Snowthrowers pay for themselves after just a few snowfalls

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As many Torontonians dug out from yet another painful snow storm recently, I was -- as usual -- happy that I had my trusty snow blower to do the bulk of the work. Then, I noticed a couple of my neighbors using shovels.

I offered to let one borrow my machine; he happily accepted, and quickly knocked out the rest of his job. After I completed helping my neighbour, he was very appreciative. I, by contrast, was perplexed: Why wouldn't a man who was relatively affluent (and obviously appreciated the value of my machine) own one himself? Perhaps his was on the fritz? No. When I asked, "When will your snow blower be repaired?" he informed me he'd never owned one.

Why not? His explanation was that he didn't want to spend the extra money, and didn't mind dealing with the snow the old-fashioned way. Perhaps -- but he clearly didn't mind using mine to finish his snow shoveling duties.

This winter, a whopping 122 cm of snow have blanketed the City of Toronto. Shovellers have been pushed to their breaking point. It never ceases to amaze me how much suffering people will endure in their efforts to save money. There are effective, small, new, reasonably priced snow blowers for about $500.

With that in mind, let's do the math: What's the real cost of a snow blower as opposed to a good old-fashioned $20 shovel? I believe, on average, snowblowers are used about 4 times a month from December through April every winter season. That puts me at around 20 uses per year (This year the numbers were somewhat higher in most areas) with an average time of 30 minutes per session.

This works out to about 10-15 hours spent per season actually removing snow in the blistering cold, slippery driveways and backbreaking labour. Now, If you pay even $800 for a premium snow blower and figure out your operating costs, (About $20 of gasoline gets me About 10 to 15L gas which will allow you to work through most seasons without having to refuel.)

That's $20 a season multiplied by 10 seasons, which equals $200. I've also had to have the machine serviced twice at an average cost of about $75, adding another $150 to my operating expenses, which brings the grand total to $350, plus the initial $500 investment. So I am into this machine for $850, or roughly $85 a season; less than a weekly trip to your local grocery store.

When you compare it to your other options -- shoveling (which generally takes twice as long as a snow blowing session), or paying a snow service company an average of about $30 per visit -- the choice becomes simple and clear. A snow service would have run me about $360 a season or over $4000 over the same 12 years. Yes, snow shovels are far less expensive, costing as low as $20, or $1.67 a season -- but what about the value of one's time? Rich or poor, we Canadians all have the same 24 hours in the day, and one of the biggest differences between the rich and poor is how they spend it.

So if it takes you 20 hours to deal with snow each winter with a shovel, or 10 hours with a snow blower, how much are those extra 10 hours worth to you? It would cost my neighbor about $57 more per season to use a snow blower. But he would save 10 hours to devote to something or someone else that's important to him. Obviously, he doesn't value his time at more than about $5.70 an hour.

That's the very definition of "penny wise and pound foolish." Say you only break out the shovel 10 times in an average winter. Let's cut your annual gas expenditure down to two gallons. (Wouldn't want to get caught short of fuel when you need it.) Fixed costs remain the same: $550 to buy and maintain a snow blower. Adding $6 for gas and $4 for oil gives you a per-season operating cost of $10.

If your machine lasts a dozen years, as mine has so far, $550 divided by 12 is around $46 a year. Add the $10 and your annual cost is still just $56. But now, it's only saving you five hours of hard labor. Still, ask yourself: Isn't your leisure time worth $11.20 an hour?

I'm willing to bet you'd say it's worth considerably more. (If you can find some young entrepreneurs in your neighborhood willing to shovel snow for just $11 an hour, you may want to take them up on the offer.) Finally, after a heavy snowfall, with deep, blowing drifts, the value of that snow blower verges on priceless. Simply shift the unit into a low gear and let the unit take all the hassle out of the icy road block at the end of your driveway. Think of all the great things you could be doing with the time, money and energy you can save with a snowthrower. You can get where you need to go faster, safer and more effectively.

You will save yourself the strain and heartache of hours of shovelling and best of all, save you and your family money in the long run. We invite you to explore your options and find the best snowthrower for your needs. We are always ready to help you with whatever option you feel is best for your application, need and budget. Ultimately, we at Alpine Lawn and Garden want you to be Winter Ready and able to maintain your routine during the harsh Winter months. We look forward to helping you.

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