How to Choose a Snow-Removal Service
Here's what you should know before you hire a snow-removal service — before the snow starts flying.
The first time someone plowed my driveway, the plow blade struck the edge of a whiskey barrel planter tucked at the end of a perennial bed. The driver was backing out of the driveway and unaware as the plow blade yanked the barrel up. As the snowplow drove off, the whiskey barrel rolled down the freshly-cleared driveway. Shepherding that frozen-solid whiskey barrel back into place sent me scrambling for a snow shovel the rest of that winter.
Avoid that kind of snow removal mishap by learning how to choose a good, reliable snow removal service. Kris Holland, owner of Black River Landscape Management in Randolph, New Jersey, provides full-time winter snow removal and ice treatment for many homeowners. “It takes time to find the right person to handle your snow removal,” he says. “The number one question to ask is whether snow removal is a main part of the business or just something done on the side.”
Holland points out that when a company focuses on snow removal as a full-time seasonal business, they have the right equipment and enough personnel to handle anything Mother Nature whips up — from a picturesque snowfall to an ice-laden snowmageddon event. Take the guesswork out of choosing a snow removal service with these tips from a snow professional.
Tips for Choosing A Snow Removal Service
- Start early. It’s never too soon to start shopping for snow removal. Holland suggests starting the search as soon as it’s on your mind. If your lawn care provider offers snow removal, it’s worth asking about it well before snow season arrives. If you wait until there’s snow in the forecast, and you might find yourself last on the list to get plowed.
- Get multiple estimates. Check with more than one company to compare prices and services. It’s important to ask enough questions so you understand exactly what services the estimate covers, Holland says. Does the company only remove snow or do they also treat ice? Do they clear sidewalks, including public ones? Every service is different, and asking questions is the only way to get the full picture of what to expect.
- Ask for references. Take time to call a few reference names to learn more about the snow removal service. Visit with neighbors to discover companies that already work in your neighborhood. Ask about reliability, the timing of snow removal and any potential issues they might have encountered in dealing with particular snow removal companies.
- Understand pricing. Most snow removal services price according to driveway length and how challenging it is to remove snow from that space. Some companies charge one set price for the season — no matter how often they push snow at your home. Others will base prices on snowfall totals, charging one fee up to a certain snow depth and adding extra fees for each inch of snow over. Companies may or may not charge extra for treating ice and sidewalks. Be sure to ask about payment options.
- Ask about personnel. “Ask if the firm uses subcontractors,” Holland says. “Generally you get the best results with owner-operators who actually remove the snow because they have a vested interest to keep you — the customer — happy,” he says. “Sub-contractors often focus on speed and doing as much as they can as quickly as they can. They’re after today’s paycheck, not your long-term business.” You also want to be sure they have enough people available to cover long shifts that follow major snowstorms.
- Check out equipment. As you discover where a company is willing to deal with snow (driveway, public sidewalk, entry walk, etc.), don’t forget to ask about the equipment that does the work. “Make sure equipment looks well-maintained and efficient for the job at hand,” Holland says. This is vitally important if you’re paying by the hour and workers show up with snow shovels. Make sure they have the right kind of trucks that can navigate unplowed streets to get to your house.
- Define the process. Review the basics of what to expect when the snow flies. Do you need to call the company so they know to come? During a heavy snowstorm, will they clear your driveway more than once? When they plow, where does the snow go? Work out a plan ahead of time about where snow should be piled. Avoid pushing snow into city streets, where it can block a neighbor’s driveway after municipal plows come through. Some companies offer to mark your driveway edges and any potentially tricky spots with staked reflectors to help guide plow drivers.
- Explore liability. Make sure the company carries liability insurance in case there’s any damage to your property. Snowplowing liability insurance is expensive, Holland says, so it's not something many part-timers can afford to carry.
- Sign a contract. A reputable snow removal service typically offers a written contract. Take time to read it and ask questions until you understand it completely. Be sure to ask what happens if you move or decide to cancel your contract. Make sure you understand your obligations.
- Try an app. If snow arrives and you’re caught without help at the ready, check out the snowplow app Plowz. It’s like Uber for snow removal — an on-demand snowplow service that sets you up with local companies at the click of a button.