By Renae Beegle
Sidewalk snow management is one of the most difficult aspects of operating a snow removal business. When the work entails harsh weather conditions coupled with long, cold hours in the midst of a storm, it becomes extremely taxing on employees and management alike. It is labor-intensive work and most sidewalks are still done the old-fashioned way — by hand. Even with progress in developing bigger and better snow removal equipment, cleaning sidewalks remains one of the last to advance.
Challenging, to say the least
Ask any snow professional what their biggest challenge is concerning sidewalk management and they will tell you, it’s retaining sidewalk crew members. Employees are a key element to any sidewalk management operation. Keeping those employees event after event is one of the biggest issues faced by snow professionals. “The biggest challenge is our guys…in a big, big storm, when we have a 12-hour snow storm, they just get burned out,” said Jim Johnson, owner of Johnson Seasonal Services in Auburn Hills, Mich. “The machines can go 24/7, but people can’t.”
It is agreed by all that sidewalk crews work in the worst conditions and, therefore, many snow contractors offer incentives to keep their sidewalk laborers. Offering a good hourly wage, along with a guaranteed number of hours, can help with employee retention. “The hardest part of the job is you are exposed to the elements,” said Chris Marino, owner of Xtreme Snow Pros in New Jersey. Marino knows his sidewalk crews are out in the harshest conditions, but high performance is necessary to get the work done as quickly and efficiently as possible, and this is no easy task. Johnson finds that offering a place to sleep, shower and eat helps to ease the demands each event puts on his employees.
Upgrading equipment can provide more comfortable conditions for operators and help prevent burn out and fatigue. “By offering workers a tractor with a cab, you are providing them a pristine work environment,” stated Marino. Marino estimates he will increase production and add more sidewalk business because workers are not burned out and physically spent due to labor-intensive sidewalk snow removal.
By hand or machine
There will always be a need for hand tools to remove snow and ice. Stairs, closed-in walkways and tight areas still need to be maintained with shovels or hand pushers. However, when a storm puts down sheets of ice on a sidewalk, shoveling will not produce the necessary results. Mechanized machines or walk-behind equipment are alternatives to shoveling. There again, this presents the need to evaluate the effectiveness of labor costs and time spent per job. These options work well for short distances, but when cleaning miles and miles of walkways — or for heavy snow and ice — contractors still find them less productive and less cost effective.
Evaluating the situation is critical for using the right equipment. “Every storm is different and requires different equipment,” stated Marino. “Contractors need to adapt equipment according to the type of storm.” Marino currently uses shovels, ATV’s and walk-behind snowblowers to manage sidewalks. Because these are labor-intensive, and workers are exposed to the elements, he is turning to sub-compact tractors for his sidewalk jobs. “We are turning to mechanizing every part of our company,” said Marino. “You have to remain productive in order to compete.”
Over the past several years, the use of sub-compact tractors for snow removal has increased. Many compact units are multi-functional and offer multiple attachments for use on one power unit. Many snow and ice professionals find that sub-compact tractors with attachments are very useful to keep ahead of the competition and manage labor costs. Attachments such as brooms, angle blades, spreaders and snow blowers allow the compact machines to kick up productivity without the need to haul multiple machines to the job site. Bob St. Jacques, owner of Four Seasons Landscaping, Inc., operates six Ventrac tractors in his business in Connecticut.
“Sub-compact tractors offer contractors the ability to run a broom or v-blade on the front and a spreader on the back, which really pumps up production,” said Isaac Roth, Snow and Ice Specialist at Ventrac. “The articulating frame allows the unit to move on, off and around sidewalks easily and efficiently; and the heated cabs really keep drivers protected.”
Keep them comfortable; keep them safe
ATVs and other quad-type vehicles equipped with plows, blades or brooms, remain popular choices for sidewalks. They have their benefits when cleaning larger areas, but don’t offer operators protection from the elements. “We don’t have any machine that is sidewalk specific,” stated Johnson. “We use a four-wheeler with a plow and salt spreader for our sidewalks.” Many contractors, including Johnson, do not like the idea their workers are unprotected from the elements, but are challenged with finding a sidewalk machine that improves efficiency and provides operator protection. Sidewalk imperfections also present a huge drawback in using these type of units as operators have been thrown over the front of the unit, causing serious injury.
