Choosing Sweeping Equipment
Battery-Powered Blowers: Ready to Meet the Sweeping Industry's Needs?
by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
We recently conducted a survey with some leading contractors located in various parts of the United States, as well as sweeper manufacturers, on the topic of backpack and hand-held blowers.
What we wanted to find out on behalf of our readership is if there are any backpack blowers with sufficient battery life and CFM to supplant the traditional, primarily two-stroke gasoline units in widespread use. Below is the most helpful information we received; however, by far most contractors hadn't yet given battery-powered units a try. With the info we provide in this article, we predict that may soon change.
Andy Coolidge is a principal with CAM South, located in Birmingham, AL. Andy reported that their company has been able to switch to hand-held blowers – but only for their day-porter team that does its lunchtime follow-up services. They haven't yet found a battery-powered blower they believe is strong enough for night, parking lot sweeping work. Andy says even for use during the day his crews must have at least two batteries in order to even handle such a short shift.
Probably the biggest advantage, Andy says, is that the battery-powered blowers are quieter. That is a big one, though, since daytime porter services often have plenty of people in the general area. Other advantages include that there's no fuel mixing, the battery-powered units are better for the environment and they always start. Previously, he says, they had noise complaint issues on some of their porter service routes that started early in the day. To make it work, they install an inverter in the trucks they use for porter services so a battery may be left charging all the time.
Although initially the company cycled through some of the well-known names in tools, like DeWalt and Stihl, for the last year they have been using blowers they purchase at Harbor Freight. Harbor Freight's 40v units, currently made by Lynxx, are less expensive to purchase initially (currently shown as $149.99 on the company's website), with an extra battery expense of $60.
The blowers are sold with a 90-day warranty; however, an additional one year warranty may be purchased for $21.99, or $35.99 for a two-year warranty. The Lynxx unit receives 4.5 of 5 stars on the Harbor Freight website.
Daniel Stauty, of Virginia-based Commercial Power Sweeping, said they have traditionally used Stihl's Model BG 86 gas-powered blowers, seen to the right, on their night routes. They're about $240 to purchase.
More recently, wanting to see if battery-powered blowers could cut it, they tried Stihl's battery hand-held units, the most powerful of which is the company's Model BGA 100, which also garners reviews of 4.5 out of 5.
However, cons listed by reviewers include that the 36V BGA 100 battery has to be worn on the belt, whereas the slightly smaller performance BGA 85 has the battery in the unit. So, that would be a matter of preference. Reviewers also say that for normal usage the battery units offer about 30 minutes of runtime; on high power, needed for wet leaves, you only have about 10-15 minutes of battery life. The BGA 85 is ballpark priced at $240; add $100 for the BGA 100.
"Not only were the Stihl units a major decrease in horsepower versus Stihl's gas model," said Stauty, but the battery life was too short for a typical shift. We determined we would need at least two or three batteries for any routine parking lot route.
"Our parking lot maintenance crew also tried one, but the unit was again unable to complete the task throughout the entire shift. The cost of extra batteries, when added to that of each unit, made the option unreasonable. We currently run the Stihl BG 86s as well as some Red Max gas-powered hand-held blowers, which some of our crew members like due to their lighter weight even though those units don't have as much horsepower as the BG 86s.
"In Virginia we are not mandated to use battery-powered blowers so it doesn't make sense to make the shift. If we had noise complaints we might have to consider switching even though it would be an expensive change to make."
Stauty they had reduced blower replacement significantly, however, by installing a Daily Blower Maintenance Program. "Since starting this review process," said Stauty, "we have been able to reduce our major blower breakdowns as well are extending the life of these pieces of equipment. Since then, we have reduced the need to purchase about 4-5 blowers a year. This also allows our crew to know they can do their job effectively each time!"
Florida-based Consolidated Service Group (CSG) hit on a brand of battery-powered blowers that they liked three years ago and have been using them ever since. For this article we spoke to two of the company's branch managers, Mark Jackson and Todd McPherson.
They were driven to try out battery-operated blowers, they said, by gasoline units' cost of operation with. Not only is the gasoline a serious expense, but so is labor for mixing the gas and two-cycle oil to say nothing of having to carry it all in the sweeper, spillage, safety, etc. In addition, they said found it to be a constant challenge to keep the machines running; repairs were frequent, time-consuming and expensive. After switching to battery units, all of that has been completely eliminated.
"Since the time we started using our EGO blowers," they said, "we haven't had to perform any repairs – none of the electric blowers have broken. The effort it takes to put the batteries on the chargers is also negligible compared to all we were having to deal with before. Plus, none of our employess find themselves sitting on a property at 2 o'clock in the morning with a blower that won't start. You push the button; the electric blowers start every time."
