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Snow removal

Clearing by individuals

Manual snow removal

Snow removal from roof.

In places with light snow, brooms or other light instruments can be used to brush off snow from walks and other surfaces. In colder regions with more precipitation, the main tools of the private snow clearer are the snow shovel, a large lightweight shovel used to push snow and lift it, and the snow scoop, a large and deep hopper-like implement fitted with a wide handle and designed to scoop up a load of snow and slide it on any slippery surface to another location without lifting. Shoveling entails a considerable amount of physical effort and can be a strain on the back and the heart. Each year many senior citizens and middle aged persons die from heart attacks while shoveling snow. Those unwilling or unable to perform this labour, especially those with large driveways or other substantial surfaces may use a snow blower, as well as people that live in areas with long lasting winters with large amounts of snowfall. Others may hire a contractor with a plow bearing truck or a shovel. After a large snowfall businessmen with plow trucks often drive through cities offering to plow for money. A recent technological advance is the snowmelt system that heats the pavement from below and melts snow and ice after a period of time. Such systems are expensive to install and operate and they are not cost effective in areas with very low winter temperatures and large snowfalls. Some governments offer free snow clearing for the elderly and others in need.

Dealing with ice is more difficult. Snow blowers are expensive and rarely effective. Picks are sometimes used, but a solid spade can break through most ice. There is always the risk of damaging the pavement with these instruments. Icy areas can be covered with salt or some other substance, bags of which are widely available.

In many places, laws require homeowners to clear snow from the public walkway in front of their house, as well as a pathway on their own property to their mailbox. Those who fail to do so, depending on the jurisdiction’s laws, may face fines and may be civilly liable for injuries suffered by another on a surface that they were required to clear.

Cleaning off and freeing one’s vehicle is another matter. Many people who need their vehicles for their own transportation will do just barely what is necessary in order to drive the vehicle and remove it from its space. Others may be more thorough in this process. Some people will do the job incompletely, causing a hazard. In some jurisdiction, motorists who do this can be fined.

In many urban residential areas with curbside parking, residents use objects to mark the spaces they dug out so they can reclaim their space upon their return.

Cleaning by the owners of the contiguous lands or buildings

In some countries, to ensure the winter trafficability of sidewalks belongs to duties of the owner of the contiguous land or building. Such owner can be an individual inhabitant, in case of a family house, but also the municipality, municipal district or their specific organization or a housing co-operative or some other company (especially if some office or industrial object is concerned). If the owner owns more buildings or a big object, he have a mechanization generally, but individual house owners clean the sidewalk by hand tool mostly.

For example, in Prague, a persistency of such duty is documented since 1838. The decree of the government of Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia No 1/1943 Sb. said that sidewalk cleaning in residential area in municipalities with more than 5000 inhabitans, district cities and other specified municipalities is a duty of the owner or user of the contiguous land. The municipality was empowered to undertake this duty at the expense of the contiguous land owner. The Czechoslovak Road Act No 135/1961 Sb. ( 23) adopted such legal regulations for all municipalites, but municipality offices might modify them. The new Road Act of the Czech Republic, No 13/1997 Sb. ( 9 art. 4) left this enactment and stated that way maintenance is an obligation of the way owner, without any exception. Despite of it, 27 art. 4 attached to the contiguous land owner the liability for harm caused by defects of cleaning. The Czech Public Defender of Rights claimed in 2002 and 2003 annual reports the discrepancy between theoretical and practical interpretations of the act and recommended to enact an unequivocal formulation. This discrepance was repeatedly handled by courts and the Supreme Administrative Court on 2005 June 27th and the Constitutional Court on 2007 January 3-rd stated that the cleaning duty results indirectly from the stated liability for harm. Impugners of the duty argued that this duty is a residue of feudal corve or of totalitarian nazism and communistic regimes and that nowadays, compulsory labour at extrinsic way is in conflict with Charter of Fundamental Rights and Basic Freedoms, and that systematic municipal cleaning is more effective than a cleaning by individuals. On 2007 Dezember 6-th, the Senate of the Czech Republic proposed at the instance of its Constitutional Committee to let out the controversial article. The Czech Government give support to it by their narrow majority. Past heated debate, the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Republic sanctioned this change by 116:31 ratio from 190 presenting members. Since 2009 April 16-th, the change made by the act No 97/2009 Sb. is forcing and sidewalk cleaning is an obligation of the sidewalk owner only, i. e. generally the municipality. In despite of duty abolition, many people including oppugnants of the duty declared that they will to continue the winter cleaning of municipal sidewalks, but voluntarily and on their own behalf.

As was mentioned during the discussion at the Czech Parliament by the statement of the Czech Association of Cities and Municipalities, similar duty remains in many other modern countries, e. g. Austria, France and some cities of Bavaria and USA.

