Reporting Jason DeRusha
A couple of you have sent in what I think is a really interesting Good Question. Suki Hanzel from Prior Lake wrote: “For those of us who don’t own a snow blower, or say we do it for the exercise, (HA!), what is the most efficient way to shovel your driveway? My back thanks you for answering.”
I was intrigued! Could we find a mathematical equation for efficient shoveling? Should we do horizontal stripes down the length of the driveway? Verticals across the width? Start in the middle and work to the sides?
So I reached out to Larry Gray, a mathematician at the University of Minnesota. And he promptly stuck a pin in my balloon.
“This is the kind of question that could be approached mathematically, but there are so many variables that it probably wouldn’t be a good way to find an answer,” Gray said.
Here’s the problem: your strength, the type of shovel, the depth and weight of the snow, the stickiness of the bottom layer to the driveway, the width of the driveway all make a difference.
Plus: are you a pusher or a tosser?
“One might think: working from the middle outward means minimizing the total distance moved per cubic foot of snow, so that’s the best method,” Gray said. “But if you are primarily tossing the snow from your shovel, it doesn’t really matter where you start, and the wind will play a significant role in which direction you toss it.”
My driveway is too wide to toss the snow, quite frankly, so I’m a pusher.
“If you are primarily pushing the snow, then you have to take into account the inefficiency created by walking back and forth to the middle, and then the depth and weight of the snow, the width of your shovel, the width of the driveway, your personal strength, and so on are all going to play significant roles in how this inefficiency affects the overall outcome,” he said.
So all that walking back to the midpoint is wasted energy, although you’re not hauling snow, so there’s that.
Sometimes a good question doesn’t have a very good answer, and that’s why we’re not putting this one on TV tonight, Suki.
The professor’s advice? “People will find what works best for them if they simply pay attention to what they are doing.”
I solved this dilemma last year: I bought a snowblower.