Skid-steers remain one piece of equipment that is used quite often for sidewalk snow removal. They perform zero-radius turns and can function in larger areas as well. They also offer some weather protection for operators. The main concern with skid-steers is the realization they were not designed for clearing narrow places and can potentially damage turf and landscaping that border sidewalks.
Units with simple controls that are easy to operate and do not require days of training are a plus for any company. If workers are comfortable with the equipment, they can devote more hours to production. Many advanced improvements in operation, control and function of sub-compact tractors offer operators more comfort and safety.
Most come equipped with a cab as an added bonus to eliminate operator fatigue and exposure to the harsh elements.
Finding the perfect match
Snow professionals know that managing sidewalks is not an easy service, but it can be a profitable portion of any snow-contracting business if the right processes are in place. Worker comfort and safety should be high on the list. Equipment that offers high productivity, is user friendly, and provides worker comfort and safety should be part of the consideration as well. Once you find that perfect synergy of equipment and crews, you have won half the battle.
Renae Beegle is the journalist and media coordinator for Venture Products, Inc. For more information, visit www.ventrac.com
Snow and Ice Management Equipment
Arctic compact-duty Sectional Sno-Plow
Arctic Snow and Ice Control Products added compact-duty (CD) plows to its Sectional Sno-Plow lineup. Compatible with small skid-steers, compact tractors and small wheel loaders, CD plows are perfect for clearing small parking lots, sidewalks and larger driveways. Unlike traditional one-piece moldboard plows, the Sectional Sno-Plows feature a sectional moldboard design. Each 24-inch-wide section is also equipped with its own spring-loaded trip edge and polyurethane cutting edge to further allow precision plowing. This design allows each section to move up and down independently, enabling the plow to effectively contour to uneven surfaces and remove snow in dips and depressions on the first pass. Every CD plow is backed by a 2-year limited warranty.
Ariens Professional 36 Sno-Thro
Ariens Company offers the Professional 36 Sno-Thro with a 342cc Ariens Polar Force engine by Briggs & Stratton. The Pro 36 Sno-Thro easily removes snow from sidewalks and large areas with its 36-inch clearing width. The all-steel, 16-inch serrated auger and 3-blade, 14-inch steel impeller enhance clearing ability. A 50-foot discharge range ensures that snow lands outside of the clearing path of the machine. Automatic traction control optimizes maneuverability; and, with no levers or triggers, steering is effortless. The Sno-Thro also features a 120-volt electric start with recoil back-up, a 3.2-quart fuel capacity, 6 mph forward and 2 mph reverse speeds.
New UTV plows from The Boss snowplow
The Boss UTV plows are available in 2 models, the 6-foot-6-inch Power-V XT and the 6-foot Poly Straight-blade snowplow, and feature many of The Boss’ smart technology systems for improved plow durability and performance. A high-performance, fully hydraulic system offers high blade lift height for unmatched snow stacking capability. The hydraulic pumps are fully enclosed to protect against corrosion and hydraulic freeze-up. Operation of the hydraulic and electrical system is done with the touch of a button from inside the cab. A sloped-profile undercarriage does not hinder ground clearance or inhibit trail riding when the snowplow is detached.
Grasshopper’s snow removal system
The Grasshopper Company’s zero-turn FrontMount power units serve as the heart of a complete snow removal system comprised of commercial snowthrowers, dozer blades, rotary brooms and V-plows. Applying zero-turn maneuverability to snow removal saves time and labor. These compact, heavy-duty implements power through snow effortlessly with professional-grade construction designed to endure season after season of throwing, plowing and sweeping. And with Grasshopper snow removal implements, there is only one engine to maintain, saving you time and money. Grasshopper’s exclusive QuikConverter implement system lets users install and remove implements in minutes without tools. An optional winter enclosure (for 700 and 900 Series) and 16,000 BTU/hr heater (for liquid-cooled models) protect operator from the elements.