Clearing by contractors

Clearing a residential driveway in Incline Village, Nevada

Hiring a contractor with a winter service vehicle or a shovel.

In many high elevation or heavy snow accumulating areas, companies with snow removal equipment offer to provide services to remove the snow. Contractors may work on a per-time basis, full season contract, or will-call status. Per-time service (or per-push) is usually invoiced monthly and customers will be charged for each time services are provided. Some companies will charge per-time and per-inch where the depth of the snow is even taken into account. A full season contract is quoted and paid upfront at the start of the season and services will be provided automatically according to the contracted terms. All companies have different terms so make sure to understand the agreement. For example, some full season contracts will expire after X amount of trips where others are unlimited. And finally, will-call service is where the client makes contact with the snow removal company to initiate a single clearing. This is not an automatic service and charges are usually higher for will-call jobs.

Snow removal services may include driveway and parking area snow removal, walkway and deck handwork, and occasionally roof clearing. Contractors use hand shovels, walk behind snowblowers (or snow throwers), truck plows, skid-steers, light-weight tractors, and heavy front-end loaders. Many times, these machines will require use of tire chains to perform their tasks. Snow may be pushed by plowing methods or blown to an area of the property by snowblowers. Contracts may apply sand or salt in some locations to help melt ice accumulations.

Many snow removal contractors will require installation of snow poles or snow staking along the driveway. This is to keep equipment out of the landscaping and to help identify the perimeter of an area.

Contractors should be licensed and insured.

Clearing by cities

Snowblower in Rocky Mountain National Park, 1933

Cities clear snow on a much larger scale than individuals. Most cities in areas that get regular snow maintain a fleet of snow clearing vehicles. The first to be dispatched are gritters who do some plowing but also salt the road. The salt, via freezing point depression, helps melt the snow and ice and also gives vehicles more traction. Later, generally once the snow has ceased falling, snow plows, front end loaders with snowplow attachments and graders cover every street pushing snow to the side of the road. Salt trucks often then return to deal with any remaining ice and snow. The trucks generally travel much faster than the plows, averaging between 30 and 40 kilometers per hour. Most cities thus have at least twice as many plows as trucks. Smaller narrow body plows, with Caterpillar tracks or huge snow tires salt and clear sidewalks in some cities, but in many others with less snow fall and/or less pedestrian traffic individuals are tasked with clearing the sidewalk in front of their homes. Ecological movements often oppose this use of salt because of the damage it does when it eventually washes off the roads and spreads to the environment in general.

In cities where snow steadily accumulates over the winter it is also necessary to remove the piles of snow that build up on the side of the roads known as windrows or snowbanks. There are a number of methods of doing this. Pulling snow is done when temperatures rise high enough for traffic to melt snow. The windrows are then broken up and spread over the road. Casting is the moving of snow by means of a shovel or plow to nearby public lands. On boulevards or highways winging back is done, which consists of pushing the snow banks further from the road. The most expensive option, but necessary when there are no nearby places to dump the snow, is to haul it away. This is most often done by large self propelled snowblowers that gather the piles of snow at the side of the road and load it into dump trucks. The snow is then dumped on the outskirts of town, or in a nearby lake, river or harbor. (Some jurisdictions have banned dumping snow into local bodies of water for environmental reasons – modern roads can be contaminated with melting salt, motor oil, and other substances.) Snow melting machines may be cheaper than moving snow, depending on the cost of fuel and the ambient temperature.

The windrows created by the plows in residential areas often block driveways and imprison parked cars. The snow pushed there by any plow is a dense, packed version of “normal” fallen snow. When the temperatures are significantly below freezing this packed snow takes some of the characteristics of solid ice. Its removal is nearly impossible without mechanical means.

A street plow in Quebec City

The largest roads and highways are the first to be cleared; roads with steep hills or other dangers are also often a priority. Streets used by buses and other mass transit are also often given higher priorities. It often takes many hours, or even days, to cover every street in a city. In some places, a snow emergency will be declared, where automobile owners are instructed to remove their vehicles from the street (or one side of a street). If cars are in the way when the plows come around, they may be hauled away by tow trucks. Some communities have standing snow emergency rules in winter, where vehicles are not allowed to be parked on streets overnight, no matter if it snows or not. After smaller snow storms only main roads are cleared while residential ones are left to be melted by the passing traffic. Decisions on immediate removal versus “natural melting” can be hard to make because the inconvenience to citizens and the economy in general must be weighed against the immediate effect on the snow removal budget at that particular moment in the season.

