The Greenery Blog

New Leaf Blowers Could Mean Quieter Work in Beaufort, Bluffton, Hilton Head

The Greenery Garden Center - Monday, May 09, 2016

BY STEPHEN FASTENAU
sfastenau@beaufortgazette.com

The scene might be familiar: a quiet spring morning on the patio with a cup of coffee, birds chirping, a backpack blower roaring to life to ruin it all.

One of the area’s largest landscaping contractors thinks it can make those interruptions a little less grating. The Greenery is introducing battery-powered equipment in places like Beaufort’s Henry. C. Chambers Waterfront Park, Sun City in Okatie and Harbour Town on Hilton Head Island.

The company has purchased battery-operated Stihl backpack blowers and hedge trimmers, though the number is still only a small fraction of the gas-powered inventory.

The new blowers maxed out at 78 decibels on an iPad decibel-meter application Friday in Waterfront Park. The gas blowers peaked at 93 decibels.

The numbers mean crews can get in and out earlier in the morning if needed and still comply with noise rules, city of Beaufort parks superintendent Robbie Anderson said.

“Since nobody can start anything up before 8 (a.m.), and people are coming into the coffee shop at 8, at least with these it’s low enough we can get it blown off and cleaned up before people start showing up downtown,” she said.

Noise exposure has been an issue for officials with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said Jerry Ashmore, The Greenery’s workforce and safety director. OSHA officials monitored Greenery employees in February, measuring sound levels each hour for eight hours and averaging their findings.

Federal regulators don’t want workers exposed to noise above 85 to 87 decibels for an extended time, Ashmore said, adding the Greenery was within those limits with gas blowers.

In addition to being better for hearing, the battery blowers don’t have the emissions of a gas blower, he said. And while the battery-powered equipment costs about double the Greenery’s gas blowers, the newer tools don’t require the maintenance of those run by gas and oil.

Anderson pointed to the number of carburetors that have to be replaced on gas units because the gas and oil wasn’t mixed correctly.

Not everyone is sold, at least not yet.

Bud Martin, owner of Southern Palmetto landscaping company based in Ridgeland, likes the idea of quieter equipment with environmental benefits but thinks the battery-powered models aren’t yet cost effective. He pointed to potential issues like battery life and replacement costs.

Landscaping is a competitive business, which keeps rates down, he said. The high cost of the battery-powered equipment would result in higher rates to the customer.

The blower and backpack battery run more than $1,000, whereas an entry model gas backpack blower runs about $350, he said, citing a vendor’s numbers. Martin uses Stihl products but said he has not tried the battery models.

His impression is the battery-powered units are less powerful than gas blowers.

“There’s always a new thing every year,” Martin said. “Until the technology catches up with performance demand, it’s hard to go that way.”

The Greenery hasn’t fully committed to batteries.

The company’s contracts include the city of Beaufort, town of Port Royal, Jasper and Hampton counties, some Beaufort County schools, Sun City, Palmetto Bluff and other private and commercial clients. Not all of the areas need the new equipment immediately — along Interstate 95, for instance.

But eventually the entire fleet could be changed over. The new models won’t erase the noise complaints sure to continue cropping up, but The Greenery’s managers are hoping to get credit for trying.

“We would love to do away with blowers all together and go back to rakes and brooms, but at the end of the day it’s a money thing —that’s labor intensive,” Ashmore said. “This helps us do our job more efficiently.”
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