July 15, 2013 03:59

Blower Trucks Increase Your Profits

Building permits are on the rise, large apartment complexes are starting to be built again; renewed roadway renovations and the increasing expansion of the interstate highways are bringing more work to our markets.

As road and highway work get underway and contracts are let, contractors will remove all plant material from the area. Once the roadway or highway is finished, the landscape has to be installed to complete the project.

The irrigation needs to be replaced, plant material needs to be installed, and mulch or ground cover spread across the area. It’s interesting to note that current trends point to the heavier use of mulch. It’s being used in more diverse applications, and the demand for it is growing steadily for use in sediment and erosion control.

Mulch is being used on slopes, to create erosion control berms as well as in commercial and residential construction applications. It provides ground cover for public gardens, playgrounds, green roofs or even sports fields.

Mulching provides immediate, effective and inexpensive soil stabilization and control for erosion. It reduces weed growth and provides a layer of nutrients to fight off decay. By providing a protective cover, it allows soil to retain its moisture and serves as an insulator for root structures of plants. In addition, mulch helps to stabilize soils and reduces the speed of stormwater runoff.

Until fairly recently, mulch products were delivered in bags or as drop-off loads. Because the product is heavy and cumbersome, more manpower and transport equipment was required. Installation was time-consuming and often messy. Just the sheer volume of product needed to complete a large job required more time, and time is money.

To stay competitive in today’s marketplace, you might consider purchasing a delivery system that saves time, and gets the job done efficiently. Gone are the days when you would take a crew of men, multiple wheelbarrows and numerous bags of mulch to a site. To be marketable, you have to realize that there are better options available.

To succeed on mulch application jobs, as well as capitalize on the current trends, you’ll have to invest in the proper equipment.

These are trucks with trailers attached that carry the mulch. They are built with motors capable of blowing mulch products—crumb rubber, playground chips, compost, soil mixes and rock. They are perfect for large mulching projects that require precise placement and uniform layers of bulk materials.

There are only three companies that manufacture blower trucks: Express Blower in Eugene, Oregon; Finn Corporation in Fairfield, Ohio, and Peterson Pacific Corporation in Eugene, Oregon. Express Blower and Finn Corporation are in fact related, with Finn offering smaller capacity equipment.

In addition, Express Blower offers a process that allows the calibrated injection of seed, fertilizer or other granular additive. This is called terraseeding.

“We get called a lot to fix jobs, mainly to redo areas where hydroseeding has failed,” says Jared Taylor, manager of landscape and environmental services at Denbow in Chilliwack, British Columbia. “We go in and put down compost blankets using terraseeding, which is more effective.” Compost is coarse and better engineered to stay on the hillside, to seal the slope. “What I like is that we have the opportunity to add value to a job using a blower truck,” said Taylor.

“Our company owns eight blower trucks, with outputs that range from 40 cubic yards to 90 cubic yards, and they all work every day,” said Taylor. “When no one else can do the job, that’s when they call the blower trucks in. There’s always a job to do.”

Jeff Johnson and his son, Jeffrey, Jr., rely on blower trucks daily. Johnson is co-owner and president of Power Mulch Systems Inc., in Smithfield, North Carolina; his son is operations manager. The company is a twelve-person operation, with two 40 cubic-yard blowers.

Johnson and his company have capped landfills with compost, laid mulch on football and baseball fields, and helped with the oil spill off the Gulf Coast. “We were asked to blow filter socks up to block and catch the oil,” said Johnson.

But blower trucks can also be used for a number of other profitable applications. Green roofs, filter socks, compost blankets and top dressing are just a few of the many jobs these machines can handle. This just shows the wide variety of applications and versatility blower trucks can offer your company. By just owning one, you could increase your business revenue significantly.

How they work

Using a pneumatic delivery system, mulch, compost and soil blends can be propelled through a specially engineered airlock and blower system. The material is piled into the top or rear of the machine and fed through a rotary airlock conveyor. It is then propelled through a specially engineered system out onto the ground through a blower hose. Trucks also come with remote-control features, allowing operators to control power and material flow from a distance.

Generally, this is a two-person operation. But the number of crew members will depend on the job, and the equipment.

“What makes Express Blower trucks so powerful is the combination of blower pressure (psi) and air volume (cfm). Without getting too technical, this combination gives our trucks the ability to push materials thirty stories up onto a green roof, or to blow an erosion control blanket 500 feet,” says Carla Severe, marketing manager for Express Blower and Finn Corporation. “In our large trucks, we offer different power units. This is helpful when dealing with erosion control, where you need high volume output.”

Peterson trucks, on the other hand, offers a Power Sweep feature that makes it simple to deliver many kinds of materials in the same day. All you have to do is pull a lever to easily clean the truck’s floor. “This avoids material buildup that can create a bridge, which stops material from going to the hose,” said James Wittenborn, used equipment manager at Peterson Pacific.

Mulch blowers have long hoses, which can help minimize jobsite disruption and damage. With hoses extending hundreds of feet, crews can efficiently blow material onto inaccessible spaces, leaving everything in-between undisturbed.

Because the average hose weighs only one pound per foot, it offers exceptional maneuverability and portability.

The ease and efficiency of using a blower truck can’t be matched. There are jobs you can do with a blower that wouldn’t be possible with other equipment, such as shooting mulch onto steep hillsides, over water or fences, under bridges and on rooftop gardens.

