Analyzing the battery debate

January 9, 2017 -  By
Zack Kline has been running battery-powered equipment since 2011.

Zack Kline has been running battery-powered equipment since 2011.

Is battery-powered handheld equipment on trend to overtake gas products?

The vote is still out for some pros on whether battery-powered equipment will become the norm in the green industry over gas. What’s clear, though, is this option is gaining ground with contractors and their clients.

According to Husqvarna’s 2016 Green Spaces Survey, of the 1,579 U.S. consumers surveyed, 65 percent said they would choose a landscaper who uses “eco-friendly” outdoor power equipment over one who doesn’t. And 75 percent said they would support companies that use “eco-friendly” outdoor power equipment over those that don’t.

Most contractors know about the equipment’s lack of noise, fumes and fuel use compared to gas counterparts. The opposition points to lesser performance and run time, saying it’s only for homeowners. But manufacturers are addressing those concerns.

Here’s a look at why some landscapers have made the switch to battery-powered equipment.

Gaining ground

Prices have gone down and performance has gone up for battery-powered handheld equipment—making it a more attractive option. Those are just two of the reasons some landscapers started using it.

As a string-trimmer operator during high school and college, Zack Kline says he got tired of the trimmer’s noise, fumes and gas consumption. So, he sought an alternative. He’s been operating battery-powered equipment since 2011—using Stihl for about the past four years—and says it’s come a long way since then.

“In the beginning, the equipment was more residential and not really commercial grade,” Kline says. Now, he says, the equipment’s performance levels and battery life have gone up, while its prices have gone down.

Kline, now the owner of A.I.R. in Rockville, Md., offers organic lawn care, landscaping and snow and ice removal services to primarily residential clients. The company’s annual revenue is nearly $500,000 with three to five crews during the spring.

For others, the maintenance issues associated with gas equipment pushed them toward batteries. Tired of dealing with carburetor issues, Greg Taylor began looking at battery options.

Taylor, owner of GTM Services in Largo, Fla., provides landscape maintenance and installation services to mainly residential clients, along with a few commercial accounts. His company has about $300,000 in annual revenue. It switched to battery-powered equipment two years ago after using gas for about 20 years.

He says he initially worried it would take 20 or more batteries for his two-man crew to make it through the day, but he was surprised to find the crew used only five to six batteries a day, which covered about 20 properties.

“I wouldn’t go back to gas-powered equipment,” Taylor says. “(Battery-powered equipment) is every bit as good as gas.”

Aaron Holbrook, administrator of Diversified Landscape Services in Oak Ridge, Tenn., uses an Oregon battery-powered chainsaw (in addition to gas equipment) and says it’s ideal for cutting limbs and small-diameter trees. Diversified Landscape Services has an annual revenue of $850,000 and provides landscape maintenance, irrigation, landscape installation and renovation services. Its clients are 65 percent commercial, 25 percent HOA and 10 percent residential.

“We manage several properties that have trees planted along the road or in the center median. We can get out of the truck and be ready to cut with just the press of a button, zero emissions and with minimal noise, as to not disturb our customers,” Holbrook says. “If the battery is charged, there is never a question as to if the equipment will start.”

Ernie Brandenberg, owner of B&B Lawn Care in Timonium, Md., has been running battery-powered equipment for about a year. His company’s annual revenue is close to $200,000, and he provides maintenance, lawn care, pruning, leaf cleanup and lawn renovation services for about 65 small residential properties.

“There’s nothing I need to do with battery-powered equipment,” says Brandenberg, who uses DeWalt products. “I just put in a battery, pull a trigger and I’m working.” He says he’s pleased with the performance level. That’s one reason he stopped taking his gas-powered handheld equipment with him to the job site (except for a gas backpack blower during the fall because of the volume of leaves).

Although these products have improved, sources say there is room for upgrades before they can meet every contractor and property’s needs.

“Gas-powered equipment is still more reliable and durable when it comes to equipment that is used all day, every day,” Holbrook says. “For battery-powered equipment to get on par, it would need batteries with longer life and capacity without much added weight.”

But, he encourages all contractors to give battery-powered products a chance to see if they work for them.

Before purchasing

Contractors should expect to pay a few hundred dollars more upfront for battery-powered equipment compared to gas equipment—with the price depending on the size of batteries, charging stations and other accessories.

Aaron Holbrook’s crew removed a dead pine tree for an HOA using battery-powered equipment.

Aaron Holbrook’s crew removed a dead pine tree for an HOA using battery-powered equipment.

It’s important to factor in what you won’t pay for with this equipment: gas, oil and maintenance. If you know these costs, you’ll be able to see how long it will take for the battery option to save you money.

Before purchasing the equipment, contractors should do their homework just like they would with any other product.

“Start with a single piece of equipment until you become familiar with its pros and cons,” Holbrook says. “Choose a manufacturer that has a history of producing battery-powered equipment. Speak with your dealer so that you’ll know what to expect from your battery-powered equipment purchase.”

As anyone who attended this year’s GIE+EXPO can attest, battery power has come a long way—and it isn’t slowing down.

“Within the next five to 10 years, you’ll see nothing but battery power,” Kline says. “That will come from consumer demand and from trends both within and outside of the industry.”

Kline says he’d like to see equipment manufacturers offer battery-powered alternatives for all commercial equipment—not just trimmers, blowers and chainsaws but also edgers, aerators, applicators and snow throwers. “We’d like to see the whole industry go battery,” he say.

Phots: A.I.R. Lawn Care, Diversified Landscape Services

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