In large cities with heavy snowfalls like Montreal and Ottawa, the snow clearing expense for each season is an important part of the seasonal public works budget and each snow storm provokes a major logistical operation involving thousands of employees working in shifts 24 hours a day. The effort can vary greatly depending on the amount of snow. Montreal gets about 225cm of snow each winter and spends more than $128 million Canadian each year to remove it. Toronto, with about 50 per cent more population and 28 per cent more road surface, gets only 125 cm of snow a year and spends about half that. The higher cost in Montreal is due to the need to perform “snow removal” as opposed to simple “snow clearing” necessitated by both the high snowfall amounts and fewer melting days.

It is estimated that Canada spends $1 billion on snow removal. The employees who do this work are generally the same workers who do road maintenance work during the summer months, but in some US cities garbage trucks are also equipped with plows and used for snow removal. Many smaller US communities sign contracts with insurance companies, under which the insurance company assumes the risk of a heavy winter. The insurance company of course sets the rates such that averaged over time they will make a profit; the town is willing to overpay for snow removal in mild winters so as to avoid the risk of running dramatically over budget in the occasional severe winter.

Large organizations such as universities and airports also often have their own mechanized snow clearing force. Public transit systems generally clear bus stops while post offices clear around mail boxes. Railroads have their own snow clearing devices such as rotary snowplows.

Surface treatments

The surface is treated primarily by snow removal. The second way of road maintenance is a sprinkling or spraying of the surface by various materials. Those materials have in principle two purposes. Chemical sprinkling or spraying by various salts and other substances are used on roads and walkways to induce freezing-point depression, which (except in extremely cold weather) causes ice and snow to melt, greatly improving traction. Chemical treatment can be applied partly as preventive one, even before snowfall or cooling, and secondly as liquidating one. The second purpose of sprinkling is to make the surface rugged by sand, brash, slag etc. Both types, chemical and inert one, can be mixed. However after the snow and ice has melted, sandy pavement has lower traction than sand-free pavement.

Chemical treatment materials include:

Sodium chloride (common table salt, NaCl)

Calcium chloride (CaCl2)

Potassium chloride (KCl)

Magnesium chloride (MgCl2)

Ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3)

Ammonium sulfate [(NH4)2SO4]

Potassium acetate (CH3COOK)

Urea [(NH2)2CO]

Propylene glycol (C3H8O2)

Calcium magnesium acetate (C4H6O2Ca and C4H6O2Mg)

Sodium ferrocyanide (hydrous, Na4Fe(CN)610H2O)

Methyl alpha-D-glucopyranoside (C7H14O6)

In the European Union, ca 98 % (in 2000) of chemical treatment materials were Sodium chloride in various forms. It has an effect up to 5 C, at the most 7 C. When freeze is deep, Calcium chloride (CaCl2) is added to NaCl in some countries, but it is just about 6-times more expensive. Other substances were used rarely and experimentally. Alternative substances (urea, alcohols, glycols) are often used at airports.

Inert spreadings can be:


brash, rubble etc.


ash (for household use only)


The choice of treatment may include consideration of the effect on vegetation, pets and other animals, the local watershed, and effectiveness with regard to speed and temperature. Some chemicals can degrade concrete, metals, and other materials. The resulting meltwater and slush can cause frost heaving if it re-freezes, which can also damage pavement. Inert material make the road or pavement polluted and can damage vehicles and escalate a dustiness. The salt (NaCl) is hygroscopic which means that the salted pavements are dampy and hardly come to get dry: especially tram trails polluted by salt are very greasy for trams and also for cars and thereby dangerous just when it don’t freezes.

As an example, in the Czech Republic during the Winter season of 2000/2001, material expenditure on road net was: 168 000 tonnes of salt (mostly NaCl), 348 000 tonnes of sand and crushed stone and 91 000 tonnes of other materials like slag. In Ireland, the annual expenditure of salt was 30 000 tonnes. The Switzerland alleges the annual expenditure as 600 grammes of salt to every square metre of roads on average.

Snow removal tools

Snow shovel

Snow blower


Ice pick or spade

See also

Snow filtration

Winter service vehicle

Parking space reservation in snowstorms





^ Pavel Fastr: Zkon o pozemnch komunikacch s komentem a vyhlkou., Praha, Linde, repeated editions since 1997

^ “Hiring a Snow Removal Contractor”. Tahoe Workz LLC Snow Removal Services. Retrieved 2008-12-21. 

^ “Professional Snow Removal Photos”. Tahoe Workz LLC Snow Removal Services. Retrieved 2008-12-21. 






^ a b Karel Melcher: Posypov materily pro zimn drbu komunikac v R a v zemch EU (Winter road maintenance spreadings in the Czech Republic and in EU countries),, 3. 12. 2001

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Snow removal

Have Snow Shovel, Will Travel: A History of Snow Removal

Snowmelt Systems Explained

City of Ottawa snow clearing operations

Snow Control Measures in Sapporo

Snow Professional by Inaam Hussain 2004

Comparison of snow and ice melting substances

Crysteel Truck Equipment

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