What to know when using propane to power your lawn mowers

Contractors say propane saves operations on refueling costs. (Photo: Sarver Landscape)

Adding alternative fuels to the mix requires owners to update how and where they fuel – as well as training crews on all the changes. From maintenance and performance to refueling and environmental concerns, landscape business owners share how propane stacks up against gas in lawn mowers.

Natural alternative

Doug Duchene remembers driving to Salt Lake City and arriving in the hills to see a blanket of smog covering the city below.

“I don’t want that for my city,” says Ducheny, the city owner. Bozeman Location Services In Bozeman, Mont.

To be better stewards of the environment, Bozeman Site Services began using propane in 2016 – and for several years, they converted all mowers to propane. Bozeman Site Services provides maintenance, snow removal, lawn care and irrigation to 60 percent of residential and 40 percent of commercial customers.

“It’s great for the environment, and I love it,” says Duchene. “It was worth switching up all our stuff, and I wish more people could do that.”

Besides reducing its environmental footprint, the company has also reduced costs compared to filling the mowers with gas.

“It’s a lot cheaper, especially when gas prices are so high,” Duchene says. “At one point, it was costing you 25 percent of what you were paying for (gas).”

But unlike gas, crews couldn’t stop at stations around the city to refuel. So, Bozeman Site Services created its own filling station to handle everything in-house when converting to propane. The company also trained all employees on how to fill propane tanks.

“You have to tie it up, so no one escapes and there is no waste,” he says. For customers’ properties that are maintained weekly, propane is up to the task, but it’s not as powerful as gas, he says.

“Propane is a little weaker than gas, but what it lacks in energy can easily be made up for in other ways,” says Duchene. “You don’t need that high gas power unless you’re mowing thick grass.”

However, he says that as nearby dealers stopped offering conversion kits, the company stopped using propane with their new mowers and went back to electronic fuel injection.

“I think we’ve won contracts because of it, and we’ve saved a lot of money using propane,” Duchene says. “There are definitely definite benefits. I just hope we can keep it up, and they keep making conversion kits for new mowers.”

Stop limit

From reduced maintenance to environmental impact, the benefits of propane caught the attention of Adam Sarver, president of Landscape surfer In Wexford, Pennsylvania. His company provides landscape maintenance, improvements, tree care and snow removal services to commercial clients.

Previously, about half of Sarver’s fleet used propane through a conversion kit. A mechanic handled fueling the propane mowers, which required crews to manage, move and secure 33-pound tanks. Sarver said that gave his company a level of control over what was happening in the field since crews weren’t stopping at gas stations to refuel.

“We invested heavily in it and saw the benefits,” says Sarver. “Propane burns cleaner, requires less maintenance, and has no fuel stability issues. It has also given us the ability to stabilize and control fuel costs, along with creating marketing opportunities to demand greener service.”

Now, about 5 percent of Sarver’s fleet is propane due to changes in manufacturer agreements that eliminated factory warranties on new machines Sarver Landscape converted to propane.

“These machines are complex, so warranty is key,” says Sarver. “We are buying (electronic fuel injection) at the moment but will look at electric and battery options when it makes sense.”

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