“The most interesting thing we’re doing now is green retaining wall systems that we build with blower trucks,” says Taylor. “The Cascadia Green Wall System is comprised of wall fascia units, growing media and a robust geotextile sock. Heavy-duty geotextile grids are incorporated into the system to give it structural integrity.”

Delivery

“Express Blower trucks deliver 20 to 70 cubic yards of material per hour; that’s what you can expect as far as output, but it depends upon the materials and the application technique,” says Severe.

“We put hundreds of feet of hose on the machines to give you as much room as we can,” says Victor Acevedo, northwest territory sales manager for Peterson Pacific. “Our blowers can reach up to 400 or 500 feet away from the truck, which allows the operator to park in a driveway and reach around to the yard.”

Types of mulch

There are several different kinds of mulch, including wood, paper, soil blends, compost, reclaimed cotton, rubber and cocoa bean shells. There are also combinations of different mixes, some of which include polyacrylamides (PAMs), which hold the pores of the soil open and allow water to get inside. The most commonly used variety is wood fiber, as it tends to be longlasting and is environmentally friendly.

Benefits

Using a blower truck can save a lot of time and labor. There is reduced set-up and clean-up time after every load, producing a faster turnaround. This results in more deliveries and more cubic yards covered each day.

If you’re using a wheelbarrow and laying down mulch on 10 acres, you will have to make numerous trips to get it done. With a blower truck, you can do it in one load. Blower installations also eliminate heavy and damaging effects to the site, from the constant back and forth of wheelbarrows and foot traffic.

It also decreases labor. “The workers that would normally be on the job spreading mulch don’t have to be there, so they can be doing other things that can make you more money,” says Severe. “Sending ten guys out on a mulching job is not going to make you rich.”

You also have to consider not only paying wages to the crew, but also the additional costs involved; things like workers compensation, insurance, tools and safety measures.

“As long as the material can fit through the hose, you can blow it,” said Acevedo, “allowing you to do more jobs.” Severe says, “You can go out and do an erosion control blanket in the morning and lay mulch in the afternoon.” The versatility and added opportunity a blower truck affords can make you more money, even in one day.

Severe brings up another good point. “It takes the seasonality out of the soil erosion contractor business, because now you have more opportunities available to you to diversify your business. Whether it’s filling filter socks, laying down berms, erosion control blankets or playground chips, you can do it all.” You make more money because you can capitalize on a longer lasting season. And because mulch can be applied on virtually any terrain, even in wet conditions, you can work year-round.

“Efficiency and accuracy are the reasons why you would use a blower truck; they tackle the difficult jobs,” said Taylor. Blower trucks provide contractors with unmatched efficiency; but do the benefits outweigh the cost?

Investment

Blower trucks can be a pretty hefty investment for you. They come in three types: tow-behind units, which are similar to closed landscape trailers; inaugurated box units—these are attached to a chassis, making them self-contained units; or trailer mounts, which are cab trucks and self-contained tractor/trailers.

Tow-behind units can run anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000; you’ll pay approximately $300,000 for a box unit and $100,000 to $450,000 for a larger vehicle. And that’s just the base price.

Don’t forget government and local regulations, which have to be factored in when you think about buying a larger-sized vehicle. Larger trucks exceeding 26,000 pounds require operators to have Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDL) to drive them, and the Department of Transportation imposes fees and restrictions on the heavier machines. Training is also required.

Do the math to determine if the money saved from employing less manpower day-to-day will be worth the initial outlay of money. Also, check within your area for signs of  growth that might benefit from the versatility of a blower truck. “You may be looking to expand your business, or feel the opportunity is out there if you had the right tools,” says Severe, “while some of you are going into this as an entirely new business.”

“Keep in mind that the states regulate how much weight a truck or trailer can have to operate on the roadways,” says Wittenborn. Some states have restrictions regarding trailers with tanks holding more than 1,000 gallons. You need to understand your road weights and material weights when sizing the appropriate vehicle. “It also helps to consider local climates and local materials. For example, in states where it rains more, the water will be absorbed by the mulch (unless it is covered) and weigh more,” he said.

The need for mulch is expanding, and you’ll want to be part of the growth. You also want to select the truck that is going to be the most productive for your company. The quickest way to determine the right truck for your needs is to calculate how much mulch you place a year without a blower truck. This will help you decide what type of blower unit you’ll need. Choosing the right vehicle for your company depends on the workload and the kind of jobs that your company takes on.

Another factor is what types of jobs you do. If your company primarily focuses on soil erosion, you’ll want to look at a trailer option, because they provide more mobility. But if your company focus is more on providing commercial and residential mulch, a truck unit might be better.

Still can’t justify the cost of purchasing a blower truck, but want to use one to grow your business? Why not consider other options, like going to a smaller model for your first experience? “Smaller units let you get your feet wet without the big cost or CDL requirements,” explains Severe. You could also consider renting one to test if it is right for your company’s needs.

Smaller units can be part of a rental fleet, notes Severe. “However, you’re never going to see the large trucks and trailers in a rental fleet.” Another option you might consider is a lease-to-own contract.

Lastly, consider buying a used truck. Once in a while, used blower trucks will become available, and at substantial discounts. Check the seller’s website to find the blower trucks best suited for your job. Be ready to act quickly, as they sell relatively fast. “With Peterson trucks, you rarely see used ones for sale; there are just very few that come back on the market,” Wittenborn added.

So crunch the numbers, analyze how buying a blower truck could grow your business, and find out if there are big benefits awaiting you. If all the pieces come together, you’ll be able to accomplish more than ever before. Buying one just might blow greater profits your way.

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