The dramatic drop in the cost of oil over the last half of 2015 and into the first quarter of 2016 more than likely provided some form of stress relief for landscape contractors feeling the heat at the gas pump just over a year ago.
It often comes as a surprise to landscape contractors that propane has been falling at nearly the same rate per gallon as gasoline and diesel. That’s because propane prices generally fall between those of crude oil and natural gas. Plus, the majority of mower operation occurs during the calendar’s warmer months, which is when the price of propane is typically at or near its lowest.
Ever considered switching to propane-fueled mowers? Today, there are more than 135 propane mower model options available from 15 different OEMs. Here, we take a look at a few of the potential benefits propane can provide and tips on maximizing them so operators can cut more and spend less.
Lock in fuel prices
Contractors can take advantage of the lower summer propane fuel prices by working with a local propane retailer.
Oftentimes, propane retailers let contractors lock in a fuel price for one or more years, so the contractor can benefit from current low pricing for many months. An annual fuel contract is an attractive option many propane providers offer. It allows landscapers to lock in a set price per gallon, ensuring they’ll pay a consistent price for propane year-round.
Options for refueling on any budget
Depending on the fleet size and specific needs, contractors who operate propane-powered mowers can select between two refueling practices: installing on-site refueling infrastructure or executing a cylinder exchange program.
Both options help increase the time mowers are operational — and generating revenue — by limiting downtime associated with refueling at a gas station, which can be a lengthy (and costly) endeavor. With a four-man crew, for example, a 15- minute gas station stop to start the workday results in one man-hour of lost time every day. Over time, that small stop can add up to be a significant amount.
At Southern California-based Stay Green Inc., for example, a propane retailer arrives each week to refill its mower cylinders. Dave Colburn, account manager, says the downtime at filling stations that used to be expected no longer exists.
“We do it [refill] in the morning and we’re ready to go,” Colburn says. “We get in the trucks, we go, we’re ready to work. There is a huge time-savings involved.”
Less wasted fuel
The closed fuel system used in propane-powered mowers prevents spills. If a leak occurs, gaseous propane will blend into the air, where it eventually breaks down into harmless organic compounds.
Another advantage propane has over gasoline is that it doesn’t degrade over extended periods and no fuel stabilizers are needed. For areas of the country with winter weather where equipment might be stored for months at a time, this saves costs in running out tanks and preparing equipment for use during the spring and summer.
Unlike gasoline, propane contains no ethanol, which can damage engine components over time and compromise performance.
Savvy contractors don’t have to pay full price for propane equipment or certified conversion kits. The Propane Education & Research Council can help businesses with up-front costs through its Propane Mower Incentive Program. Through an application process, contractors can receive either $1,000 to put toward the purchase of a new propane-powered mower or $500 for a certified conversion kit.
State incentives are also available in many instances and should be researched by contractors, too. State incentives can take many forms, including equipment rebates, tax credits for alternative fuels, or low-cost loans for infrastructure. A knowledgeable equipment dealer or local propane retailer, which can be found with PERC’s retailer search tool, can help steer a contractor in the right direction.
Savings for customers, governments and schools
Dollars saved by switching to propane can give lawn care businesses an added value when responding to bids. And the fuel has the advantage of being exempt from Ozone Action Days so propane mowers can operate on days when other equipment isn’t allowed in order to restrict the amount of air pollution. For a business, this means no time is lost in the field.
For public entities, such as city governments, state and national parks, and school systems, propane provides a way to cut budgets without cutting productivity. The University of Louisville made a campus-wide initiative to adopt green technology, including converting six zero-turn, two commercial walk-behind, and three push mowers to propane. The grounds services department reported saving an average of $2,000 annually compared to using gasoline mowers.
“After weeding out the alternatives,” says Aaron Boggs, assistant director of maintenance and renovations at the University of Louisville, “we found propane would get the same productivity and power as conventional fuels, as well as a low total cost of ownership, which would please the school’s administration and the state’s taxpayers.”