Last winter I had the added joy of digging out the mailbox and an area in front of it so we could still get mail. Joy. :/

To summarize what I think everyone has said:
1) Take your time and pace yourself shoveling. Make the cleared area as wide as you can.
2) Help neighbors when you can
3) Ice can sneak up on you; keep vigilant
4) Your foundation is probably fine
5) Your gutters/downspouts are probably fine
6) Your plants are fine, but if shrubs seem to be super weighted down, clear them off.
7) Your roof is probably fine unless you get awful ice dams or if it's flat; if you do need to clear it, be VERY CAREFUL
8) Clear snow for utilities people access and mail delivery
posted by RogueTech at 10:46 AM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

The best way to build neighbour cred in snow country is to help someone with their lane, especially when the plow has gone by.
posted by bonehead at 11:20 AM on January 28, 2015

In Philadelphia the year I purchased my first home, and was living by myself for the first time, we got multiple close-together dumps of snow. It was the second or third snowfall of about a foot or more in under two weeks that I broke down after an hour outside shoveling. There was just nowhere else to put the snow!

And then my neighbor came to help. And I sucked it up and kept on going.

It's ok to feel hopeless. That's when you take a break. And that's why you help your neighbors (if you have good neighbors!) - because you will each reach hopelessness at different times, and when everyone is together digging out it all seems less terrible. Then you get hot drinks and put on your pajamas and feel like you conquered the weather for at least one day.

Lots of excellent advice here! Hang in there.
posted by kellygrape at 12:17 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mark your calendar to buy a snowblower at the end of June or early July. You may be tempted to buy one sooner - don't do it. Wait until the summer, and you can get a good one for very little money.
posted by anastasiav at 12:41 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Snow is heavy, better many smaller shovels full than wrestling a big amount. You'll probably have to fling the snow a bit to get it out of the way. Shoveling is work, know the symptoms of a heart attack and pay attention.

With warmish days and cold nights, snow will pack itself into something like concrete, so don't delay. I tore off my bumper on old snow last year. Talk to your neighbors and find a plow guy. Even a short drive is a lot of snow when it's 2 feet. Shoveling walkways will still give you plenty of exercise. Those ergonomic-handled shovels are worth it. If I didn't have a plow guy I'd have a good snowblower.
posted by theora55 at 12:46 PM on January 28, 2015

You can load snow into an empty garbage bin, slide it to a new location, and dump it. This is a good thing to do with the first big snow of the season as it helps start the piles away from the house, leaving more space for future snow.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:56 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice above, I'd suggest Googling Ice Dams and keeping an eye out for them as the snow on the roof melts. These aren't caused so much by blocked drains but by the uneven heating of the roof usually caused by insulation issues or when everything starts to thaw. As an Aussie my first really heavy snow left me oblivious to the dangers and I had repairs to do last spring. Don't mess around with your roof. We've had good luck filling socks with non damaging deicer & flinging them up over the ice at right angles to melt a channel for the water to flow out so it's not sitting on the roof, we tie a rope to the end for easy retrieval. The advantages no tricky ladders on ice, no climbing on icy dangerous roofs, less work than snow raking and it's kind of fun flinging away. This may not be a problem for you if you have decent insulation.
posted by wwax at 1:16 PM on January 28, 2015

My one additional piece of advice to all the good items presented above: for the love of God, get an ergonomic shovel with a kink in the handle like this one. (I have no idea how good that particular model is, it' s just the first one that showed up on an image search.) Your back will thank you. Just think about where in the air your hands would be while the shovel blade is mid-scoop and you'll see the point. I've lived in Massachusetts my whole life and I can't believe how long I put up with straight-handled shovels.
posted by dfan at 1:41 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Silicone spray for your ergonomic shovel and your snowblower for when we get sticky snow! Snow comes flying off the blade; no need to do the lift and whack movement to get the snow off the shovel. Keeps muttering of cusswords to a minimum.
posted by kinetic at 2:02 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

kinetic: "Silicone spray for your ergonomic shovel"

I, uh, use Pam non-stick cooking spray to keep wet snow from sticking to my shovel, which is a little bit, ummmm, improvisational -- but it works!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:35 PM on January 28, 2015

One other thing that's absolutely priceless--and perhaps the only thing I've ever purchased that is a) As Seen On TV; and b) the absolute envy of all my neighbors: the "Sno Brum". Spelling might not be their forte, but this thing cleans off your car easily of anything that's not iced on. It's a huge time (and paint) saver.
posted by TwoStride at 2:37 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

My saving grace was a tiny car space heater thing I could plug in when I woke up to get ready for work in the morning because scraping windows sucks.

Source: Canadian prairie winters
posted by rideunicorns at 9:31 PM on January 28, 2015

Car dealerships buy those brooms (they used to use actual brooms) by the dozen. It's what they use to clean snow off of the car on their lot after it snows. If you have to park a car outside, they are the fastest way to clean it off without damaging the paint.

Which reminds me, don't try to pull ice off of your car's paint if you don't have to. It can freeze to the surface and pull a chunk of paint with it, it's rare but it can happen.
posted by VTX at 3:22 PM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Did you survive? We need updates!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:39 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

He may not have survived...there was another storm yesterday (15" in Boston--broke the record for most snow in 1 week at 35" total), and another one forecast for Thursday!
posted by Melismata at 12:25 PM on February 3, 2015

More snow predicted for this weekend. Let's not lose sight of the fact that spring is just under 7 weeks away!
posted by 724A at 3:02 PM on February 3, 2015

If someone helps clear your snow, you owe them a return of the favor and/or booze or baked goods. If you shirk this part of the Snowy Social Contract, no one will ever help you again.