CSG, too, tried several other blower brands but none had the power and/or battery life that they needed. Another advantage cited is all of EGO's batteries are interchangeable with the other products the company makes. CSG uses those, as well, including the EGO hedge trimmers and string trimmers. They have found the battery life to be better than anything else on the market: about 30-to-45 minutes for the backpack blowers, depending upon how often they have to use the unit's 'turbo boost' feature. The important thing: by carrying just one spare battery they are able to keep going throughout a normal sweeping shift.
CSG personnel installed an inverter in each of the company's sweeper trucks, such that the EGO's quick chargers may mounted between the seats on the back wall of the chassis, where they are accessible by opening either door. In the sweepers they use the quick charge units – which they purchase separately since each blower comes with a standard charger – and then have the slower chargers mounted on the wall of the shop. Each night, the batteries are inserted into the slow chargers so they will be fully charged by the time they need to be used again and the blowers are hung on hooks nearby.
Mark and Todd emphasized that you will want to note the difference in inverters: Be sure to use a sufficiently-sized inverter, they cautioned, since the quick chargers draw a hefty amount of amperage. Also, some on the market have a modified sine wave, often called a 'square wave,' and others a 'true sine wave.' The true sine wave inverters are a better match for the EGO chargers than are the inverters that operate via square wave.
Editor's note: Simply put, pure sine wave power flows in even, arching waves, whereas modified sine wave power flows to your devices in chunky, square waves. The cons of running your devices on modified sine wave power is that they will run less efficiently, which will commonly result in the device or appliance not running properly, interference or a "buzz." For more details, check out this page on the InvertersRUs website.
At CSG, when they are operating with just one person in the sweeper the backpack blower is placed on the floor of the passenger seat area. Otherwise, they'll put it into whatever storage area is in the sweeper. CSG also has purchased a mix of EGO's backpack and handheld blowers, since some operators prefer one over the other. Although the backpack units have a little more power, they take longer to put on and off and are heavier.
"If we're cleaning up prior to a sealcoating job or there are lots of pack down leaves," they said, "that's when you need a backpack unit. On the other hand, many of our sweeper operators would rather have a handheld unit since there are only using them for 15 or 20 minutes and, for that amount of time, they prefer to just have one slung on their arm.
Mark and Todd offered some more tips on how CSG utilizes the EGO blowers during the approximately 15-minute audio interview I conducted with them. If you'd like to hear all the details, I suggest you should listen to that entire interview (will open into a new window).
Wells Leger is the owner of WellMade Manufacturing, which makes the Twister Alley F1 parking lot sweeper. Prior to that, and continuing today, he also operates a parking lot sweeping company throughout the Greater Chandler, Arizona, market area.
As a contractor, says Leger, I got tired of the many excuses I kept hearing that involved our backpack blowers: "I didn't get it blown out because the blower wouldn't start," or "the rope pulled out," or "the spark plug went bad." Fuel was always spilling out into our trucks, too. Finally, I'd had enough.
After three years of investigating all of the battery-powered blowers that looked like they might be feasible – including models by Ryobi, Milwaukee, Stihl and more – Leger and his team also settled on the battery-powered units made by the lesser-known brand, EGO. The main issue for the different other units was charge time vs. run time, which for most of the makes wasn't close. The other variable was whether a unit had the requisite CFM to get the job done.
One of the Stihl models they tried was the only one other than the EGO that had the CFM; however, says Leger, the backpack-mounted battery for the model with enough lasting power clocked in at a hefty $1300... It would run for up to three hours, which was just too expensive and the battery was also too heavy even stored in a backpack.
"Then," said Leger, "along came the EGO backpack blower, which we started calling 'the little blower that could.' The batteries take about 20 minutes to charge and have a 30+ minute runtime. We're so sold on them that we include a hook on the passenger side of our WellMade Twister Alley F1 parking lot sweepers, as a place to hang the backpack model. There's also a space for an EGO handheld blower on the operator's side. We include an integrated plug-in system as standard equipment on our sweepers. In our experience just two batteries is all we need to keep them going however long we've needed for blowing sidewalks on a shift.
"Since we started using them three years ago we also haven't had any breakdowns due to pullropes or plugs or fuel. Only after we quit buying gasoline and oil did I really realize how much money I was spending on the gas/oil mixture the standard two-cycle blowers use. However, the biggest thing is we haven't had a noise complaint in the three years since we started using the EGO units."
For the full story on the experience detailed in our interview with Wells Leger at the WellMade organization, check out this link to listen to the approximately seven-minute audio of the interview.
From the information we learned from CSG and Wells Manufacturing, I'm sure a number of organizations involved with sweeping will want to purchase at least one EGO blower to see if the product matches their needs. Although I contacted the EGO organization and attempted to negotiate a discount for those reading this article, Sarah Hohmann, Brand Manager for EGO replied "Unfortunately I cannot offer a discount, I wish I could!" EGO units may be purchased at Home Depot stores as well as in a variety of places online.
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