What to know when using propane to power your mowers

Contractors say propane saves operations on fueling costs. (Photo: Sarver Landscape)
Contractors say propane saves operations on fueling costs. (Photo: Sarver Landscape)
Contractors say propane saves operations on fueling costs. (Photo: Sarver Landscape)
Contractors say propane saves operations on fueling costs. (Photo: Sarver Landscape)

Adding alternative fuel to the mix requires owners to update how and where they fuel — as well as train crews on all of the changes. From maintenance and performance to fueling and environmental concerns, landscape business owners share how propane stacks up against gas for mowers.

Natural alternative

Doug Duschene recalls driving to Salt Lake City and coming over the hills to see a blanket of smog covering the city below.

“I don’t want that for my town,” says Duschene, owner of Bozeman Site Services in Bozeman, Mont.

To be better stewards of the environment, Bozeman Site Services began using propane in 2016 — and for several years, converted all mowers to propane. Bozeman Site Services provides maintenance, snow removal, lawn care and irrigation to a 60 percent residential, 40 percent commercial clientele.

“It’s great for the environment, and I love it,” Duschene says. “It was worth it to switch over all of our stuff, and I wish more people could do it.”

Besides reducing their environmental footprint, the company also decreased costs compared to filling the mowers with gas.

“It’s significantly cheaper, especially when gas prices were through the roof,” Duschene says. “At one point, it cost 25 percent of what you’d pay for (gas).”

But unlike gas, crews couldn’t stop at stations around town to fill up. So, Bozeman Site Services created its own fill station to handle everything in-house when switching to propane. The company also trained all of the employees on how to fill propane tanks.

“You have to hook it up, so none escapes and there’s no waste,” he says. For customer properties maintained weekly, propane is up for the job —but isn’t as powerful as gas, he says.

“Propane is slightly weaker than gas, but what you lack in power is easily made up for in other ways,” Duschene says. “You don’t need that high gas power unless you’re mowing through really thick grass.”

However, he says as dealers near them stopped offering conversion kits, the company stopped using propane with their new mowers and returned to electronic fuel injection.

“I think we’ve won contracts because of it, and we’ve saved lots of money using propane,” Duschene says. “No doubt, there are definite benefits. I just wish we could have maintained those, and they continued making conversion kits for the new mowers.”

Limit stops

From reducing maintenance to the impact on the environment, the benefits of propane caught the attention of Adam Sarver, president of Sarver Landscape in Wexford, Pa. His company provides landscape maintenance, enhancements, tree care and snow removal services to commercial customers.

Previously, about half of Sarver’s fleet used propane through a conversion kit. A mechanic handled fueling the propane mowers, which required crews to manage, haul and secure 33-pound tanks. Sarver said that gave his company a level of control over what was happening in the field since crews weren’t stopping by gas stations to fuel up.

“We invested heavily in it and saw the advantages,” Sarver says. “Propane burns cleaner, has less maintenance and you don’t have fuel stabilization issues. It also gave us the ability to stabilize and control fuel costs, along with creating marketing opportunities to claim a greener service.”

Now, about 5 percent of Sarver’s fleet is propane due to changes with manufacturer agreements that voided factory warranties on new machines Sarver Landscape converted to propane.

“These machines are complicated, so a warranty is a key thing to have,” Sarver says. “We are buying (electronic fuel injection) right now but look forward to electric and battery options when they make sense.”

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