No business like snow business; new apps, gadgets to deal with the white stuff

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A man uses a snow blower to clear a side walk after a major winter storm swept over Washington January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

It’s snow joke. We all go into a panic at the first sign of flurries.  With intense goading  by  TV newscasters, everybody  runs to the home improvement store for a new shovel and salt, or to the market for bread and milk. “Yes Jim, the shelves have been emptied!  All hope is lost! “

But this year, with forecasters again predicting “a worse than average” winter and new snow-easing tech remedies at the ready, Gizmo Guy has decided to get in front of the mess and lay out some options for coping with what’s sure to be “The  worst ever storms  of 2016-17!!!”

Eden Arrives: A recent episode of The Simpsons mocked how nutty the app-based service industry has become – with Homer tapping into the (fictitious) “Chore Monkey” app to hire a football-tossing playmate (Matt Leinart) for Bart.  But  honestly, if it delivers as promised, the first  on-demand snow removal (and lawn care) service launching in Philly with the first flakes could prove a lifesaver.

Called Eden, it’s the  brain child of Ben Zlotnick, a Toronto based entrepreneur  with “a successful landscape and snow plowing company” and his other foot in tech as funder of  “a leading accelerator program.” As Philly is “a lot like Toronto, we felt comfortable expanding our snow removal service to your town, after a successful test marketing at home,” he shared recently.  (Eden also is launching, simultaneously in Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis.)

Focusing on the “80 percent of home owners who do not have a lawn contractor,”  Eden aims to make ordering  a snow patrol as easy as summoning Uber. You tap into the app, describe how big your project  is – say a two car-length driveway, plus 20 feet of sidewalk and three steps, and the cost is  automatically calculated: minimum $25 for a rowhouse, average $40-$65 range for a larger walk ‘n driveway combo.

The price won’t waver "if the snow fall is four inches or two feet,” vowed Zlotnick. And while the system  initially takes  the customer’s  site description  as fact,  contractor complaints can be analyzed (and future bids adjusted) “by  aerial photos” of the property and with “before and after photos” which the snow removal teams  take on the job and beam to the customer’s app.  So yes,  you can order and supervise the job from anywhere, even thousands of miles away.  Great for snowbirds.

Veering from the Uber model,  snow shovelers probably won’t  show up within five minutes of claiming  the job. Zlotnick said he’s launching here with “more than 100 contractors” to serve  the  region – Uber has thousands.  And snow removal is complicated. “We’ll ask you to give  us a window of  time –  say, after 3 p.m. and before dinner time.   Then the contractor who’s claimed the job will  estimate arrival.  If you don’t like the plan, you can cancel the order and start a new one.”

 For more details, visit www.edenapp.com or load the IOS and Android app for Eden Lawn and Snow. BTW - first time users get a 10 percent discount.

Blowing in the Wind: Last year, Gizmo Guy waited until the first storm to test and write about some  low maintenance (yeah!), electric and battery-operated snow blowers, only to be told by readers that, sigh,  their local hardware store had already sold out its annual inventory. So this year, to avoid that Catch 22, I’ve been  shopping stores and sites ahead of time, conferring with fellow users and putting  hands-on  new models  on (sorry) dry land.

For bargain and convenience hunters, relatively light (13 pounds) and low cost (under $100),  electric snow shovels are plentiful this winter from  Toro, Snow Joe and GreenWorks, among others. Barely bigger than an old school manual shovel, these plug-in,  motorized  things scoop up the snow with a smaller  version of the swirling “auger” found in bigger  blowers. The snow spits forward, though, landing as far away as 20 feet if the device is angled properly. The devices are well suited to  powdery snow of five inches or less and to smaller  jobs -  steps, decks and sidewalks. 

Scared of handling anything electric outdoors? My kindly neighbor Father Oliver has been trying to convert and save the Gizmo Guy with an all-manual rolling snow shovel. Fitted with wheels and rotatable steel blade, this mechanical marvel scoops and lifts fluffy snow with a fulcrum-shifting, back-saving  ease that would do Isaac Newton proud. These shining examples _ Big Red Original and  The Snowcaster _ cost $55 and  $89, respectively.

Envious of  big beast gas engine snow blowers that plow easily through a foot of dense snow yet unwilling to deal with the fueling, fumes and noise that go with ‘em?  Snow Joe has just introduced the  iON Two-Stage (24SB-XR) -  the first lithium ion-battery powered  snow blower that  promises to perform as well as the big gas-sters (and  costs as much, $799). One motor  runs a massive serrated steel auger (capable of cutting a 24 inch-wide and 13-inch high pass) at a “load optimized” pace. A second self-propelled drive with three forward and one reverse speeds pushes this weighty, 100-pound puppy through the tundra.  You just undo the safety locks (several!),  squeeze  handlebar  triggers  and steer.

The thing runs whisper quiet. Only  180 degree spins and parking (when the motor's turned off) require serious tugging.  LED lights mildly illuminate a night plow. Twin 40 volt Lithium Ion batteries provide “up to 40 minutes max” of run time and recharge in 3 hours.  That’s not  great compared with a lighter, less muscular, 20-inch wide GreenWorks Pro 80V cordless Snow Thrower ($299) which claims 45 minutes run time and just 30 minutes recharge time.  But Snow Joe would argue that torque trumps all.  And when city plows deposit dense mounds in front of  the driveway, you'll agree.