By Mike Jiggens
By Debbie McClung
Diversification is key no matter what business you’re in. For contractors living in colder climates, they only have to look out their front windows during the winter to discover a new outlet that could bring them big profits.
Snow removal is a line of work more contractors are entering to help supplement the services they provide. Providing such exterior maintenance has proven to be a lucrative endeavor for many, as the maintenance field becomes more competitive.
“Many service contractors in government agencies and in the private sector are looking at snow and ice removal as an added service,” says Brian Birch, membership administrator for the Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA).
But to get started, contractors must invest in equipment that’s entirely different than what already exists in their fleet. Rather than purchasing large pickup trucks with snow blades, they are discovering the versatility of compact equipment, which can also be used to perform other exterior maintenance during warmer months.
“Contractors use compact equipment because oftentimes a pickup truck is too cumbersome and can’t fit into tight spaces,” says Bobcat Company loader product specialist Mike Fitzgerald. “For example, many automobile dealers are realizing that a utility work machine or skid-steer loader can manoeuver around tightly parked cars and remove snow on their car lots much faster than a pickup truck with a snow blade.”
One car dealer in Wheeling, W. Va., who uses a Toolcat™ utility work machine to manoeuver around his car lots, plows close to vehicle inventory and buildings. He says he saves time by not moving his entire inventory of 200 cars prior to plowing, which is what he had to do with previous equipment.
Attachments are another reason compact equipment is so versatile. No matter what tool carrier contractors choose, they can switch between a number of attachments to sweep, plow, and blow snow.
But each piece of equipment has its own advantages when it comes to certain tasks. That’s why Fitzgerald advises contractors to evaluate the type of snow removal work they intend to take on, so that they can purchase the right compact equipment for the job.
Featuring the ability to turn within their own length, skid-steer loaders’ maneuverability and agility make them popular for removing snow in the tightest quarters, such as crowded parking lots. They also deliver the power to perform heavy-duty work efficiently. And unlike a pickup truck with a snow blade, a skid-steer loader is not only able to push snow, but lift, pile or load it for transport.
“The lifting and loading capabilities and large number of attachment options enable the operator to remove snow more efficiently,” Fitzgerald said.
Attachments most commonly used with skid-steer loaders are the snow blade, snow V-blade, angle broom, push broom, snowblower, scraper, snow pusher and buckets. For further versatility, many snow removal companies opt for a snow V-blade. It can be configured five different ways—as a straight blade, V-cut blade, scoop blade and 30-degree left- or right-angle blade.
Due to time constraints, crews can’t always clear jobsites before traffic drives over the freshly fallen snow. So for snow removal jobs that require removing hard-packed snow and ice, Fitzgerald suggests using a scraper attachment. It has a self-sharpening cutting edge that easily slides under stubborn snow and ice on pavement to produce a smooth surface.
The snowblower attachment proves ideal for blowing snow away from the area, into a pile or dump truck with a truck-loading chute. And for lighter snowfalls, attach an angle broom, which is ideal for sweeping less than six inches of snow. In addition to clearing snow from parking lots, sidewalks and pathways in the winter, these attachments can be used for sweeping away dirt, leaves, gravel and other debris, which makes them valuable all year-round.
Snow buckets also help plow snow, but they’re best used for piling snow and loading it into a truck. The snow bucket, which ranges in width from 54 to 100 inches, has a round back to aid in dumping.
Depending on the size of the jobsite and amount of snowfall, operators might spend hours upon hours in the machine, so comfort can play a role in productiveness. An enclosed cab with heat, selectable joystick controls and suspension seat are just a few of the features and options on skid-steer loaders that help make operators’ jobs easier. An optional two-speed transmission also increases efficiency by shortening travel time and increasing plowing performance.
All-wheel steer loaders
The advantage of the all-wheel steer loader is that municipalities get two machines in one. Operators can quickly change from all-wheel steer mode to skid-steer mode with the flip of a switch.
The steerable axles of the all-wheel steer loader increase comfort when riding or turning on hard surfaces and enable the operator to direct tractive effort, minimizing sliding when pushing snow. The all-wheel steer mode also greatly reduces rubber marks left by the tires when turning on concrete.
When it comes to pushing snow, experts know that speed improves blade performance. The momentum and snow work together, resulting in the snow rolling with the blade rather than the blade just pushing it.
Mini track loaders
In addition to skid-steer and all-wheel steer loaders, a mini track loader provides an easy-to-operate, economically-priced machine that can be used for snow removal. By adding attachments like an angle broom or snowblower, you now have machines to access and clean spaces—such as sidewalks and walkways—that are too small for larger equipment.
Utility work machines
The benefit of purchasing a utility work machine is that it combines the best features of a utility vehicle, pickup truck and attachment carrier into one machine. It also features a hydrostatic drive system that provides high axle torque, simple shifting and excellent speed control. The high axle torque, coupled with four-wheel drive, delivers plenty of power for filling buckets, pulling implements and trailers and pushing material.
Operators can easily shift between low and high on-the-fly and while under power, and they can change travel direction with a simple shuttle lever.
The machine’s four-wheel drive and weight distribution provide the traction and pushing power needed for fast and efficient snow removal. Because it has all-wheel steering and a tighter turning radius than most ATVs, the utility work machine is often used for plowing snow in tight areas, such as crowded parking lots and in between buildings. The machine’s speed also improves plowing capabilities by enabling snow to roll and allowing operators to quickly go from jobsite to jobsite.
Again, operator comfort offers another reason municipalities might choose a utility work machine. Its large enclosed cab—with optional heat and air conditioning—has a suspension seat, easy-to-use controls, cruise control and tilt steering. These features all improve operator comfort, help decrease fatigue and translate into more billable hours in one outing, Fitzgerald said.
In addition to the attachments mentioned previously, a spreader attachment can be mounted in the utility work machine’s cargo box and can be used to spread salt and sand on sidewalks and pathways. The machine’s width allows it to fit on most sidewalks and pathways, making it ideal for more municipal snow removal applications. You can blow snow into trucks using its high-flow hydraulics and a snowblower attachment with a truck-loading chute. This process works well for crowded areas where snow can’t be piled.
Quickly removing light to moderate snow on sidewalks and driveways is one of the primary missions of utility vehicles. These machines can move or sweep snow.
Snow removal experts will tell you one of the keys to success in this business is learning to use different tools that fit the specific environments you are servicing. That’s why in recent years professional snow and ice management companies have turned to compact equipment and attachments—because by interchanging attachments, they can tailor one machine to perform a variety of snow and ice removal tasks.