Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Building a better shovel

Forget mousetraps. After spending the past half hour shoveling eight inches of snow from my in-laws' sidewalks (with more falling all the time), I think the real way to get the world to beat a path to your door is to build a better snow shovel.

As an ecofrugal individual, I'm generally opposed to snow blowers just on principle. After all, why should I burn fossil fuel to do something that I could do with my own muscle power (and then pay for a gym membership to get in shape)? But as I worked my way along the sidewalk, I found that the most difficult part of the job was not scooping up the snow; it was getting the snow off the shovel blade. After every scoop, I had to beat the blade against the fence or the ground—sometimes several times—to clear it, and often I'd still be left with a significant coating of snow stuck to it. I found myself wondering: what kind of technology would it take to make a shovel that the snow would actually come off of?

My first thought, perhaps influenced by my recent work on the cookware report for ConsumerSearch, was that a Teflon-coated shovel might release the snow more easily. As a cookware material, Teflon actually has its problems; no mater how carefully it's handled, it will eventually peel off and end up in your food. But a shovel blade doesn't have to come into contact with anything except snow, so it might hold up better. A quick Google search revealed that not only is there such a thing as a Teflon snow shovel, there is also a Teflon-based spray that you can apply to an existing shovel to help keep the snow from sticking. In fact, spraying the shovel with Teflon is one of the tips this chiropractor offers for snow-shoveling safety, since it reduces the weight of the shovel and reduces the change of injury.

The next idea that popped into my head was a little weirder. What if you made a snow shovel with a swing lever, like an ice cream scoop, to clear the snow out of the shovel? A Google search on "snow shovel with lever" didn't turn up anything like what I envisioned, but it did point me toward some other intriguing shovel concepts. For instance, check out this wheeled snow shovel, which uses leverage to clear a big volume of snow and toss it a long distance—kind of like a manual-powered snow blower. The top review on Amazon says that it's incredibly silly-looking, but well worth a little embarrassment for the amount of effort it saves. And then there's this big snow scoop, which is more like a manual snowplow than a shovel. It has a fiberglass blade to keep the snow from sticking, but it looks like it would be hard to maneuver.

So it looks like there definitely are easier ways to clear snow without using fossil fuel. Probably the most ecofrugal of the lot would be the spray, since it allows you to keep using your existing shovel rather than replace it. (A little further searching revealed that you can also get a silicone-based spray that doesn't have the problematic chemicals used in the manufacture of Teflon.) But I have to say, that wheeled shovel looks like a lot of fun. At $133, it's a lot more expensive than a shovel, but it's still a lot cheaper than a snow blower—and if it really can cut shoveling time by two-thirds, it might be a worthwhile investment if global warming is going to be bringing us more and bigger snowfalls every winter.
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