Gizmo Guy: Tackling a Storm

Hybrid Snow Joe (right) and plug-in Toro electric snow blowers have different benefits for cleanup.

Not many were cheering last weekend's winter storms. But Gizmo Guy was quietly mumbling "bring it on," so he could get his mitts around battery-powered outdoor gizmos that make snow removal easier and keep you warm while you're at it.

Light lifting. Consumer Reports is right. Gas-powered snow blowers are more effective than electric-powered ones. The petro-fueled (gas with oil) units are bigger and brawnier. They dig deep, chomp hard, and throw heavy loads, skills beyond the ken of electric blowers that frolic best with eight inches or less of fluffy stuff.

Still, if you can accept the limitations, an electric blower such as the well-established Toro 1800 Power Curve or the first "hybrid" electric Snow Joe iON Cordless + Electric Snow Blower should prove agreeable (in the $300-$350 range). And in some cases, it is the only variety that makes sense.

What an electric blower lacks is key. It won't stink up the joint. It doesn't demand tanks of flammable fuels at the ready for refilling. It's less noise polluting, too, and almost maintenance free. An electric snow blower starts with a simple button push and lever pull, and needs no periodic lubrication or carburetor cleaning. Also note, city dwellers, it fits into tight (18-inch-wide) garage or shed spaces, and is easily stored off season in the basement.

Following the evolution of mowers and power tools, the hybrid-powered Snow Joe runs free, off the leash, on a rechargeable lithium ion battery pack, with a claimed operating time of 50 minutes - but a real run time of 30 in my tests. When the battery is gone, you can switch out the pack or plug it in with a heavy-duty electric cord tapped into a GFCI AC wall socket.

By contrast, the electric Toro 1800 is strictly a "plug in," linked by a 100-foot 12 gauge line to the closest AC outlet.

So what are the electric snow blower's downsides? A major snowfall must be dealt with early and more often.

For last weekend's storm, challenging one electric blower against the other, Gizmo Guy started pushing the powder early Saturday morning - nine hours/eight inches into the turmoil. Then he returned late afternoon for another 8-inch swipe. And then hit the paths again Sunday morning to throw the last four inches.

Another problem with electric blowers: Performance diminishes when snow is wet or packed down. In these conditions, an electric blower works best in depths up to six inches, I've learned. Repeat swiping is usually required; the throw chute often clogs. A special tool or a stick can undo the blockage, though it's tempting to just use your hand (never recommended).

What happens when a city snow plow piles it high? You need a non-powered snow shovel to move it. Unless a friendly neighbor walks by with a gas-powered machine.

Easily put together, a Snow Joe on battery power felt liberating, speeding the back and forth runs. By contrast, the Toro (my longtime buddy) needed lots of pausing and flipping of the power cord out of the way.

I also liked Snow Joe's better pavement scraping skills, quieter operation, on-board LED light for night cleaning, variably adjustable/fold-down handlebar and motorized chute rotation easily controlled by a toggle switch.

But the Toro is lighter (24 pounds vs. 42), easier to push, with a slightly beefier (15 amp vs. 13.5) motor. Fed fluffy stuff, it gobbles with Pac-Man-like enthusiasm, and almost seems self-propelled.

BTW - CR rates the Toro top among the pack, with Snow Joe second and the Green Works 26022 a "rock bottom" last.

Warm hands and feet. Did you know there's a huge industry devoted to outdoor clothing with built-in battery warming capability? Two apt examples, favored by snow bunnies, are heated shoe insoles and warming gloves.

Fitting best into a low snow boot after you've loosened the laces, Thermacell Heated Insoles ($120 and up) are powered by thin, padded lithium polymer batteries that fit into the heel of the insoles and function as warming sections. A second zone under the balls of feet also shares the warmth for up to five hours a charge, triggered by a small wireless remote control. Happily, no wire runs up your pants to a pocketed battery compartment, as endured with cheaper heated insoles.

Even set on "high," Thermacells don't make feet sweat, just take the icy edge off. And that's enough when you're stomping through the frozen tundra.

Available in a variety of slim and padded versions, at prices from $260-$395, battery powered Seirus Innovation HeatTouch gloves deploy a patented "Flexible Fusion" heat panel that warms the entire glove back and wraps around to the fingers. While promising up to six hours use, the "original" Xtreme All Weather Gloves I tried warmed most effectively on high for about two hours, enough for a snow blowing episode but demanding multiple battery swap-outs on the ski slopes. Take a Seirus look at the maker's non-powered insulated gloves, too - much cheaper and universally well-regarded.

takiffj@phillynews.com

215-854-5960@JTakiff