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Mar 14 2011

Too much snow? Not with a Honda!

Honda HS928 Review

When winter is raging in Truckee, the house we live in is the house from Hell. If Hell freezes over, this is the sort of bungalow its residents will be subjected to. At least, that’s what it feels like.

It’s a single story house with stupid, cute looking dormers on the street side of a metal roof that sheds every cubic foot of snow that falls on it back on to the driveway and sidewalks leading in and out of the house, front and back.

It always waits for an inopportune moment to remind you it’s time to clear the snow again. And again and again and again and again. I love it. After all, it’s why I moved to Truckee, so I could blow snow instead of skiing in it.

Thank God I was able to pick up a HS928 on craigslist, Honda’s 9 h.p. hydrostatically driven snow blower. Actually, it’s not a blower it’s a snow thrower because it can huck the heavy stuff that renders less worthy versions snow suckers. When you’re trying to deal with 2 feet of Sierra Cement with a poorly designed Crapsman snow blower that’s what you feel like for wasting money on such an anemic product — a sucker. They can only throw snow that’s blower light. When it gets heavy, they suck.

Here in the Lake Tahoe area where snow comes by the ton, you need a serious snow blower. Even if you’re not convinced that Honda is the way to go, and I’ll admit I’ve seen other brands do a good job, do not sell yourself short with something cheap. Spend the extra bucks and get a real piece of machinery because the snow up here comes in serious quantities, not baby sized. In general, anything less than $1000 new is probably an under engineered snow sucker, with a real blower costing closer to $3000 new.

Since recognizing that fact, and obtaining a real man’s machine I spend a quarter of the time it used to take to keep the paths in and out of this winter house from Hell clear, especially in a big year like the ten-11 season is turning out to be.

The main reason the HS928 works so well isn’t so much that it sports a nine horsepower motor — having lots of power is certainly necessary to power the blades when it’s deep and dense — but the most important factor is the blade that throws the snow up and away. The 928 propeller blade spins at a higher rpm than cheaper versions, and that’s the main difference between an awesome snowblower and one that wastes your time and money.

Wimpy snowblowers can only blow powder. When it gets heavy, they flat out fail, moving the snow sluggishly from the front of the scoop to the top of chute and not much farther, maybe five feet. The Honda scoops it up, and throws it at least 20 feet, sometimes even 30, depending on just how dense and sloppy wet it really is. It will even throw liquid water a good 10 feet. Powder just rockets skyward.

There are snow conditions that even challenge my HS928. The worst of these is what I call sticky snow. It has just enough moisture in it to make it cling to everything; itself, metal, plastic, you name it. As a result it clings onto the auger blades so very little snow can move past the blades to the spinner. For these conditions Honda provides a simple plastic rod to break the snow up. When the snow is sticky it only provides temporary relief from a constipated auger, but is better than nothing.

How wet is sloppy wet? Snow scientists measure snow by its water content. This is done with a snow density gauge. Since one cubic centimeter of water equals one gram, all we need to measure is the mass of a known volume of snow.

On a particularly sloppy day and the end of December ’10, I measured the goo my HS928 was throwing a good 25 feet in the air. It easily cleared the six-foot walls on the side of the walkway, something my old Crapsman simply could not do. Using a Brooks-Range snow density gauge this snow registered as 80% water. It easily handles 50%, but 40% is near the sticky zone and will require occasional maintenance to clear the blades.

Many people ask whether wheels or a track are better for the drive train. I’ve used both and prefer wheels for turnability, but have also learned to appreciate the Honda’s hydrostatic drive with tracks.

One of the other special pleasures of dealing with snow removal here in Truckee, besides a roof that sheds back onto what has already been cleared, are the berms left by the plowman at the entrance to our driveway. They vary from little levees of snow debris to four foot walls of bermcrete that must first be chopped into chunks manually with a metal shovel. As a side note, I strongly recommend a metal blade with a serrated edge and a long shaft for busting up icy blocks that are often part of the most challenging berms.

Once broken into a looser, non-solid mix Honda’s hydrostatic drive allows you to put the blower in ultra slow speed and just creep at a rate which allows it to steadily chew through the berm without overloading the engine. My experience with wheeled drives is they have distinct speeds and can’t creep slowly enough. Plus the tractor treads really give a solid grip for this sort of slow and steady progress.

Is there anything I don’t like about my HS928? Yeah, the sacrificial sheer bolts on the auger blades seem to sheer a bit too easily. It’s a safety thing and I have to admit it is probably a good idea, but changing the bolts can be a pain sometimes, especially on a cold day when you don’t need the additional aggravation of having to also replace the sheer bolt. Just be sure to stock up before the season starts ‘cuz you’ll really be hating life if you break one and you’re out in the midst of a big dump.

Are good blowers cheap? No, but quality comes with a price. In the long run, you’ll save time with a better product which will more than offset the cost, especially when you consider what your time is worth and the fact that you’d really rather not be blowing snow, but romping in it.

 

© 2011

 


 

  • smrp

    Hi – awesome review. We have a Honda snowblower too, but sadly here at 8400 feet in CO we hardly need it this year.

    Any chance you’d be willing to post some pictures of Truckee right now with all of the snow you’ve been getting? I keep hearing about the feet upon feet of snow but am having a hard time imagining it!

    I saw this picture in the Sierra Sun taken up at Ski Slope Way Tahoe Donner and I’m wondering how different it is in town.

    http://www.sierrasun.com/apps/pbcs.dll/misc?URL=/global/zoom.pbs&Site=SS&Date=20110323&Category=NEWS&ArtNo=110329967&Ref=AR&Profile=1066&s=0&t=0&Z=A_Jeep_is_parked_next_to_a_very_high_snow_berm_Tuesday_afternoon_off_Ski_Slope__Way_in_Tahoe_Donner.&P=Eric_Gwiazdowski%2FSubmitted_to_the_Sun

    Thanks!

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    smrp,

    I was thinking of updating some of the photos in this article to reflect how much snow we have now, and some better illustrations of the Honda in action. Give it a day and check back.

    BTW – I know exactly where the image you linked to was taken. There’s a house near the top of the Tahoe Donner residential area, behind the Tahoe Donner ski area, at the base of a bowl the locals call Sunrise Bowl. This house always has the biggest berm thanks to proximity to the top of the ridge, high winds, and the shape of the house. It is unusually high this year…and we expect it to only get deeper in the next few days.

  • smrp

    Thanks – I’ll visit again soon to look for some pics of the Honda in action, especially since we aren’t getting a chance to use ours this year. That jeep/berm picture was pretty classic. We heard that our place on Martis Peak has 5′ of standing snow. Can’t wait to move back to the real snow. It’s been mighty dry and windy here in CO…typical La Nina I suppose. Love your blog by the way. Hope you get to head out and enjoy the new snow. We are jealous!

  • Ben Kadas

    Dostie, we used to live on Ski Slope, in possibly the worst house ever built, it’s the one on the left about 1/4 mile from the top of the hill, has a dozen mini roofs covering sixty something steps leading to the front door. Worse yet, there’s a steep driveway that we could rarely use in the winter, so we’d park down on the street and hike it. One of favorite post snow dump romps was to drive up to the roads around the resort and blast through the huge snow drifts at speed, such fun! Yeah, fangerous, but then when you’re young…

  • Snowblower HPH

    Honda do have great snowblowers!

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