Electric avenue

January 11, 2019 -  By
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Man with battery-powered blower (Photo: American Green Zone Alliance)

Some contractors opt for battery-powered tools because they say they produce less noise. (Photo: American Green Zone Alliance)

Dan Delventhal, founder of MowGreen in Fairfield, Conn., has been using battery-powered landscape equipment since 2006 in an effort to lighten his environmental impact. Dan Mabe, former owner of The Greenstation in Los Angeles, used electric equipment because he says it’s much quieter than gas versions. David Mitchell, owner of Mitchell Landscaping in Amarillo, Texas, began converting his gas-powered handheld equipment to electric versions about two years ago because he says they cost less to operate and require less maintenance.

While contractors have different reasons for investing in battery-powered equipment, there are many factors for them to consider to ensure they purchase the right machines for their needs.

“Figure out how these electric machines will fit in your system,” Mitchell says. “Work out the details before you go full-blown.”

Smart partnership

Mabe, who is now the president of the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA), a member-based organization that provides certification and accreditation in zero-emission landscape maintenance strategies, says contractors should research equipment manufacturers and invest in one that’s going to do more than simply sell them a product. First, check the company’s safety record. If there have been more than three product recalls in a two-year period, Mabe suggests moving on to another option. Make sure the company offers at least a two-year warranty on the battery, the charger and the tool itself. Perhaps most importantly, contractors should choose a manufacturer that offers a strong aftermarket service program to minimize downtime when a machine is in need of repair or maintenance.

“Do your research and see which manufacturers have good infrastructures in place to help with aftermarket issues,” Mabe says. “Contractors should choose a tool that can rival the performance of a gas-powered machine, but they also need to look at the manufacturer’s whole scorecard.”

Man on battery-powered mower (Photo: American Green Zone Alliance)

Experts say crew members should ensure equipment is charged before setting foot on a property. (Photo: American Green Zone Alliance)

Charged up

Recharging options were an important factor for Mitchell when he began converting to battery-powered handheld equipment. While run times vary based on the type of machine, he says one blower battery lasts long enough to service four to five residential properties, one trimmer battery can service eight properties and one edger battery can be used on about six properties. To avoid having a battery die in the middle of a job, his crews aim to never fully deplete a battery and switch them out at each new property. Mitchell also installed solar panels and power converters on his trucks, so the batteries are constantly charging throughout the day. Because his trailers are enclosed, he’s able to simply leave the batteries on the trucks at the end of the day so they can continue charging overnight. Mitchell Landscaping is a $1-million company that provides 60 percent maintenance/tree care and 40 percent hardscape installation/irrigation to a 70 percent residential, 30 percent commercial clientele.

“One of our biggest struggles was overcoming the issue with batteries,” Mitchell says. “You either have to buy a bunch of them—and they are expensive—or you have to keep them constantly charged.”

Dan Delventhal with electric equipment (Photo: MowGreen)

MowGreen’s Dan Delventhal says an all-electric fleet is a competitive advantage. (Photo: MowGreen)

Set the standard

Delventhal has been using battery-powered equipment since he started his company in 2006. Today, all of the company’s equipment—including handhelds, mowers, sprayers and aerators—is battery operated. MowGreen is a $250,000 full-service maintenance and organic lawn care company that serves a mostly residential clientele.

“There isn’t much work we can’t do with battery machines,” Delventhal says.

For his equipment to provide maximum efficiency, Delventhal says it’s important to find a manufacturer that offers a comprehensive line of products and invest in machines that share batteries. Being able to use the same batteries for multiple pieces of machinery simplifies the recharging process and ensures that his crews always will have the right battery available.

“Standardization and simplification are key,” he says. “You don’t want to have a mixed bag of equipment.”

Pay the price

While battery-powered equipment costs more upfront than gas-powered equipment, contractors agree that price should not be a deterrent. Delventhal urges contractors to consider the return on investment (ROI) they will see when they invest in electric equipment.

“When it comes to value, it’s not always about price,” he says. “Even though the price is higher on high-quality commercial electric gear, there is payoff in investing in it.”

Mitchell agrees. One of the most obvious savings is the elimination of fuel costs. He adds that his electric machines have fewer replaceable parts and require less maintenance, which adds up to additional long-term cost savings.

“You will pay a bit more for battery-powered equipment right now, but the cost savings and maintenance savings will make up for that in about a year,” Mitchell says. This ROI is not yet the case for all electric equipment, he says.

Commercial-grade electric mowers are still too costly for some contractors to invest in.

“We just purchased a 60-inch mower for about $13,000—the same battery-powered mower would have cost about $25,000,” Mitchell says. “I cannot justify enough fuel and maintenance savings to purchase that mower at this time, but I would like to go that route in the future.”

AGZA also places price near the bottom of the list of factors contractors should consider when investing in electric equipment. However, Mabe stresses that the ROI will be determined by how well contractors take care of and maintain their electric equipment.

“Battery is more expensive upfront, and to make this a winning proposition, contractors will have to get into the right platform and really take care of their products,” Mabe says. “It’s delayed gratification—contractors will have to wait longer for the ROI than if they were purchasing a gas fleet. But it’s so clear that gas is much more expensive to operate.”

For contractors interested in investing in battery-powered equipment, Delventhal suggests getting started sooner rather than later.

“Understand that the demand is there and that the ROI will pay off,” he says. “It will be better for your workers, the future of your landscape company and the future of the planet and will also give you a competitive advantage to being committed to the maximum benefit for all.”

About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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