A corollary to this is that everyone in the neighborhood should make sure to help out old people or others not able to do their own shoveling/snow-blowing, with no expectation of reward. Same for the fire hydrants. Karma should be its own reward, but wine or banana bread is more immediate. :7)

(Source: grew up in Minnesota, lived in New England for 20+ years.)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:44 AM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh yes. If you don't have a snowblower, a neighbor may let you borrow theirs - if so, it's polite to refill it with gas (if you know how) and to give them baked goods. Our neighbors are kind enough to let us borrow their snowblower after large storms, and I keep them stocked up on cookies.

Hopefully Admiral Haddock has survived and is not frozen in. I'm resisting the urge to make a frozen fish joke.
posted by RogueTech at 7:57 AM on February 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have one of these. I find it much easier and less tiring than traditional snow shovels.
posted by idb at 12:12 PM on February 6, 2015

Very important; only start your car if the tail pipe is clear. CO will build up inside and kill you. And you won't even know it; just get sleepy, fall asleep and die.
posted by lowtide at 8:27 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Two revelations this winter:

I can't believe I went this long in upstate NY without knowing about snow sleigh shovels. You just push these along, without lifting, and then tip them over at the end. SO MUCH EASIER on the back and arms!

And then yeah, I got an electric snowblower. An itty-bitty one, 13 Amp, along with a 100-foot 15-Amp cable to power it. You trade the gasoline fumes and yanking the starter motor cable for the trip hazard and managing cable coils, and it makes dealing with a long driveway so much easier.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:59 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't think I survived--I must be in purgatory, because every day I wake up and, like Groundhog Day, I seem to be living the same snow storm over and over and over again. As you may have seen from the lovely Mrs. Haddock, we lost a bathroom ceiling from ice dams, and the dams seem to be trying to reform as I type this.

A bright super nova of goodness is my new snow blower--not inexpensive, by any stretch of the imagination, but worth every penny. Today (2/15) was my first chance to use it, and it saved me so many hours of back breaking labor, I just can't believe I lived without it. It was incredible good luck that my backordered machine arrived on Friday right before the storm.

I'm sure I'll ask another AskMe about this, but if you're still checking in--what in the name of all that is holy am I supposed to do with all this snow, and what is spring going to be like (assuming spring ever comes). My snow banks are so high by my driveway that even the snowblower struggles to clear them. I have 3-4' of snow lining the walk to my front steps, and more in the back of the house. I'm really tempted to go out with a propane torch to start melting some of it. it's just out of control, and I have no idea what to do with the next three snow storms predeicted so far for this week...
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:50 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ah, thanks for the check-in. We've all feared the worst. Just to bring you some light in the darkness, yes, spring will come, and in some obscure ways, even the tallest snow mountains will eventually be gone. Something to look forward to, no mistake.

Yay to your new snowblower!
posted by Namlit at 12:16 AM on February 16, 2015

Spring will come and it will yield a large large crop of....MUD.

Glad to hear you are going to make it (with just a leaked ice dam). You're already an Admiral, but you deserve a promotion for extraordinary service above and beyond the call of duty.
posted by 724A at 5:54 AM on February 16, 2015

Spring will come. February is miserable enough that it's always the longest-feeling month for me, despite being the shortest on the calendar. By mid-March things are looking hopeful, and those first few days where it gets nice (days like The First Day of Opening All the Windows in the House and The First Day You Can Go Outside Without a Parka On) are so wonderful. By April, when we're still getting sporadic snow, I figure this is finally the year Ragnarok has happened, but May will convince me that Spring really has returned and the world will be ok.

Check out this Wikipedia article on February. I think the Finnish name for February is lovely: . In Finnish, the month is called helmikuu, meaning "month of the pearl"; when snow melts on tree branches, it forms droplets, and as these freeze again, they are like pearls of ice.

Also, I wouldn't recommend melting the snow with propane or anything else - you'll just turn it into ice, which is far more likely to cause you issues.
posted by RogueTech at 7:46 AM on February 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

My snow banks are so high by my driveway that even the snowblower struggles to clear them.

Thankfully this only happens every few winters. In this case what I do is pull on warm pants or snow pants, grab a shovel and start moving the high parts down into the low areas. You only need to get rid of enough for the snow blower to clear the tops, but try to do some extra because:

1. It may snow more than once or a lot before the next melt and you don't want to do this every time
2. Snow, especially the light stuff, is often accompanied by a refreshing gust of Arctic wind and the higher you pitch the snow blower exit, the more gets blown back at you. You can offset this with a balaclava and or goggles, but knock the piles as low as you can tolerate.

what is spring going to be like (assuming spring ever comes).

Ideally a joy that gets here slowly so the snow melts a bit at a time. Instead it usually shows up as an inexplicable hot weather stretch (wherein none of the idiots who make that global warming joke during the snow say anything) which results in some flooding. But you still have winter to freak out about so don't worry about spring yet. Just try to clear any storm drains near you with your fancy new snow blower to give the melt a place to go when it shows up.

Also, I wouldn't recommend melting the snow with propane or anything else

Yeah, no idea if that was serious or not, but don't try to help Mother Nature beyond clearing the storm drains so water finding its own level finds it where it's supposed to. Any time I've tried to do something clever in anticipation of what I think will happen, it made things worse. For example, don't go snow blowing around the edge of the house to try to keep water away when the melt comes. It's spitting in the wind and encouraging it to flow back at you and pool.
posted by yerfatma at 6:51 AM on February 18, 2015

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