snow shovel.jpg My sports-enthusiast friends inform me that there was some sort of football contest last month that seemed important to them. And, even though the Chiefs weren’t involved, they all gathered around their televisions and heaping plates of pizza rolls to watch these modern-day gladiators fight to the death (that’s how football works, right?). Or maybe they just wanted to watch the commercials. Either way, with the football season ended and baseball not yet begun, the nation hungers for competition. We yearn to see two rivals engaged in a bitter struggle of strength and will. So, until the distraction that is America’s pastime gets underway, let me introduce you to a new type of event: The Energy Consumption Showdown. Let’s face it. Shoveling snow sucks. If there were a machine that could do it for you, that’d be basically the best thing to happen to winter since central heat. But slow down there, John Henry. Before you accept the machine’s superiority, you have to first consider what it does to the environment. Just because the ground is white doesn’t mean we can’t keep things green. For this contest, we’ll set our field as a 30-foot-long concrete driveway, 20 feet wide. Sudden death will occur on a 20-foot by 3-foot sidewalk, leading to the door of the victor’s palace. All surfaces are blanketed with 8 inches of fresh powder. Points will be awarded based on energy consumption, so lower is better. Let’s meet our competitors: The Snowblower: Toro 1800 Power Curve 38381. Because we want to give the blower the best possible chance, we went with an electric, which has the benefit of not belching fumes into the air. The 38381 got pretty good reviews for efficiency and energy consumption. Let’s see how it stacks up to… The Shovel: Arctic Blast 18-inch Steel Snow Shovel. Good size, good grip, and steel blade let us know that this shovel means business. But will it spell the doom of the 38381? Who knows? Anything can happen on the snows of the arena. Begin!

Round 1: Time Trial

Before we can calculate total energy consumption, we have to know how quickly our competitors are able to work. And, right off the bat, it looks like the 38381 has the advantage. Moving snow with a snowblower is as easy as walking behind it. And, since the auger touches the pavement, it provides just a little bit of forward thrust. Based on our 20-foot-wide driveway, and a six-inch overlap between passes to make sure all of the snow is cleared, it’s going to take ol’ 38381 20 trips up and down the driveway to clean it off. Based on this video, it seems as though the blower’s operator can take a two-foot step about every second, meaning that it’s going to take 15 seconds to make a full trip down the driveway. We’ll round up to 20, though, since it’s gonna take a little bit of time to turn around. So, our total time for clearing the driveway with the blower is approximately seven minutes. Let’s how the shovel compares. Given a blade width of 18 inches, that means the shovel is going to require about 14 passes, assuming I’m very efficient and require minimal overlap. If I bear down with the Arctic Blast, and work as fast I can, I figure it takes me about four seconds per scoop to dig in, lift, and throw. With a blade length of 14.5 inches, and allowing for a little bit of collapse back into the path it just cleared, we can safely assume a 12-inch bite out of the snow for each scoop. Which means it’ll take 30 scoops per pass, or 420 total scoops to clear the driveway, for a total time of 28 minutes, sans cocoa break. Now, a cubic foot of powdery snow weighs just about 5.2 pounds. Our 18” x 12” x 8” scoop of snow happens to be right at one cubit foot. So, at one scoop every four seconds, that’s 78 pounds of snow tossed each minute. Results vary depending on which website you ask, but it seems as though the average number of calories burned from vigorous snow shoveling by a 160-pound male is about 250. To keep it fair, let’s see how many calories you burn pushing Mr. 38381 for seven minutes. Ready? About 35. Points: Blower: 0 Shovel: 1

Round 2: Energy Consumption

Time-wise, the 38381 killed the Arctic Blast, finishing the driveway in ¼ of the time. But how does that translate to the true test? How much energy does it burn in those seven minutes? The 38381 has a 15 amp motor. It therefore uses (based on the formula Power = Current x Voltage) 1650 watts per hour on a 110 volt power supply. In seven minutes, that’s cut down to 192.5 watts. The shovel, on the other hand (in the other hands?), consumes approximately zero watts of electricity, rounding up. Points: Blower: 1 Shovel: 1

Round 3: Manufacturing

This contest isn’t just about electricity usage, though. It’s about energy consumption. So let’s look at the full picture. Now, I can science a little bit. But a chemical/mechanical/environmental engineer, I am not. So, I can’t tell you exactly how much energy is required to build either a snow shovel or a snowblower. But, I hope you’ll agree that it’s safe to assume a 25-pound blower with lots of plastic and metal components requires significantly more energy to build than a 5-pound shovel. Not to mention the extension cord that you’ll need in order to operate your blower. Points: Blower: 2 Shovel: 1

Sudden Death: The Sidewalk

After three rounds, this is still anybody’s ball game. Now it’s time for the final challenge, a 20 x 3-foot sidewalk, requiring two passes from the Arctic Blast and three from the… Okay, hang on. While I was typing that, the snowblower finished the sidewalk. Crap. I guess it’s time to go inside, have come hot cocoa, and review the footage.

Postgame Report

Based on electricity use and manufacturing cost alone, the snow shovel would be the clear winner. Based on time and intensity of physical labor, the snowblower stands a cut above. So, what’s the verdict? Who wins the Epic Energy Consumption Showdown? I’m going to award victory to the Arctic Blast. The shovel requires no external power to operate, and takes a lot less to build. But that’s not my favorite part about it. My favorite part was the round it lost. It’s hard to find an excuse to leave the house and get some exercise during the winter months. Shoveling snow is not only more environmentally friendly, it’s also the perfect opportunity to get a solid workout in. So pick up your shovels and let’s keep all of that white stuff out there green. C’mon. You knew where this was going from the first sentence, didn’t you, you wily devil? But do you agree? Let me know in the comments below.