Unless you live in a climate where snow is rare, shoveling snow during a harsh winter is like a part-time job. For the DIY homeowner, clearing heavy snow off the car and shoveling the drive in the dark winter mornings before work requires fierce resolve — or a fierce dedication to fitness. If you don't use the right shoveling technique, you can injure yourself, or make existing shoulder or back injuries worse. Fortunately for those who prefer to sleep in an extra hour, or who have health or mobility issues, professional snow plow services do the hard work for you.
It is nothing short of brilliant to turn this task over to licensed professionals with the proper snow plowing and snow removal equipment who can safely and swiftly get the job done — all while you are having morning coffee. Snow removal contractors use professional tools that most homeowners do not have access to, including a traditional plow that pushes large swaths of snow aside and works well for clearing roads, commercial lots and wide driveways. A Bobcat skid-steer loader — or similar piece of equipment — is a small tractor with a front-loading snow shovel. More agile than a truck plow, this type of Bobcat is often used for residential driveways and can safely push excess snow into snowbanks. Contractors also use snowblowers to clear walkways or more delicate areas that would be damaged by the weight of a vehicle.
Snow removal costs will vary based on how often you want services, regional labor rates, the size and grade of your driveway, and the extent of the services you desire. You'll get the best rates when you plan ahead to hire a snow removal contractor for the season, but they're generally available if you want assistance while you're on vacation, or for one-time snowplow services (like clearing out extra parking spaces for your big holiday party).
In addition to cost savings, hiring a pro on an ongoing basis gets you quicker service and response time when snow falls. Snowplow pros will provide removal services first to their current customers, so if the whole city is snowed in, one-time customers may have to wait until everyone else has been helped. Snowplow pros serve both residential and commercial clients, and many also provide service to government organizations and homeowners associations. Pros commonly clear short driveways, walkways, sidewalks and paths. Experienced snow removal contractors can deal with surfaces that are flat, moderately to steeply sloped, or varied, whether they are made of concrete, gravel, dirt or asphalt.
Several factors affect the average cost of snow removal.
Residential snow removal
Keeping your walkways snow- and ice-free and clearing your driveway of snow during the winter not only makes life easier, it's safer for your family and visitors. Clearing away snow improves accessibility and reduces the risk of falling, especially if snow removal is paired with deicing services to remove dangerous ice patches. Residential snow removal services generally cost less than commercial services because the space to be cleared is smaller. Some professionals base pricing on the size of the area to be cleared or the frequency of snow removal. Other service providers charge a monthly set rate regardless of how much snow there is.
Some residential snow blowers charge a flat rate for each service visit, based on the size of the driveway or sidewalk to be cleared. The larger the area, the higher the cost. Here are some examples of tiered pricing from Little Buddies Services in Minneapolis, Minnesota:
- Average one- to two-car driveway: $35 per visit
- Average two- to three-car driveway: $40 per visit
- Three-car, 150-foot driveway: $60 per visit
These costs include front pathways and sidewalks. Some providers charge extra for paths, so always confirm what's included in the price you're paying and ensure that it is clearly written in a signed contract.
Extreme Lawns in Minnetonka, Minnesota, charges $30-$60 for one-time snow removal services, with prices varying based on driveway size.
Some professionals charge a set monthly service rate, regardless of the amount of snowfall. Whether no snow falls at all or blizzards wreak havoc all month, customers pay the same monthly fee. Extreme Lawns charges monthly rates of $120-$130, depending on the driveway size. The company plows anytime 2 inches of snow accumulates or after a snowstorm. When large snowstorms last for days, the company plows in increments.
Many top-rated snow removal providers offer lawn care services outside of the snow season. To secure business throughout the year, companies may offer year-round customers a discount if they purchase both snow removal and lawn care services, or for agreeing to repeat or monthly services rather than paying on a per-service basis. For example, Little Buddies Services offers a 5 percent discount to customers who sign up for a monthly service and a 10 percent discount to customers who sign up for year-round lawn care and snow removal services. Extreme Lawns offers a 10 percent discount to customers who sign up for year-round lawn care and snow removal services.
