Keep these tips in mind when you're shopping around for a snow removal company

It won't be long before Baltimore is covered in a blanket of white.  That means now is the time to find a snow removal company to dig you out this winter.

"Time is of the essence when it comes to snow removal," says Angie Hicks of Angie's List .  "You want to get ahead of the snowfall so be sure to call around and find companies that are going to be able to be there for you when it does snow. Waiting until the day it snows means you're likely not getting your snow removed."

Here are her tips for hiring a snow removal company:

·    What services do you provide?  Depending on the conditions forecast, many services are at ready to lay down salt or other deicers as soon as bad weather is expected. If a snow that can't be handled with deicing is expected, snow removal companies will plow, haul snow, and shovel sidewalks and other walkways in order to maintain safety.

·    What kind of staff and equipment do you use?  Most companies employ radio dispatchers in addition to their snow removal specialists. They may also have at their disposal commercial grade equipment such as skid steers, front-end loaders, snow plows and pushers.

·    What planning takes place before the storm?  Gather two to three on-site estimates so the company can plan for the precise services that may be required when a storm actually hits. Make a plan with the provider that will best suit your needs.

·    What is the cost, and how is it calculated? The cost varies on the market conditions of a particular area and current fuel costs. If you know you live in an area of the country that is likely to experience a certain amount of snow, you may be able to lock in a reasonable rate because the company will expect a minimum amount of work. Ask if cost is a flat rate, based on depth of snow, or by trip.

·    Ask about additional charges:  Will the company charge more for large storms? What about if you need them to come out more than once a day?

·    Are you covered?  Ask the company about licensing (if required in your area), check references and inquire about insurance and bonding. You want to be protected should the company damage your home or property during the snow removal process.

·    Manage your expectations:  Chances are any given snow removal company has several clients, so you may or may not be the first on the list to service. If you have any special needs that should give you priority, such as health conditions that could require treatment at a facility, let the company know.

·    Read the contract:  The company should provide you with a written contract detailing all aspects of the work. Be sure to read it before you sign.  

·    Steer clear of fly by night companies:  Beware of anyone who shows up unannounced in an unmarked vehicle offering to clear your drive. Just because they have a plow attached to a truck does not mean they are qualified to do the job.

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