Hiniker dual-motor electric salt and sand spreaders
Hiniker Company’s dual-motor electric salt and sand spreaders allow users to tailor material application rates accurately and conveniently. Powered by the truck’s 12-volt electrical system, these units provide individual variable speed control for both the conveyor and the spinner. The 2 electric motors offer quiet operation for residential and office applications. Hiniker dual-motor electric spreaders also feature blast control for quick, extra-dense applications and a reverse switch to clear jams quickly and easily. Two stainless-steel electric spreader models are available: the 6.5-foot model 635 and the 8-foot model 835. Standard hopper capacities are 1.50 cubic yards for model 635 and 1.80 cubic yards for model 835.
Honda HS1336i snowblower
Honda Power Equipment, a division of American Honda Motor Co., Inc., is introducing the Honda HS1336i snowblower — the first Honda hybrid snowblower design available for the U.S. market. The hybrid configuration of the HS1336i model combines a gasoline engine that simultaneously drives the snowblower auger/fan apparatus (clearing and throwing the snow) and charges the battery, with the electric motors (2 in parallel) controlling the track drive forward propulsion. Equipped with the Honda iGX390 4-stroke engine, the operation of the HS1336i snowblower results in lower fuel consumption and lower emissions as compared to a conventional snowblower. The all-new hybrid model also boasts superior control/ease-of-use; powerful operation/snow throwing; lower noise and vibration; reliable operation; and enhanced technology. The iGX390 commercial grade engine provides premium power for the Honda HS1336i snowblower resulting in low noise, vibration, fuel consumption and emissions.
Husqvarna Trac Drive
Husqvarna dual-stage snow throwers boast a heavy-duty auger, a high-speed impeller and a standard halogen headlight for greater visibility in less-than-favorable conditions. Powerful LCT “SnowKing” engines on both units provide the performance necessary for deeper snow drifts and greater transport speeds. The 1827EXLT features a 27-inch operating width, while the 1830EXLT (pictured) features a 30-inch operating width. Both units boast 414 cc displacement, heated handles, electric start, power steering, stamped high-strength auger, and a deflector extension.
Pro-Tech Sno Broom attachments
Pro-Tech introduced 5 new Sno Broom attachments for skid-steers and compact tractors. Sno Brooms minimize the potential for damaging surfaces, and they excel at removing snow against curbs and walls, as well as other hard-to-reach areas. Skid-steer models are available with 60-, 72- and 84-inch broom widths, and come with a universal coupler for attaching to equipment with various hydraulic flow ratings. Furthermore, they can be hydraulically angled 30 degrees left or right. The PTO-driven tractor model is 84 inches wide and is designed for machines with at least 30 horsepower. It comes standard with a 3-point hitch mount. Maximum broom speed is 200 rpm.
Serious Thermal Products Serious Toaster ground-thawing machine
Serious Thermal Products Ltd. introduced the new Serious Toaster ground-thawing machine. Using patented infrared technology, the Toaster thaws frozen ground more than 3 times faster than similar competitive units, and it is the only CSA-approved product of its kind on the market. Ideal for underground installations such as irrigation lines, each Toaster thaws up to 1.6 inches deep per hour in a 2-foot-by-10-foot area. Multiple units can be placed together in a series or any other configuration to accommodate larger applications. The Toasters are controlled by a solid-state electronic system, and they are fueled by clean-burning propane. Furthermore, they do not produce open flames, so they can be safely placed next to buildings and utility pedestals.
SnowEx high-output V-Maxx spreader
The V-Maxx 8550 high-output spreader from SnowEx is ideal for spreading high volumes of sand in one pass. Offering a 2-cubic-yard hopper capacity, the V-Maxx 8550 features a new transmission with a gear ratio of 40:1. This allows the unit to spread 295 to 680 pounds of material per minute (3.6 to 8.3 cubic feet per minute), which triples the rate of the comparable V-Maxx 8500 model. Designed to spread sand, the V-Maxx 8550 comes standard with a patented multi-angle hopper, an inverted-“V” baffle, and an attached vibrator. The unit is completely electric-powered with a high-torque, 1/2-horsepower motor; and all electrical components are fully sealed for weather protection.