(Pro)Pain relief

Propane has been a viable alternative for fuel when the price at the pump puts the hurt on your bottom line.

Photos courtesy of Barnes, Inc.

About 10 years ago, President and CEO Mark Barnes and other management at Barnes, Inc., a landscaping company in Madison, Wisconsin, were concerned their bottom line might be adversely affected by the vagaries of the oil and gasoline market. They decided to change how they power their mowers.

“It was at the start of this decade during the recession and rising prices were a concern,” Barnes says. “We spend about $250,000 a year on fuel and if gas went up to four dollars a gallon that could cost between $75,000 and $100,000 a year.”

So, management decided to take a bold move and switch their mowing fleet to propane after some initial testing to ensure the fuel source would not affect the quality of their machines.

The company demoed propane in some of its walk-behind mowers and there was no difference in performance. There was some difference in zero-turn riding mowers, but the company that provides the machines upgraded the size of the engine and the rest is history. Almost all the company’s 50 walk-behinds and 25 riding mowers have been converted for use of propane as a fuel source.

Barnes estimated that the company saves about $15,000 to $20,000 a year thanks to the switch to propane. “Landscaping companies have a pretty large carbon footprint and anything we can do to reduce that is appreciated by our customers,” he says.

Travis Streit, owner of A Cut Above Landscaping and Lawn Care, has been running propane on his company’s mowers for over three years. “We have been very satisfied with the propane conversion,” he says “We converted the units in 2015 and the only problem we had was the mounting brackets needed to be reinforced,” Streit says.

A Cut Above Landscaping and Lawn Care used over 6,000 gallons of propane last year and it is a reliable fuel source for our company, Streit says. “A big advantage that we have over our competitors is being able to know our propane costs for three years at a time,” Streit says. “When you know your propane costs will remain the same, year in and year out, you can be more efficient when bidding two to three year agreements.”

Robson Landscaping & Turf began using propane in its fleet of mowers in 2017 when the company decided to take a chance, says Owner Michael Robson. “The conversion went smoothly, with no conversion fees and the equipment carries a lifetime warranty, which sounded great to us.”

Robson Landscaping & Turf of Virginia began the conversion with only “a couple of units” to see how they would perform and how crews liked using them. “There was no loss in power or efficiency, and they seemed to run at a more stable RPMs going through thick grass, up hills and over bumps,” Robson says. After initial trials proved successful, the company converted all its units to propane, and has an onsite filling station to fill tanks each morning.

“We project that we have saved around $14,000 on fuel costs since making the switch, or around $7,000 a year, which is around $500 to $600 per unit per year,” says Robson, adding that he’s looking to covert more trucks and equipment.

Like Barnes, Inc., Robson Landscaping advertises its propane use and reducing its carbon mower tire tracks to customers. “It also burns cleaner, so our oil stays cleaner longer, and we are seeing upward of 3,500 to 4,000 hours on some of our units,” Robson says. “Our trucks spend less time at the fuel station and have nothing to unload into the parking lots there now. We can track gallons of fuel used for our trucks easier and the emissions inside the enclosed trailers and shop are much less, making a healthier working environment for our workers.”

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