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Monday, May 17, 2010

Lowering Operational Impact of Outdoor Power Equipment Use: Part 2

Nowhere does green, or more correctly sustainability, have greater importance and relevance than in those individuals actually responsible for creating, maintaining and promoting green spaces in our society, America’s Green Industry.

Alternative Fuels
Manufacturers are also starting to produce engines that utilize alternative fuels like propane. Propane-powered equipment like forklifts have been relatively commonplace for a number of years, and more recently mowers have been adapted for propane power. Handheld equipment is now available using pressurized tanks. Safe handling of the tanks, transportation laws for pressurized flammable gas, and disposal of the empty tanks, as well as other associated costs, are considerations that users need to address when considering this technology.

Electric equipment offers another option for users seeking to address noise and emission standards. The most common electric equipment is corded and, while offering “zero” emissions, access to a power source and the restrictions of the cord itself limit the applications where these products can be used. Battery-powered technology “cuts the cord” and affords greater flexibility. The limitation here has been the performance of the equipment. Eighteen volt or even 20-volt units do not deliver the power the average professional user would need, and older battery technologies had problems like setting a “memory” (think of your cell phone when you charged it only half way). But equipment like the STIHL 36-volt lithium ion hedge trimmer due out in summer of 2010 deliver not only the power but battery life and durability necessary for professional applications.

Landscapers are facing increasing pressure from municipalities and other government agencies with respect to sound levels of their equipment. Blowers are especially targeted due not only to the sound level at which they operate but also their sound frequency. In some cases, bans on blowers or severe limitations on their use have been enacted. For instance, in the city of Portland, Ore, landscapers wishing to operate their blowers year round must have equipment that produces 65 dB(A) or less. Manufacturers address this in a variety of ways, including providing four-cycle or hybrid models, low-power mode of operation feature, low-noise baffling around the engine housing and muffler-style blower tubes. In addition, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, an association of manufacturers, has produced a booklet, “Safe and Courteous Use of Leaf Blowers” that is available at www.opei.org, that helps address noise issues through tips on proper operation.

Some regulatory agencies, such as the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) in Southern California, are instituting programs to encourage use of more environmentally responsible equipment. AQMD has for the past four years conducted a backpack blower exchange program for professional landscapers and gardeners to trade-in their higher emission and sound blowers for a newer, low-emission, low-noise model, the STIHL BR 500, that meets their stringent criteria.

Regardless of the technology selected, the key for the professional landscaper is choosing the unit that delivers the power and performance needed for the job, while meeting the noise and emission restrictions they may be facing. A qualified servicing STIHL dealer can help you determine the best equipment for the job.