Commercial snow removal
Small business owners, schools, business developments, commercial parking lots and other areas that need to provide reliable access for cars and pedestrians benefit from professional snowplow services. If your customers can't reach you, they won't buy from you, so keeping your doors accessible and obstacle-free is a sound investment in your business. Professional snow plow services can also help reduce the risk of snow-related injuries and liability that can arise if customers or employees slip. Commercial snowplow services tend to cost more per square foot than residential, because they cover larger surfaces. However, the cost per square foot decreases the larger your lot size is. Costs are usually based on the square footage of the area to be cleared, the types of obstacles present and the difficulty of the terrain. Little Buddies Services charges the following for commercial snowplow services:
- Approximately 20,000-square-foot area with minimal obstacles: $450 per snowfall
- Approximately 50,000-square-foot area with several obstacles and more challenging terrain: $900 per snowfall
Geographic location affects the cost of snow removal services. Top-rated pros in larger cities and regions with a higher cost of living typically charge higher rates for services than those in more rural areas or locations with more snowplow competition. In addition, areas that are harder to navigate, such as tight driveways, narrow roads or congested city blocks, can command higher rates that reflect the added work these challenges present to the snow removal contractors.
Suggestions for safe snow removal
Professional snow removal services are reliable and safe, but at the end of the day, snowplow contractors are driving heavy machinery in the snow during blizzards. Sometimes accidents can happen. There are several preventive measures you can take to make sure you don't lose a mailbox or have your hedgerow meet an untimely death. Any snow removal contractor worth their salt will do a walk-through of your site to provide you a proper estimate before they begin services. During the site visit, ask for guidance on what landmarks or items might be in danger of being hit by a plow or snow loader. Before snowstorms, use stakes to outline drives and to mark exterior items that may become obscured in snow (such as that new central air conditioning unit). Before the storm hits, be sure to clear away bikes and kids' toys, and remove anything from the driveway that could be damaged by snow removal. Some pros also recommend hanging bright orange construction flags (or something similar) if you have utility wires that hang low over areas that will be cleared. When a Bobcat skid-steer loader operator is moving snow during a blizzard, unmarked obstacles can become invisible. Another preventive safety measure is to have salt, winter grit or liquid deicer applied as part of your snow removal services. Often, this will incur an additional cost ranging between $40 and $70 on average, depending on the company you're working with and the product they are applying. These products can reduce ice that builds up under the snow and causes vehicle tires to spin and people to slip.
A little bit of planning will lead to a safe and reliable snow removal service. Pre-screen candidates to ensure they have any licenses required by your region and hold the proper insurance. For example, the city of Syracuse, New York, requires snowplow operators to have a special snowplow license. License holders must annually renew their application, fees and proof of insurance to legally operate a snowplow service in the city. Proof of insurance is equally important because it shows the company is legitimately invested in providing an ongoing service to customers, and also protects you in the event of an accident. One major insurance provider recommends that homeowners ask to see certificates of insurance that show the contractor has adequate limits of liability coverage, and that coverage is updated annually.
Ask about the type of snow removal equipment the company uses and how they will handle your particular type of driveway. Ask how they alert clients about progress during snow days. Many companies send email notices or have call-in lines that outline snow removal schedules, and many use social media platforms like Twitter to provide up-to-the-minute information.
As with any professional service, you should get it all in writing. A signed snow removal contract will prevent frustration later. You don't want to discover at 6:30 a.m. that snow removal is only scheduled for once a week and you'll need to shovel yourself out of the driveway to get to work. Here are some questions to ask to make sure you're signing a simple and clear snow removal contract that protects and satisfies everyone:
- When do the plowing services start and end? Make sure there is a specific date range outlining the length of service.
- What does the service cost? State what type of service it will be (monthly or per service) and the exact amount. Specify whether monthly service includes every snowfall — for example, each snowfall over two inches — or a set number of weekly services.
- Which parts of the property will be cleared? Specify areas such as the entire driveway, all front walkways, etc.
- Are there additional charges for heavy snow months? Make sure you know exactly how much snow is considered excessive.
- At what point do they plow once it's snowing? Some contractors start clearing when 2 inches of snow accumulate, others before or after.
- What time of day will your property be cleared?
- Are deicing services an additional cost? If so, how much?
- What damages are and are not covered by the snow removal company if incurred by one of their plows or Bobcats? Confirm the details of the company's insurance.
- What are the steps to end the contract if either of you is unsatisfied with the service?
- To find a good snow removal service, do some research — look for someone with good reviews and call referrals. It's wise to get at least two quotes, and never pay upfront in cash.
- Before asking for quotes, measure your driveway so you can get quotes based on the exact size of the area to be cleared.
- Read client reviews and follow up with references to make sure you're choosing the right snow removal pro for your project. For more, check out our tips for smart hiring.