Battery-Powered Blowers: Ready to Meet the Sweeping Industry’s Needs?

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
April 2022

Is it Time to Start Using Battery-Powered Blowers?
Ranger wrote the following, which included a link to this article, for the May 2022 edition of PAVEMENT Maintenance & Reconstruction magazine.

Prior to the pandemic, a reported 23% of employees whose jobs made it possible to do so worked from home. Today, two years later, that number has increased to a whopping 59%. One of the many impacts that has had is a marked increase in the number of complaints about backpack blower noise, the majority of which is caused by the machine’s engines.

More than 100 U.S. cities and towns now ban gas-powered leaf blowers or limit their use. The State of California, where some 80 cities have issued their own regulations, is on track to outlaw the sale of gas-powered leaf blowers altogether in 2024. The negatives on blowers are three-fold: engine air pollution; noise pollution; and, particulate air pollution. A move to battery-powered operation essentially negates the first two of those. As for particulates, often termed ‘fugitive dust,’ no matter what type of blowers you use be sure your operators wear masks during operation and are trained about safe blower use when others are present.

Fortunately, the latest generation of lithium batteries have made it much more practical to make the switch. Many manufacturers now provide battery-powered blower options and the use times have increased steadily in the last several years.

By being a relatively early adopter — and saying so prominently on their websites and in their other marketing materials — contractors can boast of being more friendly to both the environment and to people impacted by blower noise. Such a switch can be especially important for night sweeping contractors working with apartment buildings nearby, since noise complaints can really create havoc when alternate sweeping schedules end up being mandated.

In 2019 WSA conducted a survey with some leading contractors located in various parts of the United States on the topic of backpack and hand-held blowers. What we wanted to find out was if there are any backpack blowers with sufficient battery life and CFM to supplant the traditional, primarily two-stroke, gasoline units in widespread use. As we revisit this topic in 2022 we found that for the companies that now use battery-powered units, those we spoke to have found the EGO and Stihl brand blowers to work the best for them.

CAM South Logo
Andy Coolidge is a principal with CAM South, located in Birmingham, AL. Andy reported that their company has been able to switch to hand-held blowers – but only for their day-porter team that does its lunchtime follow-up services. They haven’t yet found a battery-powered blower they believe is strong enough for nighttime, parking lot sweeping work. Andy says even for use during the day his crews must have at least two batteries in order to even handle such a short shift. 

Probably the biggest advantage, Andy told us, is that the battery-powered blowers are quieter. That is a big one, though, since daytime porter services often have plenty of people in the general area. Other advantages include that there’s no fuel mixing, the battery-powered units are better for the environment and they always start.
Previously, he says, they had noise complaint issues on some of their porter service routes that started early in the day. To make it work, they install an inverter in the trucks they use for porter services so a battery may be left charging all the time. 
Stihl BG 86
Although for a while the company used Harbor Freight’s 40v blowers, which were less expensive to purchase initially, over time they have moved to using those made by Stihl. Although they carry a higher initial expense, they are sturdier and more dependable units. However, for their night-time sweeper crews, CAM South continues to use Stihl’s more powerful gas-powered blowers.

Commercial Logo
Daniel Stauty, of Virginia-based Commercial Power Sweeping, said for many years they used Stihl’s Model BG 86 gas-powered blowers on their night routes. Stauty mentioned that, when using gas-powered blowers, they had reduced blower replacement significantly by starting a Daily Blower Maintenance Program. “Via that review process,” said Stauty, “we were able to reduce our major blower breakdowns as well as extend the life of those pieces of equipment.” 

Several years ago, wanting to see if battery-powered blowers could cut it, they tried Stihl’s battery hand-held units, the most powerful of which is that company’s Model BGA 100. They found the results disappointing: “Not only were the Stihl units a major decrease in horsepower versus Stihl’s gas model,” said Stauty, “but the battery life was too short for a typical shift. We determined we would likely need three batteries for any routine parking lot route.

More recently the company switched to battery-powered blowers made by EGO, which they purchase from Lowe’s. These have proven powerful enough to do the job needed on typical parking lot applications and don’t have the many downsides associated with gas units, including fuel cost and mixing, noise and repair issues.

The company has added a high amperage inverter to each sweeper, which provides the 110-volt power needed for the charger. They caution against using one that’s 300-400 watts, which theoretically should be enough to handle the stated charging rate for the EGO’s batteries. They used the lower wattage inverters when they first started, says Stauty, but they didn’t last.The EGO chargers are hard-mounted in the floor area on the passenger side of their sweepers.

The spare battery charges whenever the sweeper is running, which is most of the time, and recharge takes around 30 minutes. That’s enough, since the EGO runtime is slightly more than that, coming in at around 40 minutes. However, one caution involved using the turbo setting on the blower. Fortunately, he said that feature is seldom needed. “The turbo setting drains the battery quickly, “Stauty said, “in about 10 minutes. But not only are the battery units very quiet and efficient; there are no fuel mixing, starting, or other issues.” 

