By Jeremy Wishart
Professional landscape contractors across the United States are paying more at the pump for gasoline this summer than in previous seasons. According to AAA, the national average for a gallon of premium-grade gasoline on July 12 was $3.42, up 62 cents from the same time last year. Prices throughout the Fourth of July holiday were the highest in four years.
Fuel price fluctuations can wreak havoc on a landscaper’s budget, and dramatically impact the business’s bottom line. If it increases enough in a single summer, it could even be the determining factor as to whether a contractor makes money or is left in the red at season’s end. It’s a big deal, but there is also a way that contractors can protect their businesses from the volatility of the oil market.
Using propane-powered mowers can not only safeguard a contractor from an unpredictable fuel market, but it costs less per gallon than gasoline or diesel — significantly so when oil prices are high — and it increases productivity, so crews get more done in a day’s work. Plus, with all the resources available for contractors to quickly and affordably transition to propane, it’s easier than ever to break away from unpredictable gasoline prices and move toward a more reliable future with propane.
Propane costs less per gallon
Propane costs less than gasoline and diesel. On average, contractors using propane mowers will pay 30 to 50 percent less in fuel costs compared to other fuels. That price disparity can widen even further during periods of higher gas prices, like what we’re experiencing this summer.
While propane prices don’t fluctuate as wildly as gasoline costs can, contractors who transition to propane can further insulate their business from price changes of any kind with propane. Annual fuel contracts are commonly offered by propane retailers, who directly supply fuel to a contractor’s place of business. This locks in fuel prices for as long as a year. And because fuel is typically second only to wages as the largest expense in a contractor’s operating costs, the knowledge that their price per gallon of fuel won’t fluctuate all year can be a tremendous help when budgeting.
Propane increases productivity
In addition to costing less per gallon, propane mowers actually increase crew productivity, too. There are a variety of ways that fuel can be delivered on site to best meet the individual needs of a contractor, all offering an advantage over gasoline mowers. With gasoline, crews typically need to stop work and refuel at a local filling station at some point each day to fill mower tanks and spare containers with gasoline.
These refueling stops can be costly to a contractor. Take, for example, a contractor with four crews out cutting. If each of those crews stops to refuel once per day for 15 minutes, that’s an hour of lost cutting time every workday. Without the need to stop at a fueling station before heading to a job site, crews can hit the ground running with cylinders filled at the end of the previous day and a spare cylinder carried on a trailer.
Plus, because propane is a closed fuel source there’s no fear of lost or spilled fuel, unlike with gasoline, which can easily spill on customer lawns and yards, in truck beds, and on trailers.
Resources at hand for transitioning to propane
It can seem like a significant undertaking to transition a mower fleet to a completely new fuel source, but financial and educational resources are available to keep the process affordable and easily accessible.
For starters, the Propane Mower Incentive Program from the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) provides contractors with a way to ease into using a new fuel. Contractors who apply to the program can receive $1,000 for each new, dedicated propane mower purchase or $500 for a qualified conversion kit applied to an existing mower. Because so many OEMs now produce dedicated propane mowers, or have models that can be fitted with a conversion kit, contractors may even continue using the same mower brand.
Another resource is one that contractors may already know — a local propane retailer. Beyond providing fuel, propane retailers can help contractors discover the right refueling strategy, and may even help pay for any associated costs. They may also be able to train maintenance technicians on converting, maintaining, and repairing propane mowers, or have connections to OEMs and training facilities that do. Plus, they can help you get the lowest price per gallon, so you pay the same price regardless of what the fuel market is doing.
Most importantly, check out PERC’s cost calculator (www.propane.com/commercial-landscape/calculator). Every contractor’s situation is different, and this tool will help you determine if switching to propane is the right fit for your operation.
Using propane mowers offers contractors a number of advantages when it comes to saving money and time compared to using traditional fuels. To learn more about using propane for landscape and lawn care operations, visit www.propane.com/commercial-landscape.
Jeremy Wishart is director of off-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.