Feature Article - November 2015
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Innovation, Conservation & Training

The Latest Trends in Grounds Management

By Chris Gelbach

Equipment Advances in Options, Performance

As grounds managers seek to do more with less, ongoing innovations in grounds equipment are assisting them in this effort. "One thing that we do see is that with budget levels not increasing for parks departments and other entities, they are looking to get more out of the equipment that they have," Yakes said. "And so versatility is a big factor in how equipment gets employed and in purchase decisions."

To make the right purchase decision, Yakes recommends that departments start by looking at the various grounds maintenance tasks that need to be accomplished during the year. "Then break those down into buckets of how much you can achieve with a single machine with various attachments versus different machines," Yakes said. Consolidating these purchases into fewer, more multipurpose machines can help stretch budgets while providing additional functionality.

Yakes highly recommends that departments consult with a local distributor to discuss these needs and how they might be met through different equipment options within a certain budget. He also recommends asking the distributor about their facilities and whether they have the knowledge base and parts locally to handle the service needs of the equipment. "Just make sure that you have that complete picture in mind so you don't solely make a decision on that initial investment number," Yakes said.

As grounds managers seek products for different applications, they're also benefiting from an increased variety of options in engines and fueling. Among them is a hybrid mower that Yakes's company produces that reduces fuel use by an estimated 20 percent.

The University of Texas is taking advantage of these growing options by increasing its adoption of both propane mowers and of electric products. According to Burns, the shift to propane has occurred on all of the larger mowers on the main campus. "We feel like it's been really helpful," Burns said. "We've got a propane station on our campus, so it's easy to fill up. So it has reduced emissions, and we haven't proven this yet, but it's supposed to have longer engine life because the fuel burns cleaner."

The Propane Education & Research Council estimates that propane-fueled mowers cost about 30 percent less to operate than gasoline mowers, and generate up to 50 percent less greenhouse gas emissions. Other potential advantages are the elimination of fuel spillage and the reduced chance of fuel theft. Potential cons can be a higher upfront cost, the need for ready access to a tank exchange or stock of tanks, and the possibility that a propane mower might be harder to service since they're not as widely used as gasoline mowers.

Burns noted that the university is also trying to use quieter equipment whenever possible. This is a particular focus for the equipment used on the grounds of the medical center that will be debuting on campus next summer. "We may have a large mower that's not electric," Burns said. "But we're going to try to use all electric equipment for the smaller equipment, so we'll have some sound reduction and less exhaust around the hospital and medical facilities."

The university also tries to buy blowers that are rated best for sound reduction as part of an overall noise-reduction effort. "Blowers are always everyone's number one hated equipment," Burns said. "We get more complaints about blowers than anything else … We have to be responsible users so that we don't lose that privilege."

Yakes is also seeing increasing adoption of electric utility vehicles by universities and municipalities that are looking to reduce emissions, particularly for applications requiring less power or range. "If you have an all-electric, it's not as efficient with really heavy power needs. That's where diesel or gasoline engines do a better job. So it's a little more of the lighter duties," Yakes said.