Since some of their operators prefer a backpack blower, the company offers them a choice between the two. With the backpack units, they’ve learned they need a larger battery in order to get a longer runtime, which is then about 45 minutes.

All-in-all, they have found the EGO battery-powered machines, both handheld and backpack, to be plenty strong in regular operation when assisting during retail parking lot sweeping.” Although in Virginia we are not mandated to use battery-powered blowers, in operating both types it just made sense to make the shift. They’re a lot quieter, don’t have the many issues associated with gas blowers, and allow us to provide a more environmental option.”

CSG Logo
Florida-based Consolidated Service Group (CSG) hit on EGO’s battery-powered blowers 5 years ago and has been using them ever since. For this article, we spoke to two of the company’s branch managers, Mark Jackson and Todd McPherson. They were driven to try out battery-operated blowers, they said, by gasoline units’ cost of operation. Not only is the gasoline a serious expense, but so is labor for mixing the gas and two-cycle oil, to say nothing of having to carry it all in the sweeper, spillage, safety, etc.

In addition, they said found it to be a constant challenge to keep the machines running; repairs were frequent, time-consuming, and expensive. After switching to battery units, all of that has been completely eliminated. “Since the time we started using our EGO blowers,” they said, “we haven’t had to perform any repairs – none of the electric blowers have broken. The effort it takes to put the batteries on the chargers is also negligible compared to all we were having to deal with before. Plus, none of our employees find themselves sitting on a property at 2 o’clock in the morning with a blower that won’t start. You push the button; the electric blowers start every time.”EGO Blower
CSG tried several other blower brands but none had the power and/or battery life that they needed. Another advantage cited is all of EGO’s batteries are interchangeable with the other products the company makes. CSG uses those, as well, including the EGO hedge trimmers and string trimmers.

They have found the battery life to be better than anything else on the market: about 30-to-45 minutes for the backpack blowers, depending upon how often they have to use the unit’s ‘turbo boost’ feature. The important thing: by carrying just one spare battery they are able to keep going throughout a normal sweeping shift. CSG personnel also installed an inverter in each of the company’s sweeper trucks, such that the EGO’s quick chargers may be mounted between the seats on the back wall of the chassis, where they are accessible by opening either door.

In the sweepers they use the quick charge units – which they purchase separately since each blower comes with a standard charger – and then have the slower chargers mounted on the wall of the shop. Each night, the batteries are inserted into the slow chargers so they will be fully charged by the time they need to be used again and the blowers are hung on hooks nearby. Mark and Todd also emphasized that you will want to note the difference in inverters: Be sure to use a sufficiently-sized inverter, they cautioned, since the quick chargers draw a hefty amount of amperage. Also, some on the market have a modified sine wave, often called a ‘square wave,’ and others a ‘true sine wave.’ The true sine wave inverters are a better match for the EGO chargers than are the inverters that operate via square wave.

 InvertersRUs logo
Editor’s note: Simply put, pure sine wave power flows in even, arching waves, whereas modified sine wave power flows to your devices in chunky, square waves. The cons of running your devices on modified sine wave power is that they will run less efficiently, which will commonly result in the device or appliance not running properly, interference or a “buzz.” For more details, check out this page on the InvertersRUs website.

At CSG, when they are operating with just one person in the sweeper the backpack blower is placed on the floor of the passenger seat area. Otherwise, they’ll put it into whatever storage area is in the sweeper. CSG also has purchased a mix of EGO’s backpack and handheld blowers, since some operators prefer one over the other. Although the backpack units have a little more power, they take longer to put on and off and are heavier. 

“If we’re cleaning up prior to a sealcoating job or there are lots of packed down leaves,” they said, “that’s when you need a backpack unit. On the other hand, many of our sweeper operators would rather have a handheld unit since there are only using them for 15 or 20 minutes and, for that amount of time, they prefer to just have one slung on their arm.”Mark and Todd offered some more tips on how CSG utilizes the EGO blowers during the approximately 15-minute audio interview I conducted with them. If you’d like to hear all the details, we suggest you should listen to that entire interview (will open into a new window)

EGO Logo
From the information we learned from Commercial Power Sweeping and CSG, a number of organizations involved with sweeping may want to purchase at least one EGO blower to see if the product matches their needs. Although I contacted the EGO organization and attempted to negotiate a discount for those reading this article, Sarah Hohmann, Brand Manager for EGO replied “Unfortunately I cannot offer a discount, I wish I could!” EGO units may be purchased at Lowe’s stores as well as in a variety of places online.

For a comprehensive review of battery-powered blowers, I suggest you check out the Pro Tool Reviews web page